MINNEAPOLIS — Saturday night, head coach Mike Schafer admitted that Cornell was used to playing with a lead — which made the Big Red’s comeback victory at the West Regional all the more impressive.
Down two goals midway through the second period, Cornell rallied for three unanswered scores to edge Ohio State 3-2 at Mariucci Arena, advancing to the regional final Sunday.
With the score tied at 2 early in the third period, Mike Iggulden scored the eventual game-winning goal for the Big Red. With OSU on the power play, Buckeye Domenic Maiani hit the pipe behind Cornell netminder David McKee, but a turnover gave Cornell a shorthanded scoring chance.
Ohio State netminder Dave Caruso stopped the initial shot, but with Cornell’s Ray Sawada exiting the box, Matt Moulson found a wide-open Iggulden in the slot. Iggulden cut to his right and outlasted Caruso, firing the puck home as he and Caruso went down in a heap together at 8:23.
“The puck got around the boards to Matt Moulson, and he made a great pass to me,” said Iggulden of the play. “I just used my reach to get around the goaltender.”
The assist, Moulson’s second of the night, was the junior winger’s 100th point in a Big Red uniform.
Iggulden’s goal capped a rally that began just seconds after the Buckeyes had taken a two-goal lead. After a crosscheck on Cornell’s Doug Krantz, freshman winger and team leading scorer Tom Fritsche put the Buckeyes up by two, carrying the puck into the high slot and firing a shot that beat McKee to his glove side. Fritsche’s 11th goal and 45th point of the year made it 2-0 at 12:58 of the second period.
But the Cornell offense, which had been semi-dormant for parts of the first and second periods, responded just 18 seconds later. Krantz took a pass from Moulson and unloaded a shot from the left point that got through traffic and past a screened Caruso at 13:16 to narrow the OSU lead to one.
“Topher Scott did a great job on the faceoff to get it back to Doug Krantz, who’s got one of the hardest shots on our team,” said Schafer. “It was good to see Doug score — he’s been a little frustrated lately.”
Krantz’s goal also demonstrated the old saw that a two-goal lead is hockey’s most dangerous.
“A two-goal lead, a team scores and makes it 2-1, and they have the momentum,” said OSU captain JB Bittner.
Indeed, the Big Red continued the comeback at 16:22 of the second period, with a goal by Chris Abbott off a pretty two-on-one with his twin brother, Cam. Coming up the left side with the puck, Cam Abbott fired across the slot for his brother, who got his stick out ahead of Ohio State’s Matt Waddell to tip the pass into the wide-open net.
“This team hasn’t faced much adversity,” said Schafer, referring to the Big Red’s propensity to take and hold leads. “It was a great job to keep plugging away until we were able to tie it up.”
In the first period, Maiani had given the Buckeyes the early edge, scoring on a pass from Fritsche at 10:46. Fritsche cut around the corner on a rush into the Cornell zone and dished to a wide-open Maiani, whose high one-timer left McKee no chance as the Buckeyes took a 1-0 lead.
That lead grew to two, then to a deficit as Cornell rallied for the victory, extending its nation-best unbeaten streak to 19 games and ending the Buckeyes’ season after strong performances in the CCHA regular season and at the Super Six tournament.
“Sometimes you don’t reach your goals,” said OSU head coach John Markell, “but I’m proud of the process we used to get here.”
Bittner was disappointed, but philosophical as well, assessing the OSU roster and predicting a Frozen Four appearance in Ohio State’s near future.
“With one of the biggest freshman and sophomore classes in the nation, we made it this far,” Bittner said.
Schafer, meanwhile, acknowledged that the game hardly went according to plan for the Big Red.
“I was really disappointed that Ohio State outworked us [early],” he said.
The Big Red will next face Minnesota on Sunday, with the winner moving on to play in Columbus, Ohio., and Schafer relished the chance to face the regional hosts.
“Our guys are confident in our abilities,” said Schafer, “and what better opportunity than to play Minnesota in their home rink for a chance to go to the Frozen Four?”
Cornell and Minnesota will drop the puck at 2:30 CT Sunday.