LAKE PLACID, N.Y. — Even in a season that will be remembered as one full of overcoming adversity, the Cornell men's hockey team had too much of it to manage on Saturday night. After losing a top-six forward and its all-league goaltender to bizarre injuries, a controversial overtime goal propelled Clarkson to a 3-2 victory over the Big Red in the ECAC Hockey Championship game at Herb Brooks Arena.
The winning goal for Clarkson (26-10-2) was scored by Chris Klack about five seconds after entry into the offensive zone that Cornell (20-10-4) contested was offside. Video shows that as Clarkson's forechecker poked the puck back into the zone, it was touched by a Golden Knights forward in an offside position. But since he then brought the puck back into the neutral zone before a clean zone entry, the play was no longer subject to video review. Clarkson went to work from there, and Devin Brosseau wheeled around the net before sliding a backhand to the far post for Klack to smash in from close range.
That the goal came against sophomore Austin McGrath was a whole separate wrinkle, though it's doubtful any mortal goaltender could have stopped the winner. McGrath was thrust into the spotlight for his first appearance in five weeks after classmate Matthew Galajda was forced to leave the game with an injury suffered with an unsual combatant – the very goal he defends. A collision from behind the goal sent the cage tipping onto Galajda's back. But since the net never actually left the pegs under the posts, play was allowed to continue.
After several attempts to shrug the cage off him, Galajda got a skate tangled up in the net. He attempted to continue playing, but removed himself from play at the next whistle after a 23-save effort.
It was far from the first oddity of the night, even though Cornell had such a promising start. Junior forward Noah Bauld continued his hot hand with his third goal in five playoff games, finishing off a give-and-go rush on a two-on-one with sophomore Brenden Locke at the 7:29 mark of the first period.
But the Big Red ran into penalty trouble soon thereafter. Clarkson got a pair of power-play goals from Brosseau 4:17 apart in the latter half of the first period to take a 2-1 lead after 20 minutes. In the process, Cornell lost the services of junior forward Jeff Malott for the rest of the night.
Not only had the Big Red entered the game with 57 successful penalty kills in its last 59 chances, it also hadn't made a habit of finding itself killing more penalties than the opposition. Clarkson ended the night with five opportunities on the man advantage compared to two for Cornell. It's just the second time this year that an opponent had at least three more power plays than the Big Red.
But – as it has done for the better part of an injury-riddled year – the shorthanded Big Red battled back. The equalizer finally came from sophomore Tristan Mullin on a redirection of senior defenseman Matt Nuttle'sshot/pass with 5:41 left in regulation. That sent the game to the extra session before Cornell finished a runner-up in the ECAC Hockey Championships for the second time in three years.
Still seemingly a mathematical lock to receive an at-large bid for the NCAA tournament, Cornell will find out for sure when the selection show airs at 7 p.m. Sunday. Regional play runs from March 29-31 at sites in Allentown, Pa.; Fargo, N.D.; Manchester, N.H. and Providence, R.I.