As the old proverb says, “It’s not over ’til it’s over.”
The Colgate men’s hockey team learned this lesson the hard way on Saturday night, as Cornell’s Mark McCutcheon swooped in to score the game-winning goal with 39 seconds left in the game. With the 3-2 loss, the team’s second consecutive defeat at the hands of the Big Red – Colgate lost, 4-1, on Friday evening – Cornell leapfrogged the Raiders into first place in the ECACHL standings.
Before the first drop of the puck, Cornell experienced its first disruption of the evening – someone forgot to pack the team’s game jerseys and socks. The Big Red had to resort to skating in warm-ups without jerseys, displaying all of their upper under-garments and pads. Also during warm-ups, the Cornell players and coaches were pelted with packs of Big Red chewing gum by the tenacious Colgate fans, some of whom showed up six hours in advance to get tickets to the game.
Despite these early impediments, Cornell jumped out to a quick lead after two Raiders ran into each other on an offensive rush at the Cornell blue line, subsequently allowing the Big Red to transition into a five-on-two in the opposite direction.
Colgate managed to level the score in the last four minutes of the opening period. In a battle for possession along the boards at the Cornell blue line, the puck eventually squirted into center ice. Senior assistant captain Kyle Wilson picked up the free puck and skated in one-on-one. Wilson cleverly used the Cornell defenseman as a screen and took an off-side shot that dipped under Cornell goalie David McKee’s blocker, giving Wilson his 19th goal of the season.
The score remained tied well into the second period. The Raiders seemed to find a spark after killing an early penalty, as they began to cycle the puck down low and took their fair share of shots on McKee. Colgate maintained a monopoly on offense until the Big Red capitalized on a heads-up play by defenseman Dan Glover, who found teammate David Pegoraro wide-open on the doorstep to give Cornell the 2-1 lead.
The score remained the same until Colgate earned a five-on-three power play midway through the third period. Less than 30 seconds into the two-man advantage, the Raiders capitalized on the overly aggressive Cornell three-man unit. Senior captain Jon Smyth realized that all three Big Red defensemen were on the right-wing boards, and so he crossed the puck to Wilson, who was standing alone in the slot. Wilson had the option of passing to an open man, but he decided to take the shot himself and roofed in his 20th score over McKee’s glove.
With the score tied at two heading into the final minute of play, a moment of d?ej? vu ended the Raiders’ brief reign at the top of the ECACHL.
With 39 seconds remaining, Cornell’s Mark McCutcheon quickly changed directions while his team had possession in the Colgate zone and received a pass from teammate Chris Abbott near the face-off circle. With plenty of time, put the puck through Raider sophomore goalie Mark Dekanich’s legs.
Cornell head coach Mike Schaffer knew that his team was lucky to come away from the weekend with four points.
“The Raiders are a very underrated team,” he said. “They should be right there behind us in the rankings and should be given more respect.”
Raider head coach Don Vaughan also commented about what he termed to be a “heck of a game.”
“An even match comes down to a bounce of the puck and it hit our forward lying down in front of the net,” Vaughan said.
Vaughan’s post-game speech was mostly devoted to telling his team that it still has six games left – four of which are on the road against some pretty hungry squads.
“We have to get ready for them and put this weekend behind us,” Vaughan said. “In the end, there’s another game of ECACHL hockey.”
Travel partners Colgate and Cornell both hit the road this weekend to take on St. Lawrence and Clarkson. The Raiders still have the hope of at least securing a first-round bye and a second-round home match-up for the conference playoffs, and also look for a Cornell misstep in perhaps overcoming the Big Red at the top spot of the ECACHL standings.