SCHENECTADY, N.Y. — Josh Coyle can score goals. He can also be a pest. And he gets himself in unnecessary penalty situations.
The Union senior forward took an ill-advised holding call with 7:20 left in the third period against Cornell with the scored tied at 2-2. It was costly.
Brendon Nash high-slot drive beat goalie Justin Mrazek for a power-play goal with 5:43 left, giving the Big Red a 3-2 victory over the Dutchmen in Game 1 of the ECAC Hockey tournament quarterfinals at Messa Rink.
The fifth-seeded Big Red (17-13-3) can clinch a semifinal berth with a win tonight in Game 2. The fourth-seeded Dutchmen (15-13-6) must win to avoid yet another postseason disappointment. They haven’t won a playoff series in their Division I history.
Just over a minute earlier, Michael Beynon’s goal helped the Dutchmen tie the score, and grab the momentum. With a faceoff in the neutral zone and the teams playing four skaters aside following coincidental penalties to Cornell’s Riley Nash and Union’s Lane Caffaro, Coyle held down Topher Scott for seven seconds, and wouldn’t let him up. Referee Jack Millea put Coyle in the box.
“Unacceptable penalty,” said Union coach Nate Leaman, who said it again for emphasis. “The No. 1 thing in our scouting report is they live on their power play.”
Mrazek did a good job during the power play, making three saves. But he had no chance on Brendon Nash’s goal. His shot hit Union forward Andrew Buote’s stick, causing the puck to rise. It went over Mrazek’s left shoulder and into the net.
“I was trying to go for a rebound for Colin [Greening], so he could pound it in front of the net,” Brendon Nash said. “But it just happened to get off their forward’s stick, and threw off the goalie there.”
Mrazek was startled.
“I didn’t even see it,” Mrazek said.
Coyle, who wasn’t made available for comment, did take some shifts after coming out of the box. When asked if Coyle would be in the lineup tonight, Leaman curtly said, “I don’t know.”
“Josh obviously feels horrible,” Mrazek said. “The team supports him, obviously. Sometimes, those things happen. But we have to be more disciplined as a whole.”
Union’s Jason Walters was ejected early in the third period for a major hit from behind on Chris Fontas, who scored Cornell’s first two goals. He got his first one a minute into the game.
Torren Delforte tied it for the Dutchmen late in the first. He got a rebound of a Mike Wakita shot and fired it past goalie Ben Scrivens.
“We got the puck up high,” Delforte said. “It was a good shot by ‘Watts.’ He got it down low. I got it on my tape, and put it in.”
The Dutchmen carried the play in the second period. But all that change with a quick flick of the wrist when Fontas scored a faceoff goal midway through the second. Cleanly beating Walters in Union’s left circle, Fontas fired the puck past Mrazek’s left pad.
“It rarely works,” said Fontas, a UMass-Lowell transfer who had just one goal this season. “But you get one chance, and if it goes in like that, it’s a bonus.”
Now, the pressure is on the Dutchmen to win tonight and extend the series to Sunday.
“It’s extremely disappointing,” Mrazek said. “The first game’s huge, obviously. We have to stay positive. The series is going to go three games. They won the first battle. We’ve got to pick it up from there. We have to win two straight.”
Ken Schott covers college hockey for the The Daily Gazette in Schenectady, N.Y.