ITHACA, N.Y. — Most of the Cornell fans that came to Lynah Rink on Friday night expected to watch the Big Red bounce back from their 6-1 lost to Dartmouth and dominate the less-heralded Union squad. Although Cornell nearly tripled the Dutchmen’s number of shots on goal, the surprised fans witnessed a 2-1 loss that marks the first time since the 2003-2004 ECACHL playoffs that Cornell has lost two games in a row on its home ice.
Though Union had just come off a four-point weekend and had the league’s reigning Goaltender of the Week in Kris Mayotte, the team faced an extra challenge by playing in the middle of the school’s exam period.
“The game was a huge mental game for our guys. “Our guys are in the middle of exams right now, a lot of them were taking exams late last night,” said Union head coach, Nate Leaman.
“I don’t think there is another team in the country that plays during their exam period, you play during your exam period and you’re lucky if the guys can catch a pass.”
The mental wear and tear of college exams did show throughout most of the first period. Mayotte had plenty of work, facing 17 shots from Cornell’s offense, while his counterpart Dave McKee faced only four Union bids.
“Mayotte saved our tail in the first period,” Leaman said about the huge shot differential.
Cornell struck first on the power play. Directly following a Union bench minor for having too many men on the ice, the Dutchmen’s senior blueliner Brian Campbell recieved a holding penalty, giving the Big Red the first two-man advantage of the night. Cornell captain Matt Moulson slid the puck out to the top of the left circle for sophomore defenseman Sasha Pokulok. Pokulok, the 14th pick in this past summer’s NHL draft, proceeded to rip a slap shot that redirected off a Union player’s stick to find low netting.
A few minutes later, Union responded on a power-play advantage of their own. After a scramble for the puck to the right of the Cornell goal, freshman defenseman Brendan Milnamow received the puck in the middle of the zone. For a moment, Milnamow patiently kept the puck on his blade, then wristed it above a sliding Cornell defenseman and past McKee’s right blocker. Senior Jonathan Poirier and Chris Potts recorded assists on the play.
With the rink announcer still reading the details of Milnamow’s goal over the Lynah PA system, the Union forechecking of Jake Schwan created a golden opportunity for senior forward A.J. Palkovich. After Schwan forced a bad pass in the Cornell zone, Palkovich intercepted the puck and used a backhand flick to beat the sliding McKee for the game-winner.
Excellent defense and penalty killing governed the next two periods by both teams. Each team failed to convert on two-man advantages in the second period, and combined for only nine shots in the third period. However, down two goals at home, Cornell kept pressure on Mayotte, who proved his value as the ECACHL’s Goaltender of the Week. A diving kick save midway through the second period and an impressive block off Jared Seminoff’s laser slap shot in the third squashed the Big Red’s biggest equalizing opportunities.
“Their goaltender played flawlessly, he made a lot of big saves for them,” said Cornell head coach Mike Schafer. “Their kid played awesome.”
For Mayotte, Friday night’s game was just a typical study break for a goaltender during senior year.
“When you are so focused on exams and your mind is so focused on that, you’re grinding it out. Then you come here, this is hockey, this is your escape,” Mayotte said.
“Cornell, it’s a great atmosphere, and if you can’t have fun in this building then you shouldn’t really be playing hockey anyway.”