ITHACA, N.Y. — Playing without two of their regular defensemen, both NHL draft picks, the Cornell Big Red faced the unenviable task of shutting down the ECACHL’s number-one offense in St. Lawrence.
Saturday night at Lynah Rink, Cornell proved up to the challenge, and behind David McKee’s 19 saves and junior forward Matt Moulson’s lone goal, the Big Red shut out the Saints for a 1-0 win.
After the game, the talk centered on the play of the two goaltenders. McKee recorded his fourth shutout of the season and ninth of his career. Only a sophomore, he is already fourth on Cornell’s all-time shutout list and needs five more in his career to pass the legendary Ken Dryden.
“McKee was really solid again,” said Cornell head coach Mike Schafer. “There were spurts of action where he didn’t see a whole lot for a lot of time and all of a sudden he saw a flurry, so he did a great job to get the shutout.”
Milestones aside, McKee gave much of the credit to his teammates.
“I can’t give enough credit to our defense,” said McKee. “They played amazing all night. Defense, backside pressure, always coming back and staying above their guys. They played amazing in front of me and really limited the scoring chances.”
Meanwhile, McKee’s counterpart, Mike McKenna, had a brilliant 40-save performance to keep St. Lawrence in the game from start to finish.
“Mike McKenna is one of the best goalies we’ve faced this year,” said Schafer. “I thought he played outstanding the whole night. He made hard saves look easy and did a good job controlling his rebounds. We were around the net, but he didn’t give up a whole lot.”
“The goalies were outstanding,” agreed St. Lawrence head coach Joe Marsh. “We didn’t test McKee as much as they tested McKenna, but in both cases, the goalies were great. These are two of the premier goalies in the East, and it certainly showed tonight.”
After several near-misses, the only goal of the game came with less than six minutes to play, and it came from a familiar source. As the line of Moulson-Byron Bitz-Shane Hynes cycled the puck deep in the Saints zone, Moulson took a Bitz feed from the corner, skated in and roofed the puck over McKenna’s right shoulder from the edge of the left faceoff circle.
The goal was Moulson’s team-leading 15th of the season, and he has scored a goal in four straight games.
“The puck came down the boards, and Byron got to it,” said Moulson. “Two guys went to him, and he made a great play to dish it right between them right to me. It seemed like I had all day to shoot that one. I just put it up there and hoped for the best, and it snuck under the bar somehow.”
“He knocked my water bottle off the net, so obviously it was a very well-placed shot,” added a disappointed McKenna. “If you’re in good position, sometimes pucks are going to go in. [Moulson] made a very nice shot, and I couldn’t get to it.”
The goal came after Schafer decided to shuffle his lines a little bit, switching Bitz with Daniel Pegoraro, who had began the game centering Moulson and Hynes.
“I didn’t think that [Moulson] and Hynes were going for a good part of the game,” explained Schafer, “and it was to try to give them a little bit of a spark and a little bit of energy, and they made a great play.”
With defensemen Sasha Pokulok and Jon Gleed out for Cornell, sophomores Dan Glover and Evan Salmela found themselves in the lineup for a change.
“Glover and Salmela, who obviously haven’t seen a whole lot of ice time, stepped up and contributed really valuable minutes this weekend, and that’s what it’s all about. It’s about the whole team, and those guys did a really good job for us.”
“Glover had some huge blocks on the penalty kill,” added McKee, “and Salmela had a few good shots and handled the puck really well tonight.”
With Colgate losing to Clarkson, the win puts the Big Red in first place in the league, one point ahead of the Raiders. No. 8 Cornell (15-4-2, 11-2-1, ECACHL) and No. 9 Colgate are set to battle in a home-and-home series next weekend, a series with major implications both within the ECACHL and nationally.
“It’s going to be a great weekend of college hockey,” said Schafer. “We’ve been chasing them all year. It seems like every time you look around, they keep winning games, and I’m sure they’re looking around and seeing that we keep winning games. They’re a great team with a lot of veterans, and they’re very well-coached and have a great goaltender, so it’ll be a fun weekend.”
St. Lawrence (13-12-1, 7-7-0 ECACHL), which hosts Princeton and Yale next weekend, is now winless in its last seven games against Cornell.
“Our kids played extremely well,” said Marsh. “It’s deceiving because most of our energy was spent playing defense, but that’s okay because we’ve spent most of our energy this year playing offense.”
“Cornell creates a lot of energy in here. The crowd is a tremendous advantage for them, and this is the toughest place in the league to play by far. By far.”