ITHACA, N.Y. — With rivals Cornell and Clarkson tied 2-2 in overtime, leave it to the smallest player on the ice to score one of the biggest goals of the season.
Exactly 12 minutes into overtime, Cornell freshman forward Topher Scott, a generous 5-foot-6, scored his fourth goal of the season, wristing a quick shot over the right shoulder of Clarkson goaltender Dustin Traylen and sending the Big Red fans into a state of delirium.
Scott leaped high in the air and was mobbed by his teammates immediately after the goal.
“Yeah, I was finally up to the other guys’ heights,” joked Scott, who received a thunderous ovation from the Lynah faithful following the game. “I’ve probably never been more excited in my life. A lot of these older guys deserved it best, and we’re working really hard to get them the best.”
His dramatic game-winner gives No. 3 Cornell (24-4-3) the 2-0 series win over Clarkson and sends the Big Red to the ECACHL Final Four in Albany next weekend, where they will face the winner of the Dartmouth-Vermont series in the semifinals.
“Topher Scott’s coach in junior hockey said, ‘He won’t lead your team in goals scored, but he always scores the big one,’” recalled Cornell head coach Mike Schafer. “How prophetic from his junior coach. [Cam Abbott] made a great pass to him, for him to step into it and get it into the upper part of the net.”
“Cam worked really hard in the corner,” said Scott. “I just kind of snuck into the slot, and he made a great pass to me. I was just trying to get it on net. In overtime, anything can happen.”
Cornell is now unbeaten in its last 16 games, the fifth-longest string in school history, and third-longest within a single season. The Big Red also finished the season undefeated at home (15-0-1), and the appreciative fans poured onto the ice after the game to celebrate with their team.
“You get so much energy off the fans,” said Cornell junior forward Matt Moulson. “It doesn’t matter how we’re playing. They’re always there for us, supporting us. It’s easy to play in front of these guys. They’re the best fans in the country.”
The start of Saturday’s game brought a sinking feeling to Cornell that last year’s postseason collapse to Clarkson might happen all over again. The Golden Knights took a 1-0 lead with less than two minutes gone by in the first period, when Big Red defenseman Ryan O’Byrne mishandled the puck behind his own net, losing it through the crease, where Clarkson leading scorer Jay Latulippe knocked it past goaltender David McKee.
The goal ended McKee’s shutout streak of 158 minutes, 47 seconds, 40 seconds shy of his career best.
“You have to go through a lot of adversity if you’re going to have a lot of success down the road,” said Schafer. “Not the way you want to start the game, where the puck comes right back into your own net. It gave them life. You could see it in our hockey team, how tight we were.”
Despite the mishap, Cornell evened the score at 1-1 less than two minutes later. During a power play, Moulson slid the puck across ice for classmate Shane Hynes, whose wrist shot from the edge of the left faceoff circle eluded Traylen.
About seven minutes later, the Golden Knights regained the lead, when freshman forward David Cayer took a pass from Nick Dodge and got behind the Cornell defensemen on the right boards. His subsequent slapshot from the right faceoff dot zipped over McKee’s right shoulder into the top corner of the net, giving Clarkson a 2-1 lead.
Until Saturday, Cornell had not trailed at the end of the first period at home all season and came out in the second period determined to tie the score.
“I thought we calmed down after the first period. It was good to see that we showed a lot of composure coming out in the second period because we didn’t last year.”
Halfway through the second, Moulson sped down the right side untouched, drove the net, and scored his team-leading 21st goal of the season, sliding the puck past Traylen to even the score at 2-2.
“I came across the ice in our own zone, picked up the puck, and went wide,” described Moulson, whose goal was his first in his last 11 postseason games. “The guys drove the net hard, and that gave me a little bit of room.”
“I’m extremely proud of our effort tonight,” said Clarkson head coach George Roll. “We were a much different team than we were last night. I thought we competed awfully hard. Obviously, they controlled play in the second period, but in the third period, I thought we played the best period we played all year.”
The score remained 2-2 until Scott’s game winner in overtime. The extra session featured close calls for the Big Red, as a persistent Clarkson team had many chances to send the series to a deciding game three, including a 2-on-1 during which McKee made a kick save on Clarkson senior Chris Blight.
“They got lucky,” said a frustrated Latulippe. “We outplayed them all game long. They just got a bounce. They just got lucky tonight, and I think they know it too.”
“I think we deserved that game,” added Cayer.
Clarkson’s best opportunity of overtime came when it received a power-play chance eight minutes into the period. The man between the pipes for Cornell proved to be the Big Red’s best penalty killer. McKee, whose 1.24 goals-against average leads the nation, has helped the Big Red kill 24 consecutive opponent power plays.
He finished the game with 34 saves, 10 of which were in overtime.
“We had great chances in overtime, and that’s why [McKee] will be a Hobey Baker finalist,” said Roll. “He made some unbelievable saves at crucial times in the game and gave their team a chance to win.”
Cornell now looks ahead to next weekend, as it travels to Albany in search of an 11th ECACHL championship.
“If they get goaltending like that, and as strong on the puck as they are, I think they can go a long ways,” said Roll. “I’d have to give Cornell the edge [next weekend]. Their goaltender doesn’t get the credit he deserves, and tonight he proved that he deserves all the accolades. I think they can go a long way, not only in our tournament, but in the NCAAs.”
“We showed a lot of character tonight,” said Moulson. “Our job’s not done yet though. It’s on to Albany.”
Notes: Cornell senior defenseman Jeremy Downs played in his 134th consecutive game Saturday night, setting a new school record. Next Friday in Albany, he will break Stephen Baby’s school record for total games played in a career … Cornell junior Chris Abbott, the Big Red’s most reliable faceoff man, did not play in the third period or overtime, due to an injury. However, he is expected back next weekend.