In a most un-Cornell kind of season, it was a most Cornell kind of game in the second ECAC Hockey semifinal as the fourth-seeded Big Red rode exceptional goaltending and timely goals to a 3-0 whitewash of third-seeded Dartmouth on Friday.
Junior Mike Garman recalled Big Red recent goalkeepers in stopping a career-high 37 shots for his first shutout of both the season and his career. He was supported with goals by junior Sean Collins, rookie Armand de Swardt and sophomore John Esposito, and a Cornell (16-14-3) penalty-killing corps that killed each of five Dartmouth advantages.
“It obviously wasn’t a pretty one for us tonight, but we did exactly what we had to do to get the victory,” said Cornell coach Mike Schafer. “We knew coming in that they’re … a big, strong hockey team, and we knew that even with a 2-0 lead, they’d keep coming. Mike made some big saves to help us hold on and advance to the championship game.”
Junior James Mello made 15 saves for the Big Green (18-12-3), who became the second shutout victim of the evening following Yale’s 4-0 blanking of Colgate. It was the first time in ECAC Hockey’s 50-year history that both semifinals ended in shutouts.
“Our guys played hard and had plenty of chances; we just weren’t able to bury it,” lamented Dartmouth coach Bob Gaudet. “It’s not from a lack of effort. We tried really hard and generated a lot and hemmed ’em in. It’s just one of those games.”
The contest opened with even play up and back, but no truly breathtaking moments until the second half of the frame. Cornell dodged a bullet as instant replay confirmed that a Dartmouth shot skidded to a stop on Garman’s goal line, and the Big Red made the most of it a few minutes later.
With 1:55 on the board, Whitney received a feed in the high slot with Mello screened and frantic. The big 6-foot-4 blueliner whipped the puck right by the baffled goalie to break the deadlock.
“We talked all week about the fact that they do a great job blocking shots, and you’ve got to get your head up and find a way to the net, and Sean did just that,” said Schafer.
Fewer than 30 seconds later, de Swardt doubled the Big Red lead by crashing hard to the net following a Sean Collins slap shot. Mello thought he had it squeezed between his leg pads, but the rubber had actually dribbled through and sat lonely in the blue paint a foot behind him. De Swardt smartly swatted the puck in for his first career goal.
“He’s a great guy,” said senior captain Joe Devin of de Swardt. “We need that secondary scoring, that’s huge for us, and we need guys like him to step up and put it in the net. We’re very happy for him.”
The Big Green edged their Ithacan counterparts 12-10 in shots, but left the ice after 20 minutes trailing 2-0.
Neither team found the twine in the second frame, but unlike the first period, it was Cornell that was counting down to the buzzer as Dartmouth applied heavy pressure for much of the latter half of the stanza. The Green added a dozen more shots to their game total, while the Big Red mustered merely four official shots on goal.
“We ran into penalty trouble in the second period and it took a lot out of our guys, but our penalty-killers did a tremendous job,” Schafer said. “Obviously your best penalty-killer has to be your goaltender, and Mike made big saves when he had to. Give them credit; they were the ones who got us running around — we weren’t doing it on purpose.”
Cornell jumped out of the gate in the final frame with a heavy forecheck, eager to swing momentum back in its favor and hopefully tally an insurance goal as well. The early energy didn’t equate to protracted dominance, though, as the Big Green maintained a stranglehold on the contest for most of the last 30 minutes. Esposito’s empty-net goal was only Cornell’s fourth shot of the period — for the second frame in a row — as the game ended with Dartmouth totaling 37 shots to the Big Red’s 18.
Cornell advances to the title game for the third time in a row, and will take on Yale Saturday night. Dartmouth hopes to keep its NCAA hopes alive against Colgate in the consolation contest, which precedes the championship match.