CANTON, N.Y. — Senior winger Mike Knoepfli banked a shot into the net off the crossbar 2:31 into overtime to lift Cornell to a 3-2 win over St. Lawrence and to the ECAC Hockey League regular-season title at Appleton Arena Friday night.
The Big Red improved to 21-4-3 overall and 17-2-2 in the ECACHL with another cliffhanger win over the Saints (14-17-2, 8-12-1). Cornell’s win gave the Big Red the top seed and a first-round bye in the upcoming playoffs. St. Lawrence is still in the thick of the battle for a first-round home-ice spot.
“That was a great hockey game, and I thought our guys gave them a great battle. You need to measure yourself against the great teams and Cornell is certainly one of the great teams in our league,” said Saints coach Joe Marsh. “They know how to win, and you have to work for everything you can get against them. We had two outstanding games against them, but don’t have much to show for it.”
No. 2 Cornell came into the game with a 12-game unbeaten streak during which it had not surrendered more than two goals in a game. Cornell maintained its unbeaten streak and played its sixth one-goal game in the last 10 meetings with the Saints at Appleton Arena. Three of the remaining games ended in ties, and one was a 3-1 Saints win which included an empty-net goal.
“The biggest thing is that we have to keep our heads up and come back strong on Saturday against another very good team in Colgate. Regardless of what happens, we want to be playing good hockey heading into the playoffs, and we can help our seeding with a win,” Marsh added.
The Big Red wasted little time in establishing a lead as junior center Chris Abbott broke into the Saints zone on a two-on-one, dropped a pass for defenseman Ryan O’Byrne, and O’Byrne snapped his third of the year past Saints goalie Mike McKenna with the game just 16 seconds old.
The Saints outshot Cornell 12-5 the rest of the way in the period, but couldn’t get anything past Big Red goalie David McKee until early in the second. Senior defenseman Jim Hakewill tied the score for the Saints as he took a pass from Josh Anderson and slid a shot along the ice and inside the far post for his third of the year and a 1-1 tie 3:29 into the second period.
St. Lawrence took a 2-1 lead just 2:03 later when T.J. Trevelyan, the leading goal-scorer in the ECACHL, scored his 22nd of the year with a shot to the upper corner from John Zeiler.
Cornell retied the game when Knoepfli scored his ninth of the year at 15:22 of the third as he tapped the puck past a diving McKenna to make it 2-2. Cornell had an apparent go-ahead goal with 1:50 to play waved off when it was ruled that the puck was kicked in, but Knoepfli won it in the overtime when Mike Iggulden worked the puck free along the boards and fed Knoepfli, who wristed the puck in off the crossbar.
McKenna finished with 24 saves for the Saints while McKee had 31 for Cornell.