NEW HAVEN, Conn. — There is little room for error against a quick, snappy, and disciplined team like No. 5 Cornell (18-4-3). The Yale Bulldogs (4-19-2) learned that the hard way Saturday, giving up three unanswered goals in the first period, including a shorthanded score, en route to a 5-2 loss against the Big Red.
In what has become a familiar scenario for Eli fans, the Bulldogs scored first to the delight of a sellout Yale rink that was hosting alumni weekend, only to have Cornell answer seconds later. As the Red added to its lead over the first 20 minutes, a large segment of Big Red fans in the crowd took over the arena, much as their team took over the opening period.
“We wanted to score first, but when they did we knew it was important that we come out and have a good shift afterwards,” said Byron Bitz, who earned his third goal of the season on a one-timer that evaded Yale goalie Matt Modelski just 22 seconds after the Bulldogs had scored to earn the 1-0 lead.
Yale’s initial goal, which came at 8:07 of the first period, was a gorgeous example of what a successful power play can look like. The Elis snapped off a succession of crisp passes, with Matt Craig feeding Zach Mayer, who hit Jean-Francois Boucher on the left side for the one-timer that got past Cornell goaltender David McKee.
But as in Yale’s 5-3 loss to Brown two weeks ago, the Elis were back on their heels once Bitz earned his score.
“To me, that changed the game,” said Cornell assistant coach Scott Garrow. “That’s their job as top players — to change the momentum of the game.”
The Big Red added to the lead at 13:25, when Daniel Pegoraro scored his seventh goal of the season coming off some slick passing by Cornell that allowed him to skate in solo on Modelski and earn the 2-1 advantage.
Yale’s deficit increased just over a minute later, while the Elis were on a power play. A defensive miscue found Cornell’s Mike Iggulden skating in alone on Modelski for his second shorthanded goal in as many games.
“Cornell is a tough team to play, because you can’t give them much,” said Yale head coach Tim Taylor. “We knew all weekend long that we needed low scoring. To go down 3-1 after one period was too big of a hill to climb.”
The Elis played a strong second period in which they held Cornell to eight shots and no goals. In fact, Yale held its own with Cornell in the shot category all evening long, a departure from the night before in which they had trouble matching Colgate in shot generation.
A pair of power-play goals by the Big Red in the third period, the first a one-timer by Topher Scott after Yale was unable to clear its zone and the second a five-on-three goal off the faceoff by Mike Knoepfli, put Yale out of position to claw back.
Still, the Elis persisted and earned a power-play score of their own in the final minute of play to finish with a three-goal deficit and a 5-2 score. Nate Jackson earned his sixth of the season on the extra man goal, with assists coming from Rob Page and Joe Zappala.
“They’ve done a real good job since last time we played them,” Garrow said of the Elis, who despite their record have put together a string of respectable games. “They’re a team that people won’t want to face down the stretch.”
Cornell’s McKee picked up his 18th win of the season, having dropped only four games. He finished with 23 saves, equal to the total stopped by Yale’s Modelski.
“He’s been solid defensively all year long and tonight was no different,” Bitz said, echoing the thoughts of Garrow, who noted that McKee has not been given some of the credit he has deserved this season.
“He’s one of the best goalies in the country, if not the best,” Garrow said. “People say it’s because of our system, but he does what he does and he does it every night for us.”
The Elis remain home next weekend in games against Vermont and Dartmouth, while Cornell returns to Lynah Rink to take on RPI and Union.