A lackluster start and an offensively superior Providence Friars doomed the Cornell Big Red in a 4-0 defeat in the NCAA Men’s Ice Hockey East Regional Championship game on Sunday afternoon.
After the ECAC Championship loss to the Golden Knights of Clarkson, the Big Red looked red hot in the second chance opportunity it was given in the opening round of the NCAA tournament on Saturday.
An energized Big Red squad steamrolled an unsuspecting Northeastern Huskies with a 5-1 victory, led by the sophomore goaltender Austin McGrath, who filled in for the injured Matthew Galajda.
A day after the impressive route, McGrath was called upon, again, to backstop the Big Red as it took on a Providence team that had beat the regional, top-seeded Minnesota State the day prior.
While Cornell fans are never poor travelers, the location of the game, the Dunkin’ Donuts Center, was filled with local Friars faithful who had to make a short trip across the city, causing a road game feel rather than a neutral site feel for the Big Red.
The contest began with an early advantageous position for the Big Red as the team was gifted a power-play opportunity just 36 seconds into the game. The man-advantage would ultimately prove unsuccessful to Cornell, allowing for the game to remain scoreless.
With 9:40 to play in the opening period, the Friars opened up the scoring with a goal from Greg Printz, who skipped the puck over the outstretched leg of McGrath, following a rebound of a Jacob Bryson shot.
From the moment of the opening goal, the Friars looked determined to find another tally before the end of the first as they controlled the passing lanes and forced Cornell into uncomfortable situations with a pressing forecheck. The Big Red would catch its breath as it trailed only 1-0 the end of the first period, a point that allowed them to regroup and strategize for the next 20 minutes. Unfortunately for Cornell, the Friars were doing the exact same thing. Out of the intermission, Providence wasted little time pouncing on a seemingly fatigued Big Red squad, as it netted a second goal just 1:40 into the period. The Friars placed a pair of forwards in front of McGrath, one of whom, Josh Wilkins, redirected the puck with his skate past the outstretched Cornell goaltender.
After moving into a two-goal advantage, the Friars could smell blood in the water as they pelted McGrath with shot after shot, forcing Cornell to play in its own defensive zone for a majority of the period.
The Big Red goaltender held his own against the Providence barrage until a holding minor sent the Friars to the power-play with a minute and a half to go in the frame.
Cornell had thought it had made it to the end of the period without conceding another goal until Wilkins threw a saucer pass into the slot that was redirected by the glove of McGrath with just 0.6 seconds remaining on the clock.
A deflated Big Red side took to the ice for the third period trailing 3-0, still without answers to the Friars’ shutdown defense.
An early power-play opportunity provided some hope for the Big Red, but the shots were stonewalled by Providence goaltender Hayden Hawkey.
The Big Red continued to throw shots on net, far more than they had in the previous periods, but the goals were not coming.
With time winding down and the season on the line, the Big Red pulled McGrath for an extra attacker, but the move would prove ineffective as Brandon Duhaime netted the empty net goal, sealing the deal for the Friars. As the horn sounded, the Big Red saw their season come to an end, a win shy of the team’s first Frozen Four appearance since 2003. Although the shortcoming in the regional round, Cornell compiled a 21-11-4 record in Head Coach Mike Schafer’s 24th season.
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