ITHACA, N.Y. — On an emotional evening for Cornell’s Class of 2005, playing in its last regular-season home game, junior Matt Moulson showed off his trademark offensive prowess, scoring three goals en route to a 4-1 Big Red victory over Union.
No. 4 Cornell (20-4-3, 16-2-2 ECACHL) has now allowed less than three goals per game for 14 straight contests, setting a school record. Much of the success can be attributed to Big Red goaltender David McKee, who on Saturday was just over a minute away from tying Ken Dryden on Cornell’s all-time shutout record before Union’s Jonathan Poirier got the Dutchmen on the board.
McKee, a potential Hobey Baker Award finalist, has the lowest goals against average in the nation, at 1.29, and his .941 save percentage is good for second in Division I.
“He played really well,” added Cornell head coach Mike Schafer. “The score in the first period could have been totally different if it wasn’t for David. It was unfortunate at the end that we make a mistake that ends up costing him the shutout and a chance to tie the record.”
“I got a few more shots than last night,” said McKee. “It was fun for me to get a few more quality shots. The guys played great in front of me. It was fun to watch. I actually didn’t know about the record. I try not to read that stuff. I just want to go out and play every game one at a time.”
In the second period, McKee made one of the saves of the year, diving across his crease to stop the puck with his glove just a moment before it crossed the line.
“I have always wondered how good he is because they’re such a good team defensively, but tonight, he was the showstopper,” said Union head coach Nate Leaman. “He was the difference in the game. We had chances, and every time, he stopped us. Tonight, he proved, to me at least, what a good goaltender he is. He earned it.”
Saturday night, five seniors — captain Mike Knoepfli, assistant captains Mike Iggulden and Charlie Cook, Jeremy Downs, and Paul Varteressian — played in their final regular-season game at Lynah Rink. All five players were on the ice as the game ended, and they cherished the opportunity to play in front of their home fans one last time before they host the ECACHL quarterfinal round in three weeks.
“We’re a really close team,” said Knoepfli. “We have a lot of fun together, even over the summers. All our families know each other. [Senior night] was nice. Obviously we were focused on the game, but once we started pulling away, I just sort of sat back and looked around at the stands. This is the best place to play in the NCAA. The fans are the difference maker for us, and no one has fans like us. In games when things maybe aren’t going right for you, they pick you up so much.”
“We have a really close-knit group of guys,” added Cook. “I basically have 24 brothers in there. I have so many great memories in this rink.”
The Big Red, and Moulson in particular, took advantage of two Union defensive miscues in the first period to give Cornell a 2-0 lead. On the first, Moulson came through the crease to bang home a loose puck that had eluded the Dutchmen defensemen. On the second, junior Shane Hynes took the loose puck that had hopped over Union goaltender Kris Mayotte’s stick and threw it out front for a waiting Moulson. Mayotte was out of position, and Moulson simply tapped the puck into a wide open net for his second goal of the night.
“When things are going in, they’re going in,” said Moulson. “I got a couple bounces, but I can’t give enough credit to my linemates.”
Cornell’s next two goals both came on the power play. The Big Red’s power play has been converting at a rate of 26.5 percent, the best in the country. In the second period, Knoepfli slid the puck across the blue line for Cook, whose slapshot ripped over Mayotte’s left shoulder for a 3-0 lead.
In the third, Moulson completed his hat trick during a 4-on-3 advantage for the Big Red, giving Cornell a 4-0 lead. He walked in from the left point and fired his trademark wrist shot over Mayotte’s right shoulder, sending a shower of hats from the frenzied Lynah Rink crowd onto the ice.
“The [Bitz-Hynes-Moulson] line carried us the whole night,” said Schafer. “It was a great goal to get us going, and they created a lot of offense. The hat-trick on the power play was a typical goal for [Moulson], to be able to find some space through traffic. It’s what he’s good at.”
Moulson’s hat trick was the third of his career and first since scoring three against Harvard last season. He now leads the team with 19 goals and 32 points. Nevertheless, the stars of the night were the seniors, who were honored in an emotional ceremony with their parents after the game. Most of the 3836 in attendance stuck around for the ceremony.
“[The seniors] represent our program at its finest,” said Schafer. “They’re dedicated two-way hockey players. They do a tremendous job of paying attention to detail, and they lead by fulfilling their jobs. The guys trust each other, have each others’ backs, and work hard for each other. That’s invaluable.”
“They’re five unbelievable guys,” said Moulson. “I’ve looked up to every single one of them, and they’ve been a huge part of my career here. We’re going to miss every single one of them.”
Looking ahead to next weekend, Union (11-20-1, 7-13-0) hosts Yale and Princeton in the final weekend of the regular season. The Dutchmen have lost 10 straight ECACHL contests, but Leaman remains optimistic.
“The way we competed tonight, the way we played, the way we battled, we played with an edge,” said Leaman. “We’re going to get out of [our slump]. There’s no doubt in my mind. We have to finish, we have to get a couple saves, and we’ll be okay. I’m looking forward to it.”
Meanwhile, Cornell, currently in first place in the ECACHL but still looking to clinch the No. 1 seed, will finish up the regular season next weekend in the North Country, taking on Clarkson and St. Lawrence. It’s only a matter of time, however, before the Big Red returns to Lynah Rink.
“[Our fans] are the best crowd in college hockey, and they prove that night-in, night-out,” said Schafer. “It shows how enthusiastic they are and how much they love our program to stick around and honor our seniors the way they do. It’s a great sendoff for these guys as far as the regular season goes, and we get to honor the fans when we come back here and play in the playoffs.”