The shift of the momentum late in the second period and on a two-man disadvantage in the third period swung in Union’s direction in its ECAC Hockey tournament semifinal game against Cornell.
Because of that, the Dutchmen are going to play for a third straight tournament title.
Late second-period goals by Max Novak and Mike Vecchione helped lessen the sting of Joakim Ryan’s goal, and the Dutchmen killed off a Big Red five-on-three to seal the deal and cruise to a 5-2 victory Friday at 1980 Rink-Herb Brooks Arena on Friday.
“My hats off to Cornell. I thought that was a really hard-fought game,” Union coach Rick Bennett said. “There were a lot of momentum shifts. We had a little puck luck for us tonight. But I thought our guys really played hard and battled through some adversity. I guess that’s why we’re sitting here [first at the postgame press conference].”
The top-seeded Dutchmen (27-6-4) are 11-0-1 in their last 12 games. They will face Colgate, a 3-2 double-overtime winner over Quinnipiac, in tonight’s championship game at 7:37.
The Dutchmen were clinging to a 2-1 lead late in the second when both teams’ offenses suddenly exploded in a 1:22 span. It began with Novak’s goal with 2:40 left to make it 3-1. But there was little time to celebrate because Ryan ripped a wrist shot from the left point over goalie Colin Stevens’ left shoulder 58 seconds later.
“There was like three shifts with three goals,” Novak said. “To get that first one, it was a good forecheck by Kevin Sullivan and Matt Hatch. They made it easier on me. They gave me an open shot in the slot. Giving up that next goal right away could deflate you.”
However, the Dutchmen didn’t give the fourth-seeded and 13th-ranked Big Red (17-10-5) a chance to seize the momentum. It took Vecchione just 14 seconds to restore Union’s two-goal lead.
“After they scored, we just wanted to get out there and get some pucks to the net,” Vecchione said. “I didn’t really have much of a play, so I just fired it on net, … and it went in. It was a good momentum boost to end the period and deflate them a little bit.”
Cornell left winger Christian Hilbrich, who scored his team’s first goal early in the second period, believed that sequence hurt the Big Red’s chances.
“Momentum’s going both ways,” Hilbrich said. “Us as a team, we have to capitalize when we get the momentum. We’ve got to keep it. We didn’t.”
But the Big Red had one last chance to close the gap when they got their two-man power play for 39 seconds after Sullivan was called for hooking at 8:31 and Mat Bodie was whistled for delay of game at 9:53.
The Dutchmen limited the Big Red to one shot on goal during that span, and gained more momentum as the clock wound down before Daniel Carr scored an empty-net goal with 1:23 left.
“I thought the penalty kill was gutty all night,” Stevens said. “That’s the best word I can think of to describe it because guys were just blocking shots. They were tired [and] they were staying out there for a while, but they were just laying out on the line. Credit to those guys, the kill was outstanding tonight.”
Cornell 0 2 0 — 2
Union 2 2 1 — 5
First Period — 1, Union, Ikkala 2 (Pontarelli, Coatta), 9:24. 2, Union, Sullivan 8 (Wilkins, Bodie), 17:47 (pp). Penalties — Novak, Uni (interference), 12:57; Hilbrich, Cor (interference), 17:02.
Second Period — 3, Cornell, Hilbrich 9, 5:56. 4, Union, Novak 10 (Hatch, Sullivan), 17:20. 5, Cornell, Ryan 8 (Willcox, Knisley), 18:18. 6, Union, Vecchione 11 (Bodie), 18:32. Penalties — McCarron, Cor (unsportsmanlike conduct), 19:51; Bodie, Uni (unsportsmanlike conduct), 19:51.
Third Period — 7, Union, Carr 21, 18:37 (en). Penalties — Sullivan, Uni (hooking), 8:31; Bodie, Uni (delay of game), 9:53.
Shots on Goal — Cornell 7-13-6 — 26. Union 12-9-10 — 31.
Power-play opportunities — Cornell 0 of 3; Union 1 of 1.
Goalies — Cornell, Iles 16-10-5 (30 shots-26 saves). Union, Stevens 23-4-2 (26-24).
T — 2:14.
Referees — Robert St. Lawrence, Chip McDonald. Linesmen — Jim Briggs, Glen Cooke.