HAMILTON, N.Y. — “It’s not over ’til it’s over.”
The Colgate Raiders (16-4-3, 11-3-2 ECACHL) learned this proverb the hard way Saturday night, as Cornell’s Mark McCutcheon swooped in to score the game-winner with 39 seconds left in the game. The Raiders consequently dropped their second game in a row to the Big Red, while Cornell advanced its position in the standings to first, one point ahead Colgate.
The Big Red pulled out a 3-2 victory at Starr Rink and showed great diligence in what turned out to be a very “distracting” game.
Before the first drop of the puck, Cornell experience its first disruption – someone forgot to pack the team’s jerseys and socks. The Big Red had to resort to doing warm-ups without jerseys on, displaying all of their upper under-garments and pads. Also during warm-ups, the Cornell players and coaches were pelted with packs of “Big Red” chewing gum by the tenacious Colgate fans, who showed up as early as 6 hours in advance to get tickets to the game. Other than McCutcheon, the team heroes of the evening were Chris Fontas and Marvin Mcleod, who left Lynah Arena late enough to be notified to rush over the gear that had been left behind.
“This has never happened to me before,” Cornell’s 11-year veteran head coach Mike Schafer reflected, “it’s like leaving the baby at home and going out.”
Despite these early impediments, Cornell jumped out to a quick lead. Two Raiders ran into each other on an offensive rush at the Cornell blue line allowing the Big Red to transition into a 5-on-2 rush in the opposite direction. Following some quick passes, eventually Doug Krantz crossed the puck to Chris Abbott, who tucked the puck in on the near side past the sprawling Raider goaltender Mark Dekanich, for his sixth of the season.
Colgate managed to level the score within the last four minutes of the opening period. In a battle for possession along the boards at the Cornell blue line, the puck eventually squirted into center ice. Kyle Wilson picked up the free puck and skated in 1-on-1. Wilson cleverly used Cornell defenseman Evan Salmela as a screen, and took an off-side shot that dipped under David McKee’s blocker and in for Wilson’s 19th of the season.
The score remained tied well into the second. The Raiders seemed to find a spark after killing an early penalty – they began to cycle the puck down low and took their fair share of shots on McKee. Colgate maintained a monopoly on offense until the Big Red capitalized on a heads-up play by defenseman Dan Glover. With 1:20 left in the period, Glover held the puck in the offensive zone, cut towards the middle and faked as if he was going to take a slapshot. Instead, he zipped a pass to Daniel Pegararo standing alone by the far post, who had all day to put away his fourth of the season and give Cornell the 2-1 lead.
The score remained that way until Colgate earned a 5-on-3 power play midway through the third. Offensive chances up to that point had gone back and forth between the two teams, but then an interference call on McCutcheon and a delay of game call on Glover gave the Raiders their opportunity to tie the game. Less than thirty seconds into the two-man advantage, the Raiders were able to capitalize on the over-aggressive Cornell three-man unit. John Smyth realized that all three Big Red defensemen were on the right-wing boards, so he crossed the puck to Wilson standing alone in the slot. Wilson had an open forward, but decided to take the shot himself and roofed his 20th over McKee’s blocker.
Each team had their share of stellar defensive plays in the third to deny goals, which included Cornell’s Jared Seminoff diving behind his goaltender to save the puck from sliding between McKee’s legs, and Dekanich making a stack-the-pads save off the butt-end of his stick. 2-2 marked the score going into the final minute of play, but then a moment of deja-vu ended the Raiders’ brief reign at the top of the ECACHL.
With 39 seconds remaining, Cornell’s Mitch Carefoot quickly changed while his team had possession in the Colgate zone. Replacing him was McCutcheon – the team’s second-leading goal-scorer despite never having scored in either of his preceding two years at Cornell – who streaked into the high slot. Abbott, who won the battle for puck possession in the corner, fired a pass onto McCutcheon’s tape, and McCutcheon wristed one that found its way through the five-hole of Dekanich, possibly off a Raider forward in front of the net.
“Mitch changed early, which is something that we’ve been working on all year – good cycle shifts,” said McCutcheon. “I guess I called loud enough [for the pass], and [once I got it] I just tried to put it on net.”
“This weekend will really help our momentum in the stretch-run,” McCutcheon added.
“In the grand scheme,” Schafer noted, “this game means we’re one point ahead. We’ve got six games left and two road games next weekend. This is what we’ve played for all season.”
Schafer later said of his opponents, “The Raiders are a very underrated team. They should be right there behind us in the rankings and should be given more respect.”
Colgate head coach Don Vaughan, now in his 13th year behind the bench for the Raiders, commented that he thought it was a “heck of a game.”
“An even match comes down to a bounce of the puck… and it hit our forward lying down in front of the net,” he said after the game.
Vaughan’s post-game speech was mostly devoted to telling his team that it has six games left, four of which are on the road, against some pretty hungry squads.
“We have to get ready for them and put this weekend behind us. In the end, there’s another game of ECAC hockey.”
Colgate and Cornell, as travel partners, hit the road next weekend to take on St. Lawrence and Clarkson, Colgate with the hope of at least securing home-ice advantage for the playoffs, and Cornell aiming to distance themselves from Colgate at the top of the ECACHL standings.