TROY, N.Y. — RPI fans brought the thunder and the Engineer forwards provided the early flash in a 2-0 home shutout of Cornell on Friday.
With RPI’s Houston Field House packed with 3,945 thunderstick-wielding fans, Kevin Croxton and Oren Eizenman netted first period goals just 1:37 apart and Mathias Lange made 34 saves to lead the Engineers to victory.
The Big Red defense, playing without defensemen Ryan O’Byrne, Sasha Pokulok, and Doug Krantz, allowed an uncharacteristic number of chances to the Engineers in the early going. The Engineers grabbed the early lead on a pair of Big Red defensive miscues and rode the two-goal edge to victory.
“I’m really disappointed in our hockey team,” said Cornell Head Coach Mike Schafer. “We’re down three of our best defenseman, but early on, we didn’t believe we could win without those three guys. I’m disappointed in that mentality, as opposed to coming out and taking control of the game and going after it the way we wanted to.”
Eizenman’s goal came at 16:41 of the first period. He took the puck in the neutral zone and came up the left wing. He made a series of tricky moves through the Cornell defense, including tipping the puck through his legs to himself, before cutting across to his backhand and depositing a five-hole goal past Cornell goalie David McKee.
“I got it with a toe drag, then pulled it back through my legs,” said Eizenman. “Then I was alone with the goalie. I waited for him to go down and I put it through his legs.”
RPI doubled the lead at 18:18 of the first with Eizenman’s line on the ice again. Engineer captain Kevin Croxton stripped the puck from a Big Red defender behind the net. The Engineers cycled the puck and a point shot from Keith McWilliams rebounded to Kurt Colling on the doorstep. Colling sent it across the crease, through a pair of defenders, and Croxton tucked a one-timer over the shoulder of a diving McKee and just under the crossbar.
“That was probably one of the nicest feeds I’ve ever seen,” Croxton said about Colling’s through-traffic pass. “It was easy to put that one in.”
After falling behind, Cornell took over the game. The Big Red out-shot the Engineers 13-3 in the second period and 15-6 in the third. They could not, however, solve Lange.
That’s not to say they didn’t have their chances. Midway through the third period, Lange made a pair of quick saves on Ryan Kindret and Taylor Davenport. Minutes later, Byron Bitz vaulted over a diving Engineer defenseman in a one-on-one situation and fired a shot. The puck hit Lange and trickled over the line, but referee Alex Dell had already blown the whistle.
“We knew they were going to throw everything they had at us in the third period, but I thought we did a good job defensively, and Mathias played a heck of a game,” said RPI Head Coach Dan Fridgen.
RPI had a late power play but gave up a shorthanded breakaway to Cam Abbott. Abbott put a move on Lange and tried to go the glove side but came up empty.
“It went off the tip of my glove,” said Lange about the breakaway chance. “I just tried to stay up on my feet as long as I could to let him make the first move. He went to his backhand, I slid over, and I got the tip of the glove on it.”
RPI took a penalty with 2:20 left and the Big Red pulled McKee for the extra attacker seconds later, setting up a six-on-four situation. After a minute of intense pressure, Cornell gave it right back with 53 seconds left on a bench penalty for too many men on the ice. Daniel Pegoraro had a prime chance to bring Cornell within one with 20 seconds left, but he fanned on a one-timer attempt and fell into the net, knocking it off its moorings.
Lange notched his first career conference shutout in the win. McKee made 15 saves in the loss. RPI’s record improves to 14-14-6 overall and 8-7-6 in ECACHL play. The Big Red loss drops them to 17-7-4 overall and 12-6-3 in conference. The loss, coupled with wins by Colgate and Dartmouth, also drops Cornell to third in the league.
The Engineers host Colgate tomorrow and Cornell travels to Schenectady to take on Union. Both games start at 7 pm.