Crazy bounces found the twine for both squads on Saturday evening at Lynah Rink, with Rensselaer’s late push enough to force a 3-3 tie with Cornell.
With a sixth-place finish in the ECAC on the minds of the host Big Red with under a minute to go and a one-goal lead to hold, Milos Bubela broke the hearts of the hometown crowd thanks to a wild bounce in front of Cornell goalie Mitch Gillam.
Bubela took a pass from Viktor Liljegren and fired a blast from the center point toward a horde of bodies in front. The puck bounded off a Cornell defender and dipped past Gillam to even the score with 24 seconds left on the clock to the dismay of a stunned Big Red bench.
“Tonight is why I love our team,” said RPI coach Seth Appert. “It doesn’t mean we’re flawless, we have a lot of flaws, but it’s why I’ve really come to love this group of men.”
The Bubela goal made the score 3-3, but the Big Red were in a favorable position on the scoreboard throughout most of the night. The first of their three leads came just after puck drop.
A night after Cornell surrendered a goal 38 seconds into the game against Union, Anthony Angello changed the fate for the Big Red when he threw the puck wildly at the net from the right point. The puck bounded off of an Engineers skate and snuck into the cage with just 28 seconds off of the time clock.
Big Red tallies were nonexistent the last time the two programs engaged thanks to a 44-save shutout from senior Jason Kasdorf on January 15 in Troy on a 1-0 win. According to Cornell coach Mike Schafer, good bounces are needed against such a strong netminder.
“When he sees it and he’s about to set on it, he’s a pretty good goaltender, as most goalies are, but he’s pretty good.”
Kasdorf’s side took fire during the opening frame, but he had no trouble when he turned aside the ensuing eight shots of the period. Liljegren gave the support his side needed midway through the frame to even the score.
Liljegren pushed out of the defensive zone and took a pass from Jimmy DeVito that sent him in all alone after a Big Red defender took a tumble at the red line. The Swede pulled the puck to his backhand on a breakaway and flipped it past Cornell goalie Mitch Gillam to knot the game at one.
“We had to start finding ways to relieve some pressure and trying to push out,” said Appert on his team’s effort to push players up ice into the offensive end. “It’s not always about getting the breakaway, which we were able to do there, but it’s about backing them off and finding underneath plays.”
The Engineers offensive burst was only temporary when Jeff Kubiak threw a wraparound attempt through the crease and to the stick of Angello. With limited hesitation, the first-year player buried his second of the night and 11th of the campaign.
That response to retake the lead did not come from the Big Red on the night prior, but Schafer had high praise for the change in his team on Saturday to adjust.
“As long as we come forward and we put in the effort and the passion and intensity, which I thought we did tonight, that’s what we need as a coaching staff and that’s what they did tonight.”
Another Big Red response was needed after Chris Bradley had a crazy bounce go his way to tie the game in the third period, which marked the senior defenseman’s second goal of the season, with both against Cornell.
This time around, six minutes were needed for the hosts to retake the lead when Alec McCrea threw the puck toward the cage and got a bounce to go his way thanks in large part to a push from Kubiak at the front of the cage. The marker gave McCrea a point in all three goals for the Big Red.
The Bubela goal followed a strong onslaught from the Engineers after McCrea’s tally, the likes of which fell to the heavy favor of Appert.
“I really liked our third and especially our seven or eight minutes after we tied it, and then our six or seven minutes after they scored to go up.”
The tie put the Engineers at sixth in the ECAC to end the regular season, while Cornell remained in eighth place. A Big Red win would have meant a sixth-place finish for Schafer’s gang, but as hinted at by Appert, his team’s resolve has taken them a long way this season.
“We’re not a work of art and I don’t know who we’ll be able to play, we were down to 11 healthy forwards tonight, we had five guys out,” said Appert. “But I do know that our guys will compete their tails off and all year they’ve put us in position to win games in the third period.”