ITHACA, N.Y. — Aggressive play, penalties and a raucous Lynah student section, gave the Cornell Big Red’s home opener against the U.S. Under-18 team the feel of a mid-season conference rivalry, rather than a mere warm up for No. 2 ranked Cornell. Unmatched size and a 42-shot onslaught gave The Red a dominant 4-1 victory, in which they showcased the power-play efficiency and penalty-killing sturdiness that led to last year’s ECACHL championship.
“They have a lot of strength,” said Team USA’s head coach, John Hynes, “They play the game the way is should be played. Its hard, competitive, and they have talent to go along with it.”
Cornell exhibited this aggressive style from the beginning, outshooting the U-18 squad 14-to-4 in the first period, and 42 to 18 overall. Despite Cornell establishing control early in the first, tough net-minding by Team USA goalie Joe Palmer, a 17 year old from Yorkville, N.Y., kept the younger team down only two goals, heading into the third period.
“I thought their goaltender, Palmer, played great. He faced a lot of shots,” said Cornell’s head coach Mike Schafer.
Palmer impressed the Lynah crowd midway through the second period, when he twice made diving, acrobatic saves, where he even blocked rebound shots after already having laid out across the ice. On the Cornell side, experience shined, with four different veterans accounting for all four goals. Junior defenseman Ryan O’Byrne treated the packed student section to its first goal of the season by ripping a slapshot by the Team USA penalty killers and finding low left netting, during a five-on-three power play 12 minutes into the first period. Fellow defenseman, sophomore Sasha Pokulok had the assist.
“We’ve been working on [the power play] for a couple months. We got some good movement there. The teams always key on Moulson, obviously, cause he’s the goal scorer,” O’Byrne said, “I just had and opening and found the net.”
Sophomore Forward Topher Scott also exhibited the veterans’ power play prowess when he wedged his 5’6″ frame in front of the net, to score the second Cornell goal with a one-man advantage, early in the second period. Again, Pokulok had an assist, along with Junior forward Byron Bitz
“Those guys know each other from last year,” Schafer noted after the game, “Power plays are the easy thing to practice before the season gets going because it’s a skill thing. The penalty killing and the physical play are the harder things to practice.”
“It’s a fun time whenever we are able to get out their on the power play,” said Scott, “We are confident in what we can do and the system that coach gives us.”
The Red’s other two goals both came in the third period during five-on-five play. First, captain Matt Moulson flicked a goal over Palmer’s left shoulder after getting Palmer down with a strong fake to his left. To cap off Cornell’s scoring for the night, senior Daniel Pegararo threaded a pass down the middle of the ice to fellow senior Cam Abbott, who took the pass just before the Team USA blue line then slipped a shot around Palmer’s left side to finish the scoring breakaway.
Cornell’s Hobey Baker finalist, Goalie Dave Mckee, had a light night by Mckee standards, with 14 saves in two-and-a-half periods of work. With 11:43 left in the third period, he left to a loud Lynah ovation, before giving way to his backup, Louis Chabot. Amidst a whole host of late third period penalties, which included two ten-minute misconduct penalties to Team USA players, 17-year old Patrick Kane of Buffalo, N.Y., ruined the Cornell shutout by putting one past Chabot with only 26 seconds remaining. Up until the goal, The Red had killed off nine-plus minutes of penalties.
Schafer expressed some disappointment with some of the late game penalties, but was pleased with the team’s competitive attitude and hustle in this first contest, while looking forward to this week’s preparation for two games against the talented Michigan St.
The players expressed their satisfaction with the first night of the year in the tradition-filled arena. “Its always a blast to play out here in front of the fans,” Scott said, “I’m glad I get to be here for four years and enjoy it for four years. The freshmen have their eyes wide tonight.”