CANTON, N.Y. – Freshman forward Michael Regush scored twice in the first period, and the Cornell men's hockey team locked up a first-round bye through the ECAC Hockey Championship playoffs and moved one game closer to clinching the Cleary Cup on Friday with a 4-2 victory over St. Lawrence at Appleton Arena.
With the win, Cornell (17-8-3, 13-5-3 ECAC Hockey) remained one point ahead of Quinnipiac and Harvard – both also victorious on Friday – in the league standings with just one game remaining. The Big Red can lock up its second straight ECAC Hockey regular-season title with a win at 7 p.m. Saturday at Clarkson.
"I thought it was just a solid win on the road," said Mike Schafer '86, the Jay R. Bloom '77 Head Coach of Men's Hockey at Cornell. "But I don't think that we played particularly well, especially in the third period."
While the upcoming game against the Golden Knights garnered its fair share of attention heading into the weekend, the Big Red first had to take on a St. Lawrence (4-27-2, 2-17-2) team that is tougher at home that its overall record would indicate. The Saints had been 2-4-2 over its last eight home games, with three of those losses being by just one goal.
But season-long trends for both teams continued on Friday, with Cornell's early strength and St. Lawrence's early struggles on display. With Regush's tallies coming just 2 minutes, 25 seconds after, the Big Red built a 2-0 lead and has now outscored its opposition in first periods, 34-10, on the season. Regush has now scored three goals in his two games against St. Lawrence, and he's upped his season total to 10 despite shifting between the wing and center.
"He's got strong hands out in front of the net and makes the most of his opportunities," Schafer said. "We talked tonight about getting some secondary scoring. Brendan Smith (scored) and Mike scored the five-on-five goal thing going for us."
Smith, a senior defenseman, scored his second goal of the year to chase St. Lawrence starting goaltender Emil Zetterquist. The Saints got on the board with Cade Gleekel's goal on a rebound after Matthew Galajdastopped Zach Risteau's quality chance, but sophomore Cam Donaldson restored the three-goal Big Red lead with 36.2 seconds left in the second. Striking for the first time since Jan. 26, it was Donaldson's 12th goal of the season.
The only real casualty on the night for Cornell was its impressive streak of 41 consecutive penalty kills. That run – the best of its kind for the program in at least 20 years – came to a close with Jake Stevens' power-play goal with 6:33 to play.
But while the Saints outshot the Big Red 17-4 in the third period, the hosts would get no closer and Cornell locked up one of the league's four first-round byes in the playoffs. Though those spots are highly coveted by all, it's particularly pivotal for a program that's fought the injury bug all year.
"It's huge. We know now that guys will get some rest next week and get a game plan," Schafer said. "But still, even more important is tomorrow night for the league, going into Clarkson. They've got a great team, and it's going to be a battle."
The Big Red's Lineup:
How The Goals Were Scored:
Cornell's 1st Goal
1st period, 13:12 • Regush 9 (Donaldson, Barron) • Cornell 1, St. Lawrence 0
• Alec McCrea's cross-ice pass allowed Morgan Barron to enter the zone on the left side, and he feathered a backhand pass to Donaldson just past the heels of his defender. He drove toward the near post before dishing a perfect pass across the top of the crease for Regush to bang in.
Cornell's 2nd Goal
1st period, • Regush 10 (Nuttle, McCrea) • Cornell 2, St. Lawrence 0
• As a power play was coming to an end, the Big Red worked the puck across the blue line from McCrea to Nuttle on the right side. He crept down the wall and took the space provided, then continued on behind the net. He eventually came out on the other side and slipped a pass to the goal mouth that Regush steered on goal, and it trickled in after squeezing under Zetterquist's left arm.
Cornell's 3rd Goal
2nd period, 3:26 • Smith 2 (Murphy) • Cornell 3, St. Lawrence 0
• Connor Murphy won a faceoff to Zetterquist's right, and the puck slid back to the point. With Regush and his defender tied up and crashing to the ice, Smith collected and rolled down the half wall before firing a shot toward goal that squeaked through the goaltender.
St. Lawrence's 1st Goal
2nd period, 6:45 • Gleekel 7 (Risteau) • Cornell 3, St. Lawrence 1
• A turnover just outside the Cornell blue line allowed the Saints to attack with some speed on a two-on-two. Risteau beat his defender wide on the right side, creating a quality scoring chance that Galajda saved with his right arm – but Gleekel drove the net and swatted in the rebound.
Cornell's 4th Goal
2nd period, 19:23.8 • Donaldson 12 (Locke) • Cornell 4, St. Lawrence 1
• The Big Red had a potential three-on-two slowed up at the blue line, but Locke still got the puck deep in the right corner. Donaldson fished it out of a scrum and cut from the outside hash mark across the circle. With Barron clearly space in front of him, Donaldson carved his way to the slot and backhanded a shot under Dan Mannella.
St. Lawrence's 2nd Goal
3rd period, 13:27 • Stevens 3 (Alftberg) • Cornell 4, St. Lawrence 2
• On the power play, the Saints held possession toward the left point in the offensive zone. Philip Alftberg slipped a pass behind his back to Stevens, who came to the middle before unleashing a shot that was blocked by Alex Green. Stevens was first to the loose puck and before the defense could recover, he just wristed a shot past two posted-up teammates and over an unsuspecting Galajda's glove.