ITHACA, N.Y. — A defensive battle into the third period between eighth-seeded Cornell and nine seed Union highlighted by Mitch Gillam’s 27-save shutout had the crowd at Lynah Rink as tense as ever as the ECAC Hockey playoffs got underway.
With time running out, and the two teams having combined for 26 regular-season overtime appearances, bonus hockey appeared inevitable before Holden Anderson’s goal late in the third gave Cornell the 1-0 victory.
After Union’s 5-1 blowout victory in the teams’ last meeting, Cornell looked to break out their offensive game early on, however the Union defense was simply too much for the Big Red to scrape together more than four shots on 13 attempts.
Perhaps the best opportunity for Cornell came with 4:20 seconds to go in period when Anthony Angello and John Knisley met Union goaltender Alex Sakellaropoulos in a two on one. Angello flipped the puck Knisley’s way with an open net to the right of Sakellaropoulos, however the feed missed Knisley to the left.
Contrary of their opponents, the Dutchmen had several fantastic scoring opportunities. Unfortunately, standing in their way was Gillam, who posted 13 saves in the first, one of which seemed borderline acrobatic.
On Union’s second power-play opportunity, defenseman Greg Campbell took a shot from just behind the two faceoff circles at center ice. While Campbell had a good look, Gillam came lunging out of the crease and utilized his left leg pad, deviating the puck from it’s path to the net.
The two goalies were the deciding factors of the second period as well, as a pickup in Cornell’s offense coincided with a nine-save performance from Sakellaropoulos. The highlight of the goalie’s period came when Cornell Angello let loose on a one timer from behind the left faceoff circle. The puck deflected off the chest of Sakellaropoulos, where it found Mitch Vanderlaan’s stick at the corner of the post. A poke from Vanderlaan prove useless for Cornell, as Sakellaropoulos’ quick reflexes resulted in another save.
Union posted another nine shots before the period’s end, but Gillam was Gillam and brought his save total to 22 entering the third.
Prior the clock’s expiration, a scary moment occurred for Cornell’s Dwyer Tschantz. Following Tschantz’s attempted shot, the forward suffered a check across the back and landed face first on the ice. Tschantz remained down until he was called to the bench by Cornell coach Mike Schafer, prompting a trip to the locker room. Fortunately, Tschantz was simply shaken up and was well enough to come back out for the third period.
Just five minutes in, the Dutchmen found themselves on their third power play opportunity of the game, but the results were all too similar to the previous two. The Cornell forecheck dominated the ice, preventing Union from getting a single shot off on Gillam.
“We wanted to stay true to ourselves and be fundamentally sound,” said Schafer when asked about the penalty kill. “We got pucks out, and when you do that it always helps your penalty kill.”
The inability to convert proved costly for the Dutchmen as seven minutes after the power play expired, Ryan Bliss found himself with the puck behind the net. Bliss scooted the puck over to Vanderlaan on the opposite side where Vanderlaan shoved the puck out toward the crease, finding the stick of Anderson and eventually a path into the back of the net over the left shoulder of Sakellaropoulos.
Following the goal, the focus shifted back to Gillam, whose five third-period saves proved much needed as Cornell came up short on a pair of empty net shots in the final minutes of the game.
Cornell flipped the puck into the stands with just six seconds to go, creating tension for the final faceoff near the Union net. However, Jake Weidner slashed the puck away from Union’s Ryan Scarfo upon the drop, and with a simple clear to the left gave Cornell a 1-0 lead in the first round of the playoffs, their first win over Union this year.
The Central New York rivals will meet for game two Saturday night, as Union coach Rick Bennett hopes to see a shift in the attitude of players.
“I’d like to see us put the shoulder pads on and compete,” said Bennett. “We’ve just got to keep at it and come in what that attitude because if we don’t come to work tomorrow, that golf course is going to come calling.”