LAKE PLACID, N.Y. — Gunning for its third ECAC Hockey tournament title in a row, Union took its game right at Cornell, running the Big Red out of goals and out of gas in a 5-2 semifinal win on Friday.
Seniors Cole Ikkala, Daniel Carr and Kevin Sullivan, junior Max Novak, and rookie Mike Vecchione divvied up the goals for the top-seeded Dutchmen (27-6-4), and junior Colin Stevens backed them up with 24 saves.
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Junior Joakim Ryan and sophomore Christian Hilbrich scored for the Big Red (17-10-5), but the two goals weren’t enough to support senior Andy Iles (26 saves) in what may be the Ithaca native’s final game of his collegiate career.
“Union did an excellent job in transition and in special teams,” Cornell coach Mike Schafer said. “Congratulations to them. For us, obviously, it’s tremendously disappointing. A number of things have to happen for us to continue our season, or perhaps our season’s over. If it is, we have no one to blame but ourselves.”
Schafer admitted earlier this week: “We’re not going to walk into Lake Placid and start pumping in four or five goals. In the playoffs, some nights it’s about being comfortable playing in a low-scoring, defensive game.”
In fact, the Big Red were 0-4-1 this season when allowing four goals or more. Union — now 19-1 when scoring four goals or more — exposed Cornell’s offensive deficiency with responsible defending and a few opportunistic rushes of its own.
Ikkala set Cornell back on its heels in the 10th minute of action with a slippery backhand that wriggled between Iles’ knees. Eight minutes later, Sullivan knocked the Red to their knees with a power-play goal.
A souped-up forecheck paid dividends for Cornell in the second period as Union struggled to achieve center ice. Hilbrich capped off a series of successful shifts with an unassisted snipe from the right-wing dot, beating Stevens to the top corner and halving Union’s lead.
A wild 1:12 toward the end of the period kept the fans, bands and scorekeepers on their toes: Novak blew a shot through Iles at 17:20 of the period; Ryan beat Stevens 58 seconds later to cut Union’s lead back to one; Vecchione then reinstated the two-goal cushion 14 seconds after that at 18:32.
“The back-and-forth in the second period, momentum’s going both ways, and us as a team, we’ve got to capitalize when we get the momentum; we’ve got to keep it. We didn’t,” said Hilbrich.
Cornell earned a crucial five-on-three advantage midway through the third period, but was unable to find the net.
“I think that special teams, we didn’t get the job done, especially five-on-three,” Schafer said.
“We had chances,” Hilbrich said. “We just didn’t convert.”
Carr iced the game with an 80-foot, empty-net goal with 1:23 remaining.
Cornell will be praying for a perfect combination of results from around college hockey’s league tournaments in order to extend the Big Red’s season into the NCAA tournament.
Union moves on to its fourth league championship game in five years (2-1); the Dutchmen will take on the winner of Friday night’s Colgate-Quinnipiac contest.