NEW YORK –Every other year, Boston University and Cornell play in front of a sellout crowd at Madison Square Garden over Thanksgiving.
And every other year – so far, at least through four meetings – Boston University somehow comes away with a win or a tie.
For the last three meetings, Cornell and its terrific fan base had to come away feeling like they deserved a better fate.
In 2009, only a last-minute extra-attacker goal pulled out the tie for BU, who went on to a national championship.
The last time around in 2011, a hard-fought game went to overtime before Ross Gaudet got the game-winner. And that only happened after a Cornell goal was controversially called back due a blown whistle on a freak play – a puck went high in the air and out of sight for a good three seconds before bouncing on BU goalie Kieran Millan’s neck and going in the goal.
This year was the first time Cornell really dominated the game – with a little help from a 6-2 edge in power plays.
So what happens? Cornell gets skunked with the man advantage, while BU goes 1-for-2. Cornell outshoots BU 39-11 and the Big Red had an 80-42 margin in shot attempts. The Big Red consistently outmuscled the Terriers, as BU players routinely bounced off of Cornell players in the corners.
So we had to ask Cornell coach Mike Schafer what it’s going to take for the Big Red to win one of these Madison Square Garden matchups.
“One more goal,” Schafer said. “We came down here a couple of years ago and played awesome and we had a goal called back. This year, it’s 3-2. Another year we had the lead and we had to kill a 6-on-3 [power play]. They’ve been great college hockey games. You get kids here in this environment and that’s all you can ask for. They’re great games, close games, really competitive.”
And tonight was Cornell’s best chance ever. The Big Red clanged a couple of shots off of pipes and they did everything right except score on the power play. It took a dogged effort by the Terriers’ defense and some extraordinary goaltending from Matt O’Connor to pull out the win.
“We had some lady luck,” acknowledged BU coach David Quinn. “The hockey gods were smiling on us tonight. But I won’t apologize for that because we put ourselves in a position to win tonight.”
With Cason Hohmann out with a separated shoulder, Quinn noted that only three of his skaters tonight had played in the “Red Hot Hockey” game two years ago. In comparison, Cornell had 12 players who had that experience previously.
That didn’t matter, either.
“I thought they played real well, but I thought we played well, too,” BU senior co-captain Garrett Noonan said. “I thought we came out with a lot of will and came out and took it.”
The Terriers did it with three goals that were shot from a grand total of about eight or nine feet. They did it with a bend-but-don’t-break penalty kill and a goaltender who has now stopped 128 out of 134 shots in his last three games.
Undoubtedly, Cornell will find a way to win one of these “Red Hot Hockey” contests eventually on some future Thanksgiving weekend, but for now, BU is 3-0-1 in this series – and never more thankful than they were tonight.