ITHACA, N.Y. — The Cornell Big Red opened up their season’s longest home stand in style, knocking off the league-leading St. Lawrence Saints with a 5-2 victory.
After evenhanded play in the first period, the defending ECACHL champions took over, scoring four goals in the second and third periods as they asserted themselves, once again, as the league’s “team to beat.”
“Our guys came to the rink tonight prepared to play because they know how good St. Lawrence is,” said Cornell head coach Mike Schafer. “It was a good college hockey game.”
Filling in on the power-play unit for injured teammate Ryan O’Byrne, Cornell defenseman Sasha Pokulok gave The Red a big boost with two power-play goals, his second and third goals of the season. Pokulok, who was taken 13th overall by Washington in this past summer’s NHL draft, had yet to live up to the expectations of some, including his coach. But he showcased his talent on Friday night.
“I think I had sort of a slow start to the season. There was a lot of pressure and I was trying to deal with it different ways, but now I think everything is coming together, we are playing well as a group, and everyone’s confidence is back,” said Pokulok.
“As of late he’s starting to meet those expectations,” said coach Schafer. “He’s not turning the puck over so much, he’s not trying to do to much.”
Pokulok’s first period goal opened the night’s scoring, as rapid back-to-back St. Lawrence penalties resulted in a quick Cornell goal in five-on-three play.
Cornell wasted no time on the two-man advantage. A mere 14 seconds after the second penalty, the reliable Cornell power-play unit, which converts on nearly 17 percent of its chances, found back netting as Pokulok hit a bullet-like one-timer past St. Lawrence goalie Justin Pesony. Matt Moulson, who leads The Big Red in points, set up Pokulok as he received a pass from Byron Bitz in between the circles, then slid the puck over to the open Pokulok for the laser one-timer.
“It was a nice pass from Moulson, and Ray [Sawada] was doing a good job screening the goalie, so it all worked out pretty well,” said Pokulok.
St. Lawrence, which outshot The Red 8-7 in the first period, responded with a power-play goal of its own. After Cornell’s Dan Glover incurred a boarding penalty for a big hit along the boards in the Saint’s zone, St. Lawrence junior Kyle rank took a pass from Madill and beat goalie Dave McKee from in between the circles. Defenseman Drew Bagnall also assisted on the play.
In the second period, Cornell added a pair of goals and distanced itself from its first-place foes. Freshman Michael Kennedy scored the go-ahead goal on a breakaway nine minutes into the period. Skating in on a breakaway and trailed closely by a St. Lawrence defenseman, Kennedy faked Pesony, then backhanded a finesse shot to tally the go-ahead goal. Fellow freshman Evan Barlow and sophomore Topher Scott scored the assists.
“I really didn’t think, I just reacted,” said Kennedy.
Later in the period, pressuring the Saints as they handled the puck in their own end, The Red forced a St. Lawrence turnover. Following the interception, Cornell’s top power play-unit continued its efficiency. Scott turned to the attack and passed to Sawada who slid the puck to the middle of the zone, setting up Pokulok’s second goal of the night. Pesony appeared to have denied Pokulok as the goalie blocked Pokulok’s bid before the puck trickled into the goal on his glove side to the delight of the home crowd.
Cornell widened the gap in the first minute of the third period. Chris Abbott moved the puck ahead to Sawada at mid ice. Sawada, who had two assists on the night, carried the puck into the Saints zone on the left side, as he and Jared Seminoff split one Saint defenseman on a two-on-one. Approaching the Saint’s goal, Sawada slipped the puck over to Seminoff, who lifted a shot over Pesony’s glove side to find high netting and the fourth Cornell goal.
“Luckily, [Seminoff] put it top corner. It was a real nice goal,” said Sawada.
John Zeiler did respond for the Saints, scoring his team’s second goal on a assist from T.J. Trevelyan, but it was too little, too late. Cornell ended the night’s scoring with an impressive empty netter from Cam Abbott, who scored by flipping the puck high into the air from about 20 yards from the goal
“They’re a tough team to control. They’re very tough physically, and I think that was evident tonight,” said St. Lawrence head coach Joe Marsh. “They showed why they’ve dominated the league for the last five years.”