Men’s hockey’s season ends with loss to Cornell in ECAC Hockey Quarterfinals

Juliana Nikac and Jonathan Banks

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Photo: Samantha Bashaw

Photo: Samantha Bashaw

In the playoffs, teams tend to hit a point during a game when they need a spark. Even the best teams. They need to someone (or two) to grab the game by the scruff of the neck and take control.

Enter Cornell co-captains Alex Rauter and Mitch Vanderlaan.

Rauter and Vanderlaan showed initiative and desire as they both bagged their third goal in two nights. That was all their team needed, as the No. 1 Cornell Big Red advanced to Lake Placid for the ECAC Hockey Semifinals by taking down the No. 9 Quinnipiac Bobcats 2-0 at Lynah Rink in New York.

Mitch Vanderlaan was out for six games before returning to health in time for the ECAC Hockey quarterfinals this weekend. Big Red head coach Mike Schafer was clearly pleased to insert one of his captains back into the lineup.

“He’s so focused and you can tell after practice when he came back, we were a different team,” Schafer said. “He’s a tremendous leader and it’s good to see him get back and score three goals in two nights.”

The Hanwell, New Brunswick native was not the only storyline for the Big Red. Although they possess a versatile attack that can generate offense from any of their four offensive lines (as seen in their 9-1 thrashing of Quinnipiac in game one), their team defense was the strength to point out.

Just like it’s been all season.

Matthew Galajda is one of the best goaltenders in college hockey. He leads the nation in shutouts (9) and goals-against-average (1.49) and is in the top of five in a multitude of other shot-stopping categories.

Quinnipiac head coach Rand Pecknold called the Ontario native one of the best netminders in all of college hockey, and Galajda admitted he appreciates the validation from an opposing coach.

“It’s definitely something pretty special,” Galajda said.

But it wasn’t just the Ivy League Rookie of the Year who showcased his defensive prowess.

Cornell got themselves into a bind on two occasions in the third period. In the first half of the period, Anthony Angello, the team’s leader in goals and points, was ejected for hitting from behind. In the game’s final stages, the aforementioned Vanderlaan was sent to the showers after a direct contact to the head penalty when he blindsided Quinnipiac right winger Nick Jermain.

The Ivy League school is 18-0-0 at home when leading after two periods at home. They took this is as a chance to reiterate to the “Lynah faithful” why they were the best defensive team in the country.

And as the narrative of their season goes, the Big Red did not disappoint.

The team blocked five shots on the first five-minute penalty kill. On the latter kill, the Cornell skaters turned aside three.

Galajda only made two saves total within those 10 penalty minutes.

Blocking shots has been a point of emphasis for Schafer in practice.

“When we lost to Union, we came back and blocked shots every day except for one day in practice,” Schafer said. “It was the first drill we did… [the team] got in front of it and they ate it. That’s the kind of sacrifice you need in order to move on.”

On the Quinnipiac side, Pecknold was satisfied with the way his team came back after last night’s loss.

“I’m proud of the way the guys rebounded [after last night’s 9-1 loss]…I thought tonight we held our heads high, we competed,” Pecknold said. “There’s a reason they’re the number two team in the country.”

Quinnipiac senior center Kevin Duane narrowed the team’s defeat down to the organization of Cornell’s defense.

“They’re just a well-coached team that buys in really well,” Duane said. “I don’t really know if I can pinpoint one thing but they sell out [to block shots].”

After losing game one in a playoff series, Quinnipiac is historically a team that fights back in the following matchup. Before tonight, the Bobcats were 7-1 in the second battle that followed in the ECAC Hockey quarterfinals since 2006.

Mike Schafer was ready for the visiting Bobcats to roar back.

“They competed so much harder tonight,” Schafer said. “They came back and they played with pride. We had our hands full all night long.”

Tonight marks the first time in 22 years (1995-96) Quinnipiac will finish the season with a losing record (16-18-4 overall). Pecknold acknowledged his frustration regarding his team’s campaign but is confident in his squad’s ability to quickly bounce back.

“It was disappointing… but we’ll be aggressive in getting back to where we need to be. We’ll get another streak going next year.”

While the Bobcats ready themselves for the 5 hour drive south back to Hamden, the Big Red will be preparing themselves for a 5 hour drive up north to Lake Placid, New York, where they will take on the No. 7 Princeton Tigers in the ECAC Hockey semifinals Friday at 4 p.m. Princeton advanced to the semifinals by turning aside the No. 2 Union Dutchmen in two games.