ITHACA, N.Y. — Flying in from the student side of Lynah Rink, a storm of toothpaste containers rained down on the Colgate Raiders as they took the ice for the first game of a home-and-home series with their travel partner, Cornell. The pounding didn’t end with hygiene products, as a 4-1 victory moved the Big Red to within one point of first place Colgate in the ECACHL.
“Their guys came out hard, and I think we tried to weather them, but we didn’t get enough effort,” said Colgate goaltender Mark Dekanich. “They wanted it more tonight.”
The game’s turning point was on a five-on-three Colgate power play that carried over from the first to the second period. The Big Red enjoyed a major morale boost when they successfully killed off the two-man disadvantage. Everyone in the building felt the energizing implications as the crowd erupted when senior Cam Abbott flew out of the penalty box and raced into the play.
“I thought after they killed that off, the momentum shifted,” said Colgate coach Don Vaughan. “The building got louder, if that’s possible, at that point. I thought their team really fed off that.”
“It was a big kill for us, without question,” said Cornell coach Mike Schafer. “That’s a very potent power play. Five on three for over 50 seconds-to hold them down was obviously very important.”
The momentum shift was visible, as Cornell tested Dekanich on a slew of scoring opportunities in the following minutes. The Big Red’s persistence and fore-checking frenzy kept the puck in the Colgate zone for most of the play, early in the period.
Six minutes into the period, Cornell sophomore Raymond Sawada got in on the pressure and intercepted a Colgate pass along the far boards in the Raider zone. Sawada skated in towards the middle the far side circle to shoot past Dekanich and break the scoring deadlock with his fifth goal of the season. After watching the puck smack the netting for the goal, Sawada dropped to a knee for a Tiger Woods style uppercut fist pump.
After killing off two penalties by freshman Jared Seminoff, Cornell added to its lead on a power play of its own. Junior Evan Salmela positioned himself on right of the net and anxiously called for the puck. Byron Bitz passed to Topher Scott, who found Salmela. He tried to jam the rubber by Dekanich’s glove side. The goalie blocked the first effort but Salmela knocked in the rebound for his second career goal. The assists were Scott’s team-leading 17th of the season and Bitz’s 14th.
“I was surprised, because I went hard to the net and nobody laid a stick on me ever. I saw Topher had the puck, and when he has the puck, all you have to do is get in front and keep your stick on the ice.”
Salmela saw significantly more ice time than usual, as he filled in for injured defenseman Ryan O’Byrne and replaced Sasha Pokulok on the first power play unit after Pokulok left the game early with an injury.
Scott and Sawada each added their second point of the night when they connected in the third period to give Cornell a 3-0 lead. With Colgate’s Peter Bogdanich exiting the penalty box, Scott Surveying the defense from behind the Colgate net, then fired the puck to Sawada, who lifted a goal past Dekanich for the second time of the night.
“Well I don’t get goals too often, but I’ll take them when they come. I was just in the right place at the right time,” said Sawada. “On the second goal, it was just a nice play by Moulson and Tophs to get me the puck in front of the net.”
Colgate’s Jesse Winchester denied Cornell goaltender Dave McKee of his 18th career shutout, when he scored unassisted with less that two minutes remaining. Winchester beat McKee from the far side circle just before the sophomore forward collided with a Cornell defender and fell to the ice.
Deserving of the last word, Cornell capped the night with an empty-net goal by Daniel Pegararo. Assisted by Cam Abbott and Jared Seminoff, Pegararo powered the puck into the open net on a turnaround slap shot.
On Saturday night the teams will make the short drive to Colgate for the second leg of the home and home. A win by Cornell would give them sole possession of first place in the ECACHL.
“The game’s over. It goes back to 0-0, and we go back up into a tough rink,” said Schafer.