New Hampshire Shakes Loose; Big Red Shake Their Heads
by Adam Wodon/Managing Editor
ALBANY, N.Y. New Hampshire was tired of hearing how favored Cornell was. Tired of hearing how it couldn't score. Tired of hearing about Ben Scrivens' shutout streak. Tired of hearing about its failures in the NCAAs.
And went out and did something about it.
Playing as complete a game as it did all season, New Hampshire battled its way to a 6-2 win over the Big Red in the East Regional on Friday.
"Scrivens was having a great game, but we were getting shots in the first period," UNH's Bobby Butler said. "And I felt like eventually we would get one through him, and once we did, we piled it on."
New Hampshire hadn't played in almost two weeks, after getting bounced out of the Hockey East playoffs with two straight 1-0 losses to Vermont. Seven periods without a goal. On the other side was Cornell, coming off three straight shutout wins, and with a convincing win against the Wildcats in Durham earlier this year.
That was enough to have some national pundits anointing Cornell into the second round at least. And down 1-0 late in the second period, although playing well to that point, the frustration was growing for the Wildcats.
That's when the game turned on a wacky play, albeit one that was reminiscent of last year's double-OT win by Vermont over Air Force in the East Regional Final. Butler, the nation's leading goal scorer, like everyone else on his team, has been held in check the last 2 1/2 games. But he finally broke through — literally — ripping a shot that seemed to go in. It took a video review to realize it went through the goal net.
It ended Scrivens' shutout streak at 267 minutes, 11 seconds.
For Cornell fans, it was an eerie reminder of the 2003 Frozen Four game against New Hampshire, when Cornell dominated early and seemed to go up 1-0, only to have the goal reversed because of a high stick. From there, Cornell went into a 10-minute funk that cost it the game. This resulted in a similar turn of events.
Cornell coach Mike Schafer's only complaint about the play this time was that it took so long to review.
"It's pretty easy, they looked up on the big screen and saw it was a goal," Schafer said. "It was hard to sit there so long. I didn't think they'd replay controversial goals. It was pretty easy to see from the ice level that we could've moved on. ... It was clearly through the net."
But his bigger complaint was with his team, as he was left frustrated by the Big Red's unwillingness to stick to the game plan that worked so well in Durham.
"We said we wanted to keep it out of the middle and get soft chips along the boards," Schafer said. "But we couldn't help ourselves. ... The indirect down the boards was wide open for us."
From there, Cornell, which had been making mistakes only to have them covered up by Scrivens, came unglued. Just 26 seconds after Butler's goal, Mike Sislo made a steal at center ice, went in and beat Scrivens for a 2-1 New Hampshire lead.
"You know down 2-1 you're going to have to press the issue, and they're a dangerous team to press against," Schafer said. "That mistake was just a symptom of the some of the turnovers — trying to come through the middle of the ice, and not sticking to our game plan."
Just like that, UNH had shaken off the demons. And from there, it was more of the same. UNH tacked on two early goals in the third, and rolled.
"In the first period, we played very well but fell behind," UNH coach Dick Umile said. "But once we got that goal, we stayed with it — and our defense helped us get into offense. ... And that second goal was huge, and that was all behind us about not being able to score."
"It was definitely a big turning on the scoreboard, but I don't think it was a big turning point in how we played," Sislo said of his second-period goal. "I thought we were playing very good to that point."
Cornell was never able to get things going, and kept making more mistakes.
"The harder we pressed in the third, the more we gave up, and the more we gave up, the more they scored," Schafer said. "It was a frustrating way to end our season. Our players had a very good year, but it just wasn't there for us this season."
Unlike the meeting in Durham, the Wildcats did not allow Cornell to control the offensive zone with the cycle.
"In our defensive zone, that's as well as we played," Umile said. "Our team responded."
From Schafer's perspective, Cornell helped make New Hampshire look better than it did in the earlier meeting.
"Any team is really fast if you give them the puck when they're skating at you," Schafer said. "You turn pucks over in the neutral zone, they're going to capitalize. And we did that. ... It wasn't their speed. We didn't get here by being big and slow. That's one of the myths about us. But any team (looks faster than us) when you turn pucks over to them."
Not even the usually efficient power play could get the Big Red back on track.
"One big thing, we had great stick position," Sislo said. "They tried to make passes, and we had sticks in the lanes, and we were able to transition and get offense off that. ... They cycled the puck well (in Durham). I thought our 'D' played extremely well and didn't allow them to move around in the offensive zone."
Under Schafer, the Big Red have had four sets of back-to-back NCAA appearances — 1996 and 1997, 2002 and 2003, 2005 and 2006, then 2009 and 2010 — followed by a few years regrouping. They came so close to the Frozen Four numerous times, made it once, never lost a First Round game — until this time. The last NCAA First Round loss was in this same building, in Mike Schafer's first season, in 1996.
A lot of streaks came to an end for the Big Red on Friday, and a lot of other things too.
For Cornell, this was a season built for big things, expecting to build off last year's NCAA heartbreak loss to Bemidji State in the Regional Final, and take it a step further this year. And again, the No. 1 seed was cleared out of the way.
"It happens you know. Someone's gotta win and someone's gotta lose," Cornell senior Colin Greening said. "It's hard to put into words. Some games you have it, some games you don't. I can't for the life of me figure out why we didn't bring it tonight. It's something we'll have to deal with.
"You could kind of feel it in the second period, there was a lot more turnovers where Scrivens bailed us out. To say that certain goals was the turning point, I think that's a little bit inaccurate. But going into the third down 2-1, it is a bit of a shock. But you could really feel it building up."
Next year, things will be different. Gone will be Scrivens, Greening, Patrick Kennedy, Blake Gallagher and some key defensemen. Junior Riley Nash, an NHL first rounder, is likely to leave too. The Big Red haven't been to the NCAAs three years in a row under Schafer, and are likely in rebuilding mode now.
That enticing potential second-round matchup between the nation's top two goalies, Scrivens and Denver's Marc Cheverie, never materialized — for either one of them.
Instead, New Hampshire will give a whirl against RIT — an upset winner over Denver — in Saturday's East Regional final, and try to avoid the fate other big teams.
"They're a team that played real well, and beat a very good Denver team," Umile said. "Obviously they're a well-coached team, they played well in the tournament. ... We're one game from the Frozen Four, and it will be a battle between two character teams."