ITHACA, N.Y. — With nearly a month gone in his third collegiate season, Nick D’Agostino finally notched his first three power-play goals in a pair of 4-0 victories over Princeton and Quinnipiac last weekend.
Now that he’s got the knack, the nation’s top scoring blueliner just can’t get enough.
D’Agostino, a seventh-round pick of the Pittsburgh Penguins in the 2008 NHL draft, banged a backhand in for the game’s only goal as No. 17 Cornell eked out a 1-0 victory over a plucky Niagara squad at Lynah Rink on Tuesday.
It wasn’t exactly the banner night the Big Red were hoping for to celebrate the 500th victory in the history of hallowed Lynah Rink. For the first time all season, Cornell (6-2-0 overall, 6-1-0 ECAC) entered the third period with a goose egg on the scoreboard as Niagara (2-5-3) held a slight advantage in quality chances, not to mention shots on goal (18-13).
“I don’t know if it was the three games in five nights or what it was, but the lack of passion,” Cornell coach Mike Schafer said. “We played hard, but we didn’t play with that sense of urgency.”
In the end, it was special teams that again did Niagara in. The Purple Eagles entered the contest with the 52nd ranked penalty killing unit, and although they kept Cornell off the scoresheet during their first four tries, D’Agostino finally converted with his team-leading sixth goal of the season. Greg Miller got the lone assist as he fired a shot from the point.
The goal came at the 9:03 mark of the third period, with Niagara’s Doug Clifford in the box for boarding.
“They have some really skilled guys and a lot of motion. They try to catch you in rotation,” Niagara coach Dave Burkholder said. “I thought our guys played real disciplined. They had a couple of whacks at it and scored on a rebound goal, unfortunately.”
While D’Agostino and the rink’s milestone were the prominent story lines, goalie Andy Iles was the one who allowed the other two to happen. Iles’ third straight shutout pushed him into rarified air, jumping up to the third longest shutout streak in school history with his current stretch of 202:28, and leapfrogging the likes of David McKee, Ken Dryden and John VanDerMark in the process.
He made a number of huge saves in the second period, when the visitors had a pair of breakaways and a 2-on-1 from center ice with two of their top scorers, Patrick Divjak and Scott Arnold.
“We needed to score on one of our grade As in the second,” Burkholder said. “We had some unbelievable chances.”
Colby Drost had a solid night for Niagara, as the freshman finished with 23 saves in just third collegiate appearance. He made a great save on John Esposito, who raised his arms when he thought he’d beat the netminder.
Although it wasn’t as resounding a win as he’d have liked, Schafer hinted the the Big Red might by looking forward to a Saturday night date with Boston University at Madison Square Garden. Still, he said his group needs to find a way to maintain its focus each night. Cornell’s only other home loss this season came at the hands of another Atlantic Hockey team, Mercyhurst, which beat the Big Red 5-4 on opening night.
“You can’t get complacent winning hockey games, you’ve got to keep pushing ahead. We’ve won five games, but each game the sense of urgency has been a little bit less,” Schafer said. “They work hard, their kids block shots. They do a great job. I can’t speak for our players, but I know as a coaching staff, we talked about it at length. These guys come to play and you’ve got to come hard.”