Union uses momentum swings to grab two points from No. 16 Cornell

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ITHACA, N.Y. — It’s often said that goals early and late in periods are back-breakers.

Union proved the theory true on Friday night in a 5-1 win over Cornell at Lynah Rink.

The Dutchmen scored just 38 seconds into the game, then held off a potential Big Red comeback when they pushed their advantage to two at 3-1 just over a minute before the second break.

“It definitely helps any time you can get those momentum swings,” said Union coach Rick Bennett. “Sometimes this year it’s been going the other way, so it was nice to see it go in our favor.”

The Big Red proved early on in the contest that Friday was not their night when a pair of their defense corps miscommunicated in front of netminder Mitch Gillam. Mike Vecchione swooped in to cause the turnover, then a jam at the front of the net from Matt Wilkins pushed the puck across the goal line to get the Dutchmen on top.

Another pickpocket put the Dutchmen ahead by a pair eight minutes later when Michael Pontarelli stripped a Big Red defender, then fed classmate Eli Lichtenwald on a two-on-one for an easy finish.

Both of the opening tallies came from an onslaught of a forecheck from Union to knock the puck free, something Bennett was complimentary of his team on: “We did have some sustained forechecks and the whole idea is to stop the breakout and I thought a few of our guys did it tonight, and they did it quite well.”

Along with the forechecking of the visitors, Cornell coach Mike Schafer also thought that there was error on his team’s side to build up to the opening two goals.

“It’s the second time at home we’ve done it (Yale on Feb. 13) and we turn pucks over early in the game and we got behind,” said Schafer.

The Dutchmen forecheck did give way to the Big Red in moments during the game, including the majority of the second period, where Cornell came on to try and equalize.

Dwyer Tschantz fired a shot from the top of the right faceoff dot that was thwarted away by the blocker of Union goalie Alex Sakellaropoulos, but the rebound came straight to the stick of Christian Hilbrich, who fired it into the open cage to get the Big Red back in the game.

Cornell had the opportunity to get back to level, but as Schafer discussed, the netminder at the other end stole the show.

“I thought we had opportunities to make it 2-2 and to make it 2-1 in the first period,” Schafer said. “I thought (Sakellaropoulos) played very well. You have to give credit to their goalie — I thought he was outstanding and he was up to the challenge.”

Sakellaropoulos made 12 of his 36 stops on the evening in the second period to hold down the fort, before his teammates pushed back to extend the lead to two.

Vecchione won a draw in his own end, then picked up a fed Cole Maier on a two-on-one at the other end of the sheet to make it 3-1 with under a minute and a half to play in the frame.

Vecchione ended the night with two assists, a plus three rating and a 68 percent winning percentage at the faceoff dot to pace the Dutchmen, but it wasn’t just him that lead the way.

“Mike Vecchione was one of the catalysts for our team, but I thought that Matt Wilkins, Jeff Taylor and Ryan Scarfo did an excellent job on the bench as well and they brought it to the ice as well,” said Bennett.

Maier nabbed his second goal of the game to put the dagger into the Big Red midway through the third period, then Lichtenwald potted an empty-net tally to close out the scoring on the night.

For a team that has had their struggles this season, the Dutchmen have now picked up points in two of their last three games and are trending in the right direction according to Bennett.

“We responded well, they had a lot of push on us,” he said. “We bent, but we didn’t break. I think things are starting to come together, and we were able to salvage a win out of it.”

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