We had a tough weekend in Manchester, NH, and the ups and downs were many. First, I want to praise the players and coaching staff for the great season we just completed even though it was not what we wanted or expected. The seniors and the entire team are what it’s all about. I’m so proud of them. COVID canceled their season, they didn’t blink. They are first class in integrity, character, and never quit. I am a proud coach.
On Thursday night, we faced defending national champion #4 Denver, seeded #1 in our region. We had lots of respect for Denver, but our guys didn’t fear them, and really got into it right from the start. We had six of the game’s first seven shots. Just three minutes into the opening period, junior forward Jack O’Leary, named to the all-tournament team, controlled the puck at the top of the crease, and backhanded it over the shoulder of the Denver goaltender to put us in front early. Obviously, in hockey, you know how important that first goal is. By scoring the first goal, we can do some things differently. We could continue to play aggressive hockey, which has been our style all season.
Denver took a penalty shortly after our first score, but didn’t generate any threats, then we were penalized, but held the Pioneers to just one shot from a team ranked third nationally in power play goals. We quickly went in front, 2-0. Senior forward Ben Berard came out of the penalty box, grabbed a loose puck near the right post of the Denver goal and deposited it into the back of the net for his team-leading 11th goal of the season. We were seeing the results of going into the game with a plan of being more physical and aggressive.
In the second period, both teams had chances with 5-minute power-plays, but neither scored. Our defense was playing tough, holding them without a shot-on-goal for nearly 14 minutes. I thought we killed their power-play very well, and sophomore goaltender Ian Shane made a big save. Ian is the most underrated goaltender in the ECAC and Ivy League. Why he didn’t receive any post-season honors is beyond me. He has the second-best goals against average in Division I hockey.
We had a great chance to increase the score in the third period when freshman forward Nick DeSantis was taken down on a breakaway and awarded a penalty shot but didn’t score. With 3:30 remaining, Denver pulled their goaltender, but our defense and Shane, were equal to the task.
Shane ended up the game with 27 saves, while the Denver net-minder stopped 25 shots. We were 0-for-5 on the power play, and Denver was 0-for-2.
The victory set us up for the regional championship game with the winner going to the Frozen Four in Tampa, FL. Our opponent was #5 Boston University, seeded #2 in the region. The Terriers defeated us earlier in the season, 4-3, in Boston. BU is an excellent hockey team that played well all season long, and really seemed to peak for this game. We knew it would be a tough game and especially if they scored the first goal.
Neither team generated any offense in the first period. We each had four shots on goal and one power play. It didn’t take long for BU to score that all-so-important first goal in the second period. At 2:13, the Terriers found a loose puck on the Cornell goal doorstep and flipped into the net. Obviously, that was big for them. We had scored the first goal against Denver and that was big for us. We had a great chance to even the score, but a shot from the bottom of the left faceoff circle by junior forward Gabriel Seger clanked off the crossbar. We also had several other post-clanging shots.
When you go into the third period down 1-0, you must stay the course. Before the game, we had been 19-0 when leading after two periods, but 2-10-2 in games where we were tied or trailed heading into the third period. It took more than half the third period for either team to get an offensive opportunity. Boston finally scored to take a 2-0 lead. Then, the Terriers really shut down our offense. We recorded only three shots-on-goal in the third period.
With 2:30 remaining, we pulled Shane for an extra attacker. BU remained tough defensively. With 28 seconds remaining, freshman forward Dalton Bancroft shot a puck towards the net and it bounced off a BU skate into the net. We had two more great scoring chances but couldn’t convert.
Shane made 19 saves and the BU goalie had 13. Both teams were 0-for-3 on the power play.
Cornell finished 21-10-2 overall, third in the ECAC, and Ivy League champions.
As a coach, I’ve only been to the Frozen Four once and this loss stings. We have lost six regional finals since competing in the 2003 Frozen Four. Next year, we only have one senior because COVID will still have lingering impacts on our roster for a few years. I’ve enjoyed the ride with these guys. I’ve enjoyed the games. It’s cliche, but it is what keeps me coaching.