ITHACA, N.Y. — Propelled by a 35 save effort from goaltender Mathias Lange, the RPI Engineers kept the Cornell offense in check on Saturday night and handed Cornell a frustrating 1-1 tie.
Cornell, in its quest to repeat as ECACHL champions, receives only one point for their disappointing 0-1-1 weekend. For the second night in a row, the Big Red offense controlled possession and dominated in shots on goal, but only managed one score.
“I thought our guys played extremely hard, I thought they dominated play in both games all weekend,” said Cornell head coach, Mike Schafer. “You play that way all year long, you’re going to have success.”
For RPI, the tie was its second of a weekend road trip, and especially notable because it came against a team ranked fifth in the nation.
“Any time you come into a ranked team’s barn, especially Lynah, its huge to get a point,” said RPI forward Kevin Croxton. “Both teams played pretty hard, the refs kind of let us go tonight. I thought it was a good game all around.”
From the opening face off, Cornell clearly set the tempo. Crisp passing and aggressive play in the offensive zone gave the Big Red a 17-5 advantage in first period shots. Cornell kept the puck in the RPI zone for much of the period, denying Rensselaer goaltender Mathias Lange time to catch his breath. Relentless Cornell pressure during full strength play left the Engineers no option but to ice the puck on multiple occasions.
Cornell did not reap the benefits of this dominance until the 19th minute when, for the second consecutive night, Cornell struck first on a two-man advantage. Excellent passing on the five-on-three power play allowed junior forward Byron Bitz to find captain Matt Moulson above the circle. Moulson wound up and fired the puck off Lange’s padding to net his sixth goal of the young season.
“It was a good pass from Byron,” Moulson said. “I just kind of put it on net, finally sent one in for me. Hopefully we’ll get a couple more of those bounces in the next couple games.”
The second period brought more of the same for Lange and the RPI defense. Again, the Big Red presented a challenge as their first power-play unit handled the puck with ease to create scoring opportunities in front of RPI’s goal. After Engineer forward Andrew Lord received his first penalty of the game for obstruction, Cornell defenseman Ryan O’Byrne looked to replicate Moulson’s first period power-play blast, but he squarely connected with the right post on a vicious slap shot from the point.
On another Cornell power play later in the period, Moulson got open in front of the RPI net and lifted a wrist shot just inches above the crossbar on Lange’s blocker side. Lange’s netminding was impressive throughout the period, protecting the single-goal deficit with solid saves such as a quick glove grab to intercept freshman Michael Kennedy’s wrist shot early in the period.
A late second period boarding penalty put Cornell freshman Jared Seminoff in the penalty box to begin the third period. Just as Seminoff skated out of the penalty box, RPI junior Oren Eizenman controlled the puck from behind the Cornell net before slipping a pass just over the goal line to forward Jonathan Ornelas, who nailed the puck just beneath goaltender Dave McKee’s left side to score the equalizer.
“[McKee] came sliding across, he just left a little room between his pad and his arm,” Ornelas said.
With about four minutes left in regulation, Croxton hit the cross bar on a power-play shot, but McKee was able to control the rebound and send the game into overtime. The regulation shot count was the exact same as the night before against Union, with Cornell edging its opponent 33-13.
Overtime saw more of the same Cornell pressure. Moulson nearly ended the game with 18 seconds remaining when he tried to jam a centering pass by Lange’s left leg. Though Moulson and the Cornell players believed he was successful, the referees ruled that Lange did slide his pad over just in time to prevent the puck from slipping through.
Commenting on this tough weekend for the highly-ranked Cornell Big Red, Coach Schafer seemed unflustered.
“You have to maintain a cool head about yourself, in the sense that you let your preparation take care of things,” Schafer remarked.