ALBANY, N.Y. — Sophomore netminder David McKee made 25 saves to earn his single-season league record 10th shutout and lead his Cornell Big Red to a 3-0 victory over the Vermont Catamounts in the semifinals of the ECACHL Tournament.
“This was a big one for me,” said McKee about his blanking. “I wanted to get one deep in the postseason.”
With the victory, the Big Red (25-4-3) extended their nation’s best unbeaten streak to 16-0-1, which includes seven shutouts in their last 11 games.
“This game was similar to a lot of games we’ve won this year,” said Cornell head coach Mike Schafer. “Vermont had good transition chances in the first period, but David was up to the task.”
“I thought the players played the game to win tonight,” said UVM head coach Kevin Sneddon. “We said all week that we were not coming to Albany to participate, but to win the Cleary Cup.”
Indeed, the Catamounts (21-13-4) had a strong opening 20 minutes, beating Cornell to the puck on most occasions and taking the play to the Big Red. UVM narrowly missed taking an early lead when rookie Torrey Mitchell put a rebound just wide of Cornell netminder David McKee from the slot at 5:10.
“Part of their game plan,” explained Schafer, “was to force it to the net. I thought we were sloppy around the net and didn’t pick up sticks. After the first period, the guys picked it up.”
Cornell’s best chance in the first 10 minutes came when junior Cam Abbott took a breakout pass across three lines and skated in alone on UVM’s Joe Fallon (19 saves) from the blueline. Abbott faked the netminder to his knees and tried to slide the puck between the freshman’s pads, but it hit the back of Fallon’s right leg and slid wide through the slot.
Forty seconds later, Vermont defenseman Kenny Macaulay skated to the Cornell blueline while his teammates changed up behind him. His seemingly harmless wrister went between three Big Red players and clanged off the post to the right of McKee.
“We thought if we got one of those early,” said Sneddon, “it would have been a different game.”
It was Cornell, however, who would take the lead at 13:22 when rookie Topher Scott continued his streak of clutch goals. A week after notching the overtime series winner in the quarterfinals against Clarkson, he connected on his eight of the season.
When three UVM players committed to Abbott behind the Catamounts net, Scott snuck into the slot where he took Abbott’s pass and backhanded the puck over Fallon’s shoulder.
“Cam shoved it in front of the net,” explained Scott. “It was just right place, right time. I didn’t get a lot of it. Fortunately, it just happened to go in.”
The Big Red entered the game 19-0-2 when scoring first, making it a tough hill for UVM to climb.
“Once they get up a goal or two,” Sneddon said, “they are tough to come back on.”
Vermont hit its second post of the game just 30 seconds into the middle frame when leading scorer Scott Mifsud’s wrist shot hit the pipe to the left of McKee.
“A goalie’s best friend,” said the netminder.
Soon thereafter, special teams took over. Cornell was awarded the game’s first man-advantage at 4:13. The Catamounts were unable to clear the puck while shorthanded, but did manage to kill off the penalty — thanks in large part to Fallon’s sharp play.
UVM earned its own power play at 7:17, but failed to get a shot on McKee as the nation’s best penalty killing unit flexed its muscle.
At 9:44, the Big Red went back on the power play after Catamount defenseman Jaime Sifers was forced to pull Cornell’s Matt Moulson to the ice to avoid a scoring opportunity. All it did was prolong the inevitable, however, as Moulson was able to connect 12 seconds into the man-advantage, wristing a shot from the point that trickled in off Fallon for his 22nd of the year.
“I’m not sure how it went in,” said Moulson. “It fluttered. I took a page from Topher’s book.”
Vermont had a chance to jump back into the contest while on the power play early in the third period, but the Big Red held the Catamounts to without a shot. From there, Cornell’s defense took charge and stymied the remaining UVM chances, including a sensational glove save by McKee on a redirected shot through traffic.
“[It was] a great glove save on the tip,” said Schafer. “He’s deserving of the Hobey Baker award. He’s done it all year.”
Junior Chris Abbott added an empty net goal for Cornell at 18:42 to round out the scoring.
“Cornell doesn’t give you many opportunities,” said Sneddon. “Their forecheck is tremendous — and they don’t give up many odd-man rushes. We didn’t have — after the first period — any rushes up ice with control of the puck.
“We didn’t play the way we wanted to play. The credit goes to Cornell. They force you to play their game.”
The Big Red moves on to play the winner of the Colgate-Harvard semifinal for the ECACHL tourney title tomorrow night.
“We’re just glad to be in the championship game,” said Schafer. “The only thing I’m hoping for is a five or six overtime game that goes until 4 a.m.”
Vermont will play the loser of today’s night cap in the Third Place game that will have NCAA implications.
“Tomorrow is equally important,” said Sifers. “We need to keep our heads high.”