The 2,685 at the Mullins Center Sunday sat in awe of Cornell goaltender Ben Scrivens.
A shot’s origin meant nothing, and its destination was always the same. Wristers from the high slot found a glove; deflections on slapshots glanced off outstretched leg pads and drifted harmlessly into corners; and backhanded shots found sweater rather than twine.
This is nothing new for the Big Red. Its 5-2 win over Massachusetts fit the mold crafted by coach Mike Schafer. Focused on a commitment to sound defensive hockey, the Big red jumped out with two early goals and padded its lead throughout as the Minutemen tried to draw closer. And at those times when there were defensive breakdowns or UMass found a seam, Scrivens slammed the door.
“We have a plan and we capitalized on our chances, but I didn’t think we gave up a whole lot throughout the course of the game,” Schafer said. “When we did, Ben was there to help us out.
“It’s a commitment to playing an unselfish game, that’s where it starts. Our guys know, watching teams that did a great job and won national championships, they’re all stellar defensive hockey teams.”
Scrivens ended the night with 26 saves; the timing of a few of them altered the eventual outcome of the game and frustrated UMass enough to take the Minutemen off their game plan.
Sophomores Joe Devin and Riley Nash banged rebounds past UMass goaltender Paul Dainton 31 seconds apart to give the Big Red the early two-goal lead on the road fewer than six minutes into the first period.
From there, the Minutemen managed the best chances over the next 30 minutes of hockey, but Scrivens kept them scoreless. With the score 2-0, UMass senior Scott Crowder won a battle in the corner to Scrivens’ left and nudged the puck toward the slot. Freshman winger T.J. Syner corralled the pass feet from the crease before picking his spot. Scrivens slid to his right and the puck hit him in the chest, dropping into his pads.
“We’ve been talking about executing all week,” Syner said. “I had a few chances tonight. Scott Crowder made a good pass; [Scrivens] just made an unbelievable save. Definitely would like to have that one back.
“It was in the general area, but against a goalie like that you have to put it specifically where you want it.”
While Scrivens control of the game illustrated the perfect execution of a game plan on the Cornell side, it also highlighted a problem on both sides for UMass. The two early Big Red goals came on rebounds in or around Dainton’s crease. UMass’ best two scoring chances in the first came directly in front of Scrivens.
“We were stymied by good goaltending but also our own ineptitude around the net,” UMass coach Don Cahoon said. “Certainly, good goaltending played a big part of it, but our inability to convert when given golden opportunities changed the game going into the third period.”
The lone goal of the second period came at 15:56, when Chris Davis redirected a Justin Braun slapshot over Scrivens left shoulder. His eighth of the season cut Cornell’s lead to 2-1.
Davis’ goal, however, came toward the end of a period in which UMass outshot Cornell 15-6. The puck movement and possession was there, but the execution on the back end of the play eluded UMass’ grasp for a majority of the night.
Cornell figures to move from its No. 10 spot on the USCHO.com/CBS College Sports Division I Men’s poll with its relatively painless victory over UMass and victory in the Florida College Classic one week ago.
With the win in Amherst, the Big Red has won five of its last six games overall, the one blemish being a tie against Colgate in the final of last week’s tournament. Cornell eventually won a shootout in that game to clinch the tournament championship.
The Minutemen host New Hampshire Friday and travel to Durham for the road end of the home-and-home pair on Saturday. The Big Red host Niagara for a pair in Ithaca, N.Y., Friday and Saturday evenings; the games with Niagara are the final non-conference games of the season for Cornell.