The 12th of Never
by Avash Kalra/Staff Writer
NEW YORK Saturday night, for the second time in three years, age-old rivals Cornell and Boston University faced off in front of a sellout sea-of-red crowd in New York City's Madison Square Garden. And though the game commenced with 18,200 raucous fans witnessing an early 2-0 Cornell lead, not many anticipated the game's conclusion — which was, indeed, far from Garden-variety.
Despite BU badly outshooting Cornell (35-17 for the game), the Big Red nursed a 3-2 lead late in the third period thanks in large part to its efficient power play, which leads the nation with a 31.9 percent clip and scored twice in five chances against the Terriers on Saturday.
The second of those power-play tallies — and the third Cornell goal overall — was courtesy of senior forward Blake Gallagher, the only player in college hockey averaging at least a goal per game thus far this season.
But with less than two minutes to play, Big Red junior Patrick Kennedy committed a slashing penalty while Cornell was already on the penalty kill. Kennedy joined senior teammate Brendon Nash in the penalty box, BU sophomore goaltender Grant Rollheiser skated to the bench, and a tangible buzz filled "The World's Most Famous Arena."
The result? A 6-on-3 skating advantage for the defending national champion Terriers, giving them a chance to tie the game despite trailing 3-1 at the start of the final period.
Needless to say, a 6-on-3 power play is an exceedingly rare event. Perhaps the most memorable instance in recent history was in the 2004 national championship game in Boston, when Denver hung on to a 1-0 win despite Maine's 6-on-3 advantage for the wild final minute of that game.
Saturday night, BU didn't score on the 6-on-3 either — but they never let the puck leave the zone, and that enabled sophomore Chris Connolly to tap in a loose puck underneath Cornell goaltender Ben Scrivens, tying the game with 51 seconds to play while the Terriers were on a 6-on-4 advantage.
Of course, legendary BU head coach Jack Parker, one of only three college hockey coaches ever to win over 800 games, has seen it all in his nearly four decades of coaching — or at least we would presume.
The question of the hour, then: when was the last time he can remember his team skating with a 6-on-3 advantage?
"The 12th," said Parker matter-of-factly. He then paused before deadpanning to an amused media room, "The 12th of Never."
So, if Parker has never used a 6-on-3 in a game, surely the Terriers never even bother to practice it either. Right?
Well, wrong — not only have the Terriers practiced it, but they practiced it for the first time in Parker's coaching career just a few days before their MSG showdown with Cornell.
Explained Parker, "Why did it come to my mind after 37 years of coaching? Because my former assistant coach Ben Smith has been on me to do this. He said, 'You've got to try this.' He was coaching a hockey team in Europe — two USA hockey teams went to Europe, and in those games, in the second period, the other team had a 5-on-3 and they pulled the goalie. Ben told me that his three guys never touched the puck. And they scored easily. So, I don't know. I thought it was a good idea. I thought it was a good idea to practice, and I was flabbergasted that it came up.
"Fortunately, just as the 6-on-3 was over, we got the 6-on-4 goal. So that was good."
On the other bench, Cornell head coach Mike Schafer sent out a strong penalty-killing unit that had allowed just five power play goals in 49 opponents' chances this season.
"You've got to take away the middle of the ice surface," said Schafer of the Terriers' 6-on-3 advantage. "We talked to our goaltender about staying deep in the net and not getting out a little bit too much because of the opportunity to go back door. 5-on-3, it's very similar, but they had the one extra guy. We wanted to pack it in and make sure they didn't get any real good looks. Our guys did a tremendous job. They killed it off. They made some huge blocks, sacrificed themselves. It was just unfortunate that it ended up sneaking through."
The game thus ended in a 3-3 tie — just the second tie in 42 games between the Big Red and the Terriers, a series that Cornell leads 23-17-2. The two programs have combined to win seven NCAA championships, with the Big Red defeating the Terriers in 1967 for the first of its two national titles. More recently, Boston University won the last meeting between the two teams on Nov. 24, 2007, by a score of 6-3, in the first "Red Hot Hockey" game at Madison Square Garden.
None of that history mattered, of course, on Saturday night. The only history that seemed to drive the Terriers to the tie was its recent penchant for late-game dramatics. Certainly, there was the national championship game last season — when BU scored twice in the final minute, and then again in overtime, to stun Miami. And just last week, the Terriers scored with 40 seconds remaining to tie their game with Harvard, en route to winning the contest in overtime.
Saturday, with the Big Red on its heels as a result of the 6-on-3, Nash returned to the ice from the penalty box, but with the puck in the Red defensive zone, BU junior Nick Bonino threw the puck towards the Cornell net, where it appeared to be frozen by Cornell netminder Ben Scrivens.
In fact, he never had control of the puck, and Connolly was in the crease to Scrivens' right, ready to tap in his team-leading fifth goal of the season.
"Nick got it over from Colby [Cohen] off to the side," recalled Connolly. "He actually just threw a saucer pass to the net, just to cause some rebounds. I think Vinny [Saponari] tipped it, which threw Scrivens off a little bit. It just sat there. He thought he had it in his butterfly, and it just sat between his legs. I was in good position to see it."
"It's one of those ones, where he feathered it in on net," added Scrivens, the only goaltender in college hockey to have now made two career starts at Madison Square Garden. "I thought I had it there. Obviously it trickled just behind me, between my legs, and the ref had a better view of it than I did. So he made the decision on the ice. It's one of those things you have to live with."
So ended a dramatic night in New York, a few blocks off Broadway, with Cornell and Boston University still looking to make statements in this early stage of the 2009-10 season. Still, one thing is for sure — this rivalry between the Terriers and Big Red has been renewed.
And for a rivalry that began in 1925 on Beebe Lake in Ithaca, N.Y., it surely will continue — long after this New York November night, when Cornell and Boston University painted the town red.