ITHACA, N.Y. — With college hockey’s only perfect team watching, the 50th edition of the Cornell men’s hockey team since the program’s second national title is showing why it very well might have the credentials to bring home a third.
The reason? Results despite imperfection. Having a knack for pulling out any kind of result – whether it be a one-goal victory or a nail-biting tie – is a trait that any successful team needs to have. Cornell delivered on that premise over the weekend, eliminating two deficits against Dartmouth for a 3-2 victory on Friday, then scoring the tying goal of a 1-1 deadlock with Harvard on Saturday with less than two minutes left in the third period. With those results, Cornell (14-1-4, 9-1-2 ECAC Hockey, 5-1-1 Ivy League) will likely stay at #1 in both the USCHO.com and USA Today/USA Hockey Magazine polls for a third consecutive week.
It didn’t feel that way for quite a bit of Friday’s game against 20th-ranked Dartmouth (10-6-4, 7-4-2, 5-2). Perhaps the biggest surprise of the weekend was how the Big Green (ranked 40th in the nation in faceoff percentage) dominated Cornell (ranked 11th) on draws to the tune of 33-21. One of those faceoff wins led directly to Cam Strong’s goal in the eight minute of the game.
Junior forward Tristan Mullin tied the game about eight minutes later with his sixth goal of the season and team-high fourth on the power play. But Dartmouth struck back just 70 seconds into the second period on Tanner Palocsik’s first collegiate goal.
From there, the Big Red started to take over the flow of the game – but Big Green goaltender Adrian Clark repeatedly bailed out his team. Cornell squandered It started to conjure up unwelcome feelings of déjà vu, reflecting back on Cornell’s lone loss to date – a 2-1 decision at Dartmouth in which the visitors had 40 shots on goal to the hosts’ 17.
“We were just frustrated with the way we were playing with the inconsistency,” said Mike Schafer ’86, the Jay R. Bloom ’77 Head Coach of Men’s Hockey. “What I mean by that is we’d have a couple good shifts by a line, then a line would just go out and lay an egg. And then three or four defensemen would play really well, and then they’d go out and lay an egg. We just didn’t have that consistency in our game tonight.”
What the Big Red did have, though, was junior forwards Morgan Barron and Cam Donaldson. Barron’s shift of pure dominance in the first period eventually led to the penalty creating Mullin’s power-play goal. Donaldson then pulled the Big Red even with his fourth goal of the season late in the second.
“I thought the game for us was Cam and Morgan,” Schafer said. “I just thought that they … were outstanding the whole night.”
On the tying goal, Donaldson took Regush’s drop pass in the right circle and snapped off a shot that pinged the far post and in before Clark could react.
“On the bench, coach was telling us that when we got on those three-on-twos, two-on-ones, we needed to shoot the puck,” Donaldson said. “We were being too cute on the offensive rushes. … I just saw the net and tried to get it off as soon as I could and try to catch the goalie by surprise. Thankfully, it went in.”
The third period got off to a worrisome start for Cornell when senior forward Jeff Malott was whistled for holding after throwing a check in the neutral zone. It would actually be his first of two penalties in the third period. But not only did the Big Red kill off those penalties, it created havoc in the Big Green zone toward the end of the first.
Senior forward Noah Bauld had a short-handed breakaway that was stopped, then Barron and senior defenseman Yanni Kaldis skated away on a two-on-one. Though Clark made a save on the initial chance, a net-front scrum ensued. All five Dartmouth skaters – on the ice for about a full minute at that point – had retreated, but freshman forward Matt Stienburg picked a defenseman’s pocket to keep possession in the offensive zone while Malott was released from the penalty box. Working against exhausted defenders, Malott gathered the puck in the right corner, cycled up the wall and into the right circle for a shot from near the hash mark that beat Clark to the stick side.
“For both penalties, I’m extremely grateful that we have – in the last little stint – a very solid penalty kill. A lot of guys paid the price,” Malott said. “It never feels good taking a penalty in the last (20) minutes – let alone two. So I owe those guys one, big time, for those two kills. But coming out of the box … (the penalty-killers) really ran them into the ground. When I got out there, you could clearly tell it was a very tired ‘D’ pairing. So I just kind of picked it up and brought it across the middle.”
It wasn’t a comfortable victory, but it was a victory none the less. And it set the stage for the annual visit from rival Harvard. The fish flew and the fever pitch continued throughout the game, even if there weren’t many goals to cheer about. In fact, there were none – for either team – through 45-plus minutes. Galajda had a lot to do with that, setting the tone with a huge glove save on Nathan Krusko’s one-timer from point-blank range just 3:57 in. With just under 11 minutes to play in the third, he came across to his right to thwart a wide-open Casey Dornbach on the doorstep.
Meanwhile, the Crimson was befuddling the Big Red with its neutral-zone defense. Freshman forward Ben Berard ripped a shot off a faceoff win with 2:20 left in the first, but Harvard’s Cameron Gornet got a piece of it with his glove to send it screaming wide. Just 1:55 into the second, freshman forward Jack Malone one-timed a shot off the crossbar. But other than that, it was slim pickings in terms of offensive chances.
“I was thinking to myself, ‘I wonder if we’ve had less than nine shots in the first period, let alone the (first two) periods. Things weren’t really going our way,” sophomore forward Michael Regush said. “I don’t think we were getting too frustrated. It’s a 0-0 game and we know Gally’s going to stand in there and be great for us. We just tried to stick with things.”
Harvard eventually broke through. Off the rush, Dornbach held the puck and went around the net, then fed Jack Drury coming into the slot for a one-timer that went over a lunging Galajda’s glove. Cornell used its timeout to challenge for goaltender interference, since Jack Donato had both skates in the crease. But the call on the ice stood.
“I wasn’t too sure. I thought it was going to count,” Galajda said. “I don’t think the guy interfered with me too much. He didn’t touch me as the puck went past me.”
The Big Red then caught a break when Drury was called for slashing on the forecheck with 1:56 to play in the third. That sent the faceoff all the way down into the Crimson zone, and Cornell additionally pulled Galajda for an extra attacker to create a six-on-four advantage.
For all of the struggles the Big Red endured on draws over the course of the weekend, it was Barron’s clean win of the ensuing faceoff that set everything in motion. Kaldis’ original shot from the left point was blocked into the opposite corner. Pressure from Barron and Berard forced a weak clearing attempt that went to Malinski at the right point. With a Harvard player bearing down, Malinski deftly one-timed a perfect back-handed pass into the middle for a wide-open Kaldis. Instead of firing a puck into the crowded shooting lane, Kaldis picked out Regush gliding in from the right circle. Regush steered it into the net for his eighth of the season and quite possibly the most exciting of his collegiate career.
“(Barron) does a great job winning the draw, and it kind of sets things up from there,” Regush said. “I don’t know how it got to him, but Yanni had the puck and I kind of got myself loose, and he made a great pass to me. I just kind of tipped it in. It was a great look by Yanni.”
As frustrating as ties can be for fans, it can often be an acceptable result. And it’s nearly impossible to just win every game. The lone exception was there to watch all weekend, with the majority of the 1970 NCAA championship team that famously went 29-0 in town to celebrate its 50th anniversary of a perfect season. But if you fire on all cylinders all game, every game, you ultimately red-line the engine – or, in this case, peak too early in a season.
Up next for Cornell is an ECAC Hockey trip starting with a 7 p.m. Friday visit to #18 Quinnipiac, marking the Big Red’s seventh game in a nine-game stretch in which it plays against a ranked team. The weekend ends with a 7 p.m. Saturday game at Princeton.