ITHACA, N.Y. — After waiting patiently all summer since falling just shy of the NCAA Frozen Four last season, the No. 2 Cornell Big Red returned to the ice on Friday night, defeating the No. 10 Michigan State Spartans 4-2 in front of an lively sellout crowd at Lynah Rink.
With the victory, Cornell head coach Mike Schafer becomes only the second coach in school history to reach 200 wins.
“It was too bad I couldn’t get the 200th at Minnesota, so it was nice to get it right away,” said a humble Schafer. “But really, the assistant coaches – your lifeline is those guys, and I share it with all the guys that work here with me. So it’s not just my 200th win, but it’s the program’s and the university’s. I share it with everybody.”
Friday’s game featured plenty of back-and-forth action, timely goals, and spectacular saves. But the key moment in the contest came midway through the third period. With the Big Red clinging to a 3-2 lead, freshman defenseman Evan Barlow received a major penalty and a game misconduct for hitting from behind, giving the Spartans a full five-minute power play to work with.
However, the Big Red penalty killers, backed by last season’s Hobey Baker finalist David McKee, proved up to the task.
“Our penalty killing did well tonight, especially at this time of the year,” said Schafer. “David McKee is our best penalty killer, and our other guys did a good job of getting in the shooting lanes and blocking shots.”
“Our penalty kill was unbelievable tonight,” said McKee, who made 26 saves in the win. “I think on the five-minute PK, they only had 2 shots, and they were both from the outside.”
The third period had begun with the Big Red leading 2-1 on power-play goals from senior captain Matt Moulson and junior defenseman Ryan O’Byrne. However, the Spartans tied the score early in the third, when Michigan State captain Drew Miller scored his second goal of the night, streaking across the front of the crease and flipping the puck over McKee’s outstretched glove.
“[During the intermission], I told them that if we can be within a goal on the road, every single game, then be happy,” said Michigan State head coach Rick Comley. “And we came out and did what we had to do. This is a hard game, hard crowd, hard atmosphere, and our kids showed me again that, when we’re healthy, we’re a pretty good hockey team.”
With the score tied at 2-2, senior assistant captain Chris Abbott took a well-timed shot from the boards at a sharp angle. The puck eluded Spartan goaltender Dominic Vicari, giving Cornell a lead it would not relinquish.
“Mitch [Carefoot] got the puck to me there on the half boards,” said Abbott. “I released the puck, and it found its way through. It was a good screen by Evan [Barlow] in front.”
With the game winding down, Moulson added an empty-net goal to secure the victory for the Big Red. Cornell (1-0-0) and Michigan State (2-1-1) will meet again on Saturday night, and both coaches are keeping tonight’s game in perspective.
“Those are two very even teams,” said Comley, “and I think there’s a good chance that they could meet again and not just tomorrow.”"
“This is just one game,” added Schafer. “They have a great team, and we knew it was going to be a great college hockey game. But as a hockey player, win or lose, you have to have a really short memories. Put it in the books and move on. You have to come back with the same determination as if you just lost the game today.”