Cornell Responds ... Eventually
by Eben Novy-Williams/CHN Reporter
ALBANY, N.Y. At the first intermission of Friday afternoon’s ECAC Hockey semifinal it looked as though No. 7 Cornell was going to fall victim to what has become an all too common mistake during these playoffs: overlooking the Brown Bears.
“Give credit to Brown,” said Cornell head coach Mike Schafer, now in his 15th season behind the Big Red bench. “They came out and did a lot of good things in this period against us. They put us back on our heels, and we didn’t respond very well to it.”
But Cornell (20-8-4) came out in the second period with newfound energy, and stuck to what it does best in a convincing 3-0 victory. The Big Red outshot the Brown 21-12 in the final two periods, using a combination of physicality and offensive possession to grind the Bears (12-20-4) down.
“There is a big difference in this sport between hoping to win and actually executing and getting the job done,” Schafer said. “We came out in the second and we thought more about what we were doing on the ice. ... Fortunately for us we were able to get it going.”
Brown entered the ECAC playoffs as the No. 11 seed, but reached Albany with upsets over RPI and nationally-ranked Yale. After a strong first period on Friday, it looked as though the Bears’ magical run might continue. Though the teams went into the locker room scoreless, Brown outshot the Big Red 11-6 in the first twenty minutes, and had three of the game’s first four power plays.
“Coming into the game we wanted to come out hard and hopefully catch [Cornell] off guard,” said Brown senior forward and captain Jordan Pietrus. “In the past couple series teams have underestimated us. That was what we tried to do today.”
“It was kind of a wakeup call in between the first and second periods,” Cornell senior goaltender Ben Scrivens said, “and the guys really responded well.”
After a frantic first period played mostly in Cornell’s defensive zone, the Big Red got back to their game in the second period. Cornell showed a lot more poise and focused on protecting the puck, especially in the offensive zone.
“Everybody considers us a defensive trap team, but our best defense is when we have the puck,” said Schafer, who will make a record ninth appearance in an ECAC final tomorrow evening. “We didn’t have [the puck] very much in the first period so our strategy didn’t work at all… but we did a good job in the second creating chances.”
The team’s offensive zone possession was not lost on Scrivens, the recipient of the ECAC’s Ken Dryden award for league’s best goaltender.
“It’s always nice to see the puck down at the other end instead of our end,” he said. “That’s what you need to do in order to move on. In a tournament like this, if you come out a little flat it’s has to be an immediate change and kudos to the guys, they responded well.”
The Big Red opened the scoring with four minutes and twenty-five minutes remaining in the second period on a wrist shot from sophomore forward Locke Jillson. The pace of the game picked up following Jillson’s tally, his seventh of the year. The Big Red had a number of chances to double the lead before the second intermission – including a great rebound chance for junior forward Riley Nash – but Brown sophomore goaltender Michael Clemente held his ground.
Backed by a largely partisan crowd, Cornell maintained momentum throughout the third period. The Big Red took a 2-0 lead 6:40 into the third on a wrist shot from freshman forward John Esposito, and finished the scoring at 13:40 on a goal from Nash. The tally was Nash’s 12th of the year and the 100th point of his career.
The win came just a few hours after the Cornell basketball team upset Temple 78-64 in the first round for that program's first ever NCAA tournament win. The hockey players were well aware of their classmates’ accomplishments and as one Cornell team keeps winning, they can only hope that their colleagues can do the same.
“It’s nice to have Cornell pride,” Scrivens said. “We’re definitely rooting for [the basketball team] to go all the way and wreck a few people’s brackets. That would be nice to see.”