ITHACA, N.Y. — Friday night, in front of a sold-out Lynah Rink crowd, and for the first time in Division I college hockey history, two goaltenders from the state of Texas started against one another. In a battle between childhood friends Andrew Martin and David McKee, Cornell’s McKee came out on top, making 20 saves in a 3-0 Big Red victory over Rensselaer.
“I played with [Martin] growing up,” said McKee, a native of Irving, Texas. “He’s a good friend of mine, so it was a fun game to play.”
McKee’s shutout, his seventh this season and fourth in the last six games, helped maintain’s No. 4 Cornell’s four-point lead over archrival Harvard in the league standings. The shutout was also the 12th of McKee’s career, surpassing David LeNeveu’s 11, and leaving him one shy of the legendary Ken Dryden’s school record of 13.
A humble McKee attributed his success to the Big Red defense.
“As usual, they played awesome in front of me,” said McKee, whose 1.30 GAA is the best in the country. “They really limited the scoring chances. Nothing really new. You get used to it playing back there behind these guys. I don’t think I’ve ever been in a game when I didn’t have a penalty kill to worry about. Everyone was very disciplined. It’s the seniors’ last weekend of the regular season, so we all wanted to come out and play really hard for them.”
The Big Red defense has now limited the opposition to fewer than three goals for 13 straight games, tying a school record.
“I thought our defense did a great job,” said Cornell head coach Mike Schafer. “We gave up one outnumbered situation early on, and Dave made a huge save for us to keep the game at 0-0. Other than that, we didn’t really give them any more outnumbered situations for the rest of the night.
“That’s a tribute to the defense, obviously, but it’s also a tribute to the forwards for not throwing the puck blind, not turning it over, and not giving them any free opportunities. Our forwards sometimes don’t get a lot of credit for the job they do.”
The game began with Rensselaer looking to carry over its momentum from last weekend’s dramatic Big Red Freakout win over Brown. However, any momentum the Engineers had was taken from them during a Cornell power play late in the first period. The first power-play unit for the Big Red stayed on the ice for the entire two minutes, and their perseverance paid off.
Junior assistant captain and leading scorer Matt Moulson fired a hard pass to senior defenseman Charlie Cook, whose one-timer from the point fluttered through a screen and into the back of the net. The goal came one second after the power play had expired.
“We were able to stay out long because we were in their zone the whole time,” said Cook. “They were all worn down, so we just kept the pressure on. Once you wear them down, you have to capitalize. We moved the puck around quite a bit. I got a piece of it. I didn’t get too much on it, but somehow it found its way to the net. I think it went off the tip of his glove and went in.”
“We were a little bit concerned because when you get out there that long, all you can see in your mind is a guy coming out of the penalty box fresh,” added Schafer. “So as time was wearing down there, it was great for them to end up getting the goal to give us the lead. Then we did a good job protecting it for the rest of the night.”
In the second period, the Big Red continued its dominating offensive play. A little over five minutes into the period, junior forward Daniel Pegoraro cut to the middle of the ice from the left faceoff circle and made a beautiful drop pass for junior Shane Hynes, whose ensuing wrist shot beat Martin stick side for a 2-0 Big Red lead.
“Pegs came through the middle and made a great play at the blue line,” said Hynes. “He faked [the defenseman], went inside, I dropped back behind him, he dropped it to me, and I just kind of one-timed it into the top of the net.”
Later in the period, with about five minutes to go, senior captain Mike Knoepfli scored a power-play goal to give Cornell a three-goal advantage. His wrist shot from the left faceoff circle found the top of the net over the left shoulder of Martin, who finished the night with 31 saves. Freshman forward Topher Scott assisted on the play.
“[Sawada] did a great job getting in [Martin's] way, and I saw the top corner open,” said Knoepfli. “Special teams are so important, and we work on them a lot in practice.”
Knoepfli is one of five seniors who, Saturday night against Union, will play in their final regular-season home game at Lynah Rink. In its career, the class of 2005 has combined for over 200 points.
“We’re pretty excited,” said Knoepfli. “It’s funny, everyone says that, coming in as a freshman, four years is so far, but we’re just going to enjoy it. We enjoyed it tonight — the music, the crowd, everything. And we’re just going to enjoy it tomorrow night. Obviously we’re focused on the game and winning, but we’re going to take it all in.”
Rensselaer (13-18-2, 5-13-1 ECACHL) will look to rebound Saturday night at Colgate. Cornell (19-4-3, 15-2-2 ECACHL) managed to shut out the Engineers in their regular-season series, with Friday’s 3-0 shutout and last month’s 5-0 shutout at Rensselaer’s Houston Fieldhouse. Last season, Cornell accomplished the same feat against Vermont.
Cornell is unbeaten at home this season and is also unbeaten in its last 11 games, the longest current streak in the nation.
“We did a good job being patient through the whole course of the game,” said Schafer. “These are the kinds of games that our team relishes playing in. A strong, physical, tough hockey game. We’re built for that type of event.”
“We’re doing the little things,” added Hynes. “We’re all moving our feet, finishing our checks. And that’s what we’re all about. We’re going to do the little things right, and that’s what separates us from the other teams right now.”