Cornell felt the déjà vu early on, but it was Colorado College that, in the end, gave head coach Scott Owens the chance to call the game a microcosm of the Tigers’ season as the Big Red came out on top 3-2.
One week ago, Cornell lost in the ECACHL championship game to Harvard thanks to a slew of undisciplined penalties. The Crimson scored a monumental three power-play goals in the first period.
The Big Red battled back, but two more goals on the man-advantage handed Harvard the title. In the end, Cornell took 10 minor penalties in the game and its opponent capitalized on half of them.
Early on Saturday at the Resch Center, it looked like that same undisciplined Cornell team had laced up its skates again.
Back-to-back penalties on the Big Red less than five minutes into the game gave Colorado College a golden five-on-three opportunity. The Tigers jumped on it right away and grabbed an early lead.
“It was déjà vu, it was unbelievable,” Cornell head coach Mike Schafer said. “To take such a stupid penalty … we pride ourselves on being a disciplined hockey team, and we came out and did the exact same thing and they capitalized.”
Then, when Cornell’s Mark McCutcheon went to the box at 14:29 of the opening frame, CC made the Big Red pay again, taking a 2-0 lead into the first intermission.
The Tigers had two goals in the first period. The Big Red had one shot on goal.
“There were some flashbacks, but the guys were ready to bounce back,” John Gleed said. “There was a better feeling this time around than in Albany.”
That better feeling translated to the confidence that Cornell needed. The Big Red clawed their way back a week ago, only to take more penalties and surrender more power-play goals in the loss.
It could have been the same story one week later. They fought back in the second period against CC, pulling within 2-1. Only this time, they learned their lessons and put them to use.
After three first-period infractions, the Big Red were not whistled again the rest of the night.
“It was loud and clear to them between the first and second periods that it was in their hands,” Schafer said. “If they want to continue to play that way it’s going to be a long night, [but] if they want to have a lot more pride in themselves and play as a team … or were they going to be selfish? If you’re not disciplined, you’re selfish.”
Cornell took that pressure to heart and dictated much of the final 40 minutes.
The Big Red tied it up early in the third period and Gleed put home the eventual game-winner less than five minutes later as they put the déjà vu talk to rest, moving on to the regional final.
But for the Tigers and Owens, this game played out much like their regular season, and he wasn’t shy about making the comparison when the game was over.
“If you’re into writing stories, it was kind of a microcosm of our season,” Owens said. “Great start, struggled in the middle, still hanging in there early in the third, and in the end we wore down completely.”
Much like the quick 2-0 lead early in the game Saturday, CC opened its season 8-1-0, jumping to the No. 1 ranking in the country. The Tigers were still 17-6-1 when the new year rolled in.
But 2006 didn’t bring much happiness to Colorado Springs early on. The Tigers proceeded to drop their first five games in January, including a 9-1 drubbing at home to Wisconsin which sent the downward turn in motion.
They weathered hard times, winning six of their next seven games, but were knocked out of the WCHA tournament in the first round by St. Cloud State. In Saturday’s game, they entered the final 20 minutes still clinging to their one-goal lead, but simply ran out of steam.
“We just ran out of gas after that quick start,” Marty Sertich said. “We felt good after that first period … and I don’t know what happened after that.”
Thanks to injuries and fatigue, the Tigers’ season simply wore down in the end. But in the other locker room, the Big Red were headed into a regional final against Wisconsin with confidence and momentum after proving they learned their lesson.