ESTERO, Fla. — It wasn’t pretty for the Cornell Big Red, but it got the job done.
Despite being out-shot 38-26 and territorially dominated by St. Cloud State for much of the game, Cornell used three second period goals and an outstanding goaltending performance by junior Ben Scrivens (36 saves) to earn a 3-2 victory in the second semifinal of the Florida College Classic.
The victory sets up and all-ECAC final, as the Big Red will face Colgate, a 3-2 winner over Maine, in Sunday’s championship game. St. Cloud will play Maine in the tournament’s consolation game.
“You expect things not to be too pretty this time of year,” said Cornell coach Mike Schafer. “The Big Red, as are all teams, is coming off the holiday exam break and haven’t played in three full weeks.
The key to the victory was Cornell’s ability to answer St. Cloud in the second period, when the Huskies jumped out to a 1-0 lead on the power play. Cornell scored just seconds later and then added two goals later in the frame to take a two-goal lead into the third.
Though the Huskies climbed within a goal when Ryan Lasch banged a rebound between the pads of Scrivens with 9:05 remaining, they couldn’t get the equalizer, despite plenty of offensive chances. St. Cloud out-shot the Big Red, 15-6, in the final period.
“We don’t like the loss, but we played well from start to finish,” said St. Cloud coach Bob Motzko. “We made a couple of mistakes. Our power play got one at the start of the second and it was a back breaker to give that one back on the next shift.”
Motzko elected to play backup goaltender Dan Dunn (23 saves) instead of Jase Weslosky. The sophomore netminder was put to the fire in the opening period, as Cornell came out guns blazing. He was able to hold his own in the opening frame though, as was Schrivens, as the two clubs were scoreless despite mustering 12 shots each.
After the scoreless opening period, the teams traded goals early in the second. St. Cloud, which began the frame on a power play, executed picture-perfect, tic-tac-toe passing with leading scorer Garrett Roe finishing off the play at 1:12 for the 1-0 lead.
Just 20 seconds later, though, Cornell answered. Joe Devin deflected a Brendon Nash shot from the left point over the shoulder of Dunn to knot the game at one.
“[Nash] did a good job of shooting the puck with his head up,” said Schafer. “We’ve struggled when teams collapse getting shots through.”
St. Cloud responded with quality chances of its own, but couldn’t solve Scrivens. Nick Oslund was stopped on a breakaway at 4:42, and Ryan Lasch couldn’t beat Scrivens when he was sent in alone at 7:22.
Having survived those bids, it appeared as if the Bid Red might have shot themselves in the foot, taking a careless too-many-men-on-the-ice penalty at 9:07. Riley Nash, though, redeemed his club, pushing the rebound of a harmless looking Blake Gallagher shot past Dunn for a short-handed tally at 10:54.
The goal brought the Cornell offense to life and 61 seconds later Devin buried a rebound for his second goal of the period to give the Big Red a 3-1 lead heading to the final 20 minutes.
“The short-handed goal was huge,” said Schafer. “Then that led to the third one.”
In control, Cornell seemed to let the Huskies back into the game in the third. St. Cloud’s team speed created difficulty for the Big Red defensemen and, in doing so, drew three penalties. Cornell, though, killed all three, thanks to solid penalty killing and, more importantly, near flawless goaltending by Scrivens.
“You don’t want to go into the third period and take three penalties you have to kill,” said Schafer. “But Ben did a good job. There was a lot of traffic around him, but he’s a big kid and he stayed up and didn’t get flopping around.”
With the victory, Cornell improves to 8-1-2 on the season, the club’s best start since 2002-03, when it began 10-1-0. That team went to the Frozen Four before losing to New Hampshire in the national semifinal.
The Frozen Four and a national championship are miles away for this year’s club, but the first shot at a title this season, albeit in the Florida College Classic, is but a single win away.