ALBANY, N.Y. — The magic finally ran out for Brown, but it’s just kicking in for Cornell.
The Big Red smothered the Cinderella Bears 3-0 in Friday afternoon’s ECAC Hockey semifinal, advancing to the league championship for the seventh time in 10 years and the 20th time overall. Freshman John Esposito, sophomore Locke Jillson and junior Riley Nash scored for the Big Red (20-8-4), and league Goaltender of the Year Ben Scrivens stopped 23 in the victory. The shutout was his fourth in his ECAC Hockey playoff career, a new league record.
Mike Clemente made 24 saves for Brown (12-20-4), which participated in its first ECAC Hockey final four since spring of 2003. The Bears nonetheless made history with their stunning postseason run, becoming the first 11-seed to ever play in the league’s championship weekend.
I’m very proud of the way that we came together as a team, said Brown head coach Brendan Whittet. Definitively, we improved from the beginning of the year to the end.
The game started slowly, the teams feeling each other out with quick rabbit-punch attacks but very little in the way of sustained offense. Each team had power-play opportunities, but there was very little to draw the patrons out of their seats in the opening frame. After a tentative 20 minutes, Brown had mustered 11 shots on net to a quiet six from Cornell. Recently returned tri-captain Jordan Pietrus took four of the Bears’ shots, but nothing-doing against the newly minted Ken Dryden Award-winner Scrivens.
The Big Red were hampered by three penalties, while the Bears only sat for a deuce.
Cornell had a reasonable look at the net in the game’s 28th minute, as Esposito took an interrupted whack at a Riley Nash feed in the middle of Clemente’s slot. The winger had his lumber locked up, however, by the defense and couldn’t connect for a shot. Winger Joe Devin found twin brother Mike hustling down the slot with 9:40 on the clock, but the latter brother couldn’t tip the back-hand one-timer beyond Clemente’s right pad.
With 4:25 to play, Jillson finally broke the draw. Twirling with the puck beneath the left-wing dot, the Texan winger spun to the forehand and wristed a rising snipe over Clemente’s right shoulder that quickly jumped back out of the net. After a brief review, referee Tim Kotyra found that the puck had in fact smacked the net’s upper frame, behind the leading crossbar.
The goal sparked the Big Red, who in short time generated three more crease-crunching rushes that forced Brown into a tight defensive shell. The Bears fought through the immediate pressure and took the game back to center-ice, but Cornell kept the heat on and Brown was firmly heel-planted at the second buzzer.
We got to our systems in the second period, said Cornell head coach Mike Schafer, who will coach in his league-record ninth title game Saturday night. Brown did a good job of taking us out of our game in the first.
In stark contrast to the first period, Cornell plowed a dozen pucks Clemente’s way in the second, while Brown only took three shots on Scrivens. The Bears also took the only minor of the frame.
They’re a team that plays very very well with a lead, said Whittet.
The Bears got a shot at tying it up with 15 minutes on the board as Brendon Nash was called for an elbowing minor, but a two-on-one shorthanded break by Jillson and Patrick Kennedy – followed by a slashing whistle against Aaron Volpatti – put a quick end to that thought. Esposito’s snap-shot promptly doubled the Big Red’s lead with 13 minutes to play in regulation, beating Clemente top-shelf.
I love it, Esposito said of four-on-four play. it’s a great opportunity for us to get out there and skate, he said of his fleet-footed comrades.
Brown sophomore Bobby Farnham broke away from the pack a minute later, torching the defense from the red line on in for a 90-foot breakaway. The second-line winger looked five-hole on the patient ‘keeper, but Scrivens slammed the door with a cool butterfly save. The Bears just missed on another Grade-A bid, as sophomore Jack Maclellan took an open feed from Harry Zolnierczyk in front of the Cornell net. Maclellan failed to slip a back-handed deke around Scrivens’ right skate, the puck rolling off the right post.
The Big Red effectively buried Brown a minute later, when Riley Nash whipped a screened 25-footer over Clemente’s far shoulder from the right-wing circle.
Cornell advances to play the victor of St. Lawrence-Union Saturday night in the league championship, while Brown will contest the loser in the afternoon’s consolation tilt.