ESTERO, Fla. — Senior center Jeff Kubiak returned from a 10-game absence to score a goal and add an assist as Cornell rolled past Northern Michigan 5-2 on Wednesday afternoon in the first semifinal of the Florida College Hockey Classic.
Kubiak, who was sidelined by a broken foot, scored during a first-period power play to help propel the Big Red to their sixth straight win. Cornell improved to 8-3-1 while the Wildcats dropped to 4-15-2 in losing 10 of their last 12 contests (1-10-1).
Senior Mitch Gillam had 18 saves to boost his season record to 8-3-1.
“[Kubiak] was sucking wind a little bit during the game trying to catch his game legs,” said Cornell coach Mike Schafer, whose squad will take on Colorado College in the championship game on Thursday night. “Game speed is a lot different than practice and drills but he just gives us a guy who made a couple of plays that could’ve resulted in goals. He has great hands and he’ll give a big lift for us in the second half.”
After Kubiak gave Cornell the lead at 4:51, right wing Dominik Shine pulled the Wildcats even with a man-advantage goal at 6:33. The next four goals, however, belonged to the Big Red and all came at even strength (Trevor Yates at 15:03 of the first, Alex Rauter at the 31-second mark of the second, Matt Buckles at 12:05 of the second and Mitch Vanderlaan at 2:31 of the third).
Darien Craighead potted Northern Michigan’s second goal with 1:54 remaining in regulation during a power play.
Cornell senior defenseman Patrick McCarron had a game-high three assists.
The Big Red went cruising into the semester break with a 7-1 record in the last eight games.
“The one game we probably should’ve lost was Miami at home in the first game [of a two-game set on Dec. 2 and 3],” said Schafer. “We came back and scored three in the third [in the 4-3 win]. But the next day [in a 2-1 win to close out the first half], I thought we played a really good game. We kept the pressure on and we didn’t give them much skating room. I thought it was the kind of game that kind of represents who we want to be.”
The lone bright spot for Northern Michigan was sophomore netminder Atte Tolvanen, who had 37 saves.
“We were very sloppy in the second and that’s when they pulled away from us,” said Wildcats coach Walt Kyle. “I thought we ran around a lot, I thought we turned a lot of pucks over and we took way too many penalties. Collectively, we were not very good defensively. [Offense] has been an issue for us all year — we haven’t scored a lot [42 goals versus 68 against].”
Colorado College 3, Merrimack 0
Colorado College coach Mike Haviland wanted to give his young club a chance to play for a trophy and on Thursday afternoon, the Tigers will.
The team scored once in the first and twice in the third to beat Merrimack 3-0 to advance to the championship contest.
It is just the fourth win of the season and first shutout for the Tigers (4-12-2). Merrimack dropped to 6-9-3 and has been shut out on three occasions.
“I thought we got better as the game went on,” said Haviland. “We have a young team and [we thought] if we could get into a situation where maybe we could win a trophy, we felt it would really help our young team grow together. Any time you can win a championship, whether it’s a tournament or obviously throughout the season, I think it’s huge for your hockey team and your program and your team that year. Winning is a habit and I think when you learn how to win, especially in short little tournaments, it goes a long way with your hockey team.”
In the opening period, the Tigers outshot the Warriors 13-11. Their lone tally came during a power play at 2:56. Sophomore left wing Mason Bergh racked up his first of two with his team-leading eighth goal when he beat junior goaltender Collin Delia (22 saves) off a scramble in front.
Senior right wing Matt Hansen, who was boarded by Tyler Irvine just 59 seconds in, which led to the man advantage for Colorado College, picked up an assist.
There wasn’t a whole lot of activity in the middle frame as the squads combined for just eight shots on goal with Merrimack generating five of them.
Bergh cashed in during another power play in the third, doubling the Tigers’ lead. With Ludvig Larsson off for interference, Bergh beat Delia on a shot from just outside the right post at 7:14.
The Tigers closed it out with a third tally at 17:22, scored by freshman left wing Kade Kehoe, who hit the post earlier in the game. And that was that.
Merrimack will play Northern Michigan in the consolation game on Thursday afternoon.
“I thought we played well for stretches,” said Warriors coach Mark Dennehy. “There weren’t a lot of chances either way. Both their power-play goals were deflections off our guy to a guy who was uncovered. You’re not going to win if you don’t score. We’ve scored two goals in our last three games. The gist of it is very simple: Seventy-five percent of goals are scored from within four feet of the crease. You’ve got to get to the crease and then you’ve got to get the puck to the crease. We don’t do it with enough frequency. We don’t get there enough. We don’t go there to those tough, dirty areas and then we don’t think enough to put the puck there because why put it there if we’re not going there? It’s a little bit of a mindset we have to take care of. If we want to score goals, we have to go to the net.”