HAMILTON, N.Y. — Everyone expected a low-scoring, hard-hitting, goaltender-exhibiting matchup between No. 6 Cornell and No. 11 Colgate at Starr Rink on Friday night. Everyone was right.
With the lone goal of the game scored with just 93 seconds remaining in regulation, Cornell won the first of two consecutive battles of the two top teams in the ECACHL, 1-0.
Inside of two minutes remaining in a 0-0 contest, Colgate (19-8-0, 11-4-0 ECACHL) coach Don Vaughan called a timeout to rally his troops. The designs on the Cornell (16-4-2, 12-2-1) bench during this break, however, proved the difference in an otherwise even contest.
“Give credit to the coaches and all the scouting they’ve done,” said Chris Abbott, who set up the game-winning goal. “They said that off the draw we should send it around and Knoepfli was going to take their man. We took the draw, Mike took care of his guy, and we were off on a two-on-one.”
The other member of that odd-man rush, Mike Iggulden, found Abbott’s pass on his stick at the far post and lifted a wrist shot over a diving Colgate goalie Steve Silverthorn. After the game, Iggulden was all smiles as he reveled in picking up his third game-winning goal of the season.
“We love the battle,” he said. “It makes it a lot more exciting with games this close. We thrive on these close games. It really gets you pumped up in the locker room when games are this tight.”
Cornell goaltender David McKee echoed his teammate’s sentiments on winning close games. McKee fought off 24 Colgate shots including several prime opportunities to pick up his second consecutive shutout and fifth of the season.
“We thrive on this kind of game,” said McKee. “You’ve just got to know that you’re going to win, and it happened again. I actually enjoy the extra pressure. It helps you play better.”
Vaughan watched his team outshoot Cornell 7-4 in the final frame and control play for most of the last 20 minutes. But McKee turned aside chance after chance, including a brilliant post-to-post save on Colgate points leader Jon Smyth late in the third period.
“He’s solid,” said Vaughan of McKee. “People look at Cornell, and I think sometimes the goalies get a bum rap because they play so well in front of them. He faced some pretty grade-A chances tonight. The one on Jon Smyth at the side of the net … that was one of the best saves I’ve ever seen.”
Cornell coach Mike Schafer also pointed to McKee’s clutch save as the key to winning the close and intense battle.
“That was a huge save,” he said. “One of our guys broke his stick, so we got running around. Their kid took advantage and went backdoor. David made a big save to get his pad there.”
Schafer joined the sold out crowd at Starr Rink in witnessing an exhibition of two of the best goaltenders in the ECACHL. Both Silverthorn and McKee made countless acrobatic stops to assure that the team who scored the first goal would take it all.
“It was a great game played by both teams and both goaltenders,” said Schafer. “If it wasn’t for both goalies the score would be a lot different. It goes to show you why they’ve had the seasons that they have. It’s because they earn them.”
Silverthorn could not take comfort in knowing he and his club played well. The Raiders fell to three points behind Cornell in the league standings, and to third overall behind Harvard.
“No one’s happy with what happened, letting in a goal with a minute and a half to go in the game. We lost. We played better, we deserved better. But we lost. We’ve got tomorrow night to look forward too, and hopefully we’ll play even better.”
Vaughan also appeared distressed at coming away with a loss despite his club’s hard-fought effort, crediting Cornell while attempting to find some kind of moral victory.
“They capitalized on the only mistake we made in the third period, and I think that’s what good teams do,” he said. “You have to give them credit. They played a good game. I just feel bad for our team. We played hard enough and well enough to get something out of that.”
Meanwhile, Cornell players enjoyed their first victory in Starr Rink in three years and their seventh straight victory. During that span, the Big Red have allowed only five goals and have given up two goals in a game only once.
“With our system being strong defensively, we have confidence in keeping goals out of our net,” said Abbott. “McKee’s playing well in net and everyone knows their role.”
Vaughan hopes to rally his troops for the back end of the home-and-home series with Cornell, as the two clubs head north to Ithaca for a Saturday night matchup. In suffering a tough defeat, Colgate will rely on its seniors to rebound for a second chance at the top dogs in the conference.
“We’re a veteran club,” said Vaughan. “We’ve got nine seniors in that locker room. The challenge is to put this one behind us and focus on the second game of this weekend.”
As for Schafer, he doesn’t think fans should expect much to change in the rematch. Asked as to what he anticipated for Saturday, Schafer simply replied, “Probably another 1-0 game.”