Union-Cornell postgame report (with videos)
Kelly Zajac is Mr. Clutch for Union.
From the time he scored the game-winning goal against Army just before time expired in the third during his freshman year, Zajac always seems to come up with a timely goal.
The senior center did it again Saturday against Cornell.
Zajac scored with 2:32 left in the third period, lifting the 11th-ranked Dutchmen to a 4-4 ECAC Hockey tie against the 14th-ranked Big Red before a standing-room only crowd of 2,507 at Messa Rink.
The tie helped the first-place Dutchmen (10-3-4 ECACH, 16-6-7 overall) maintain their three-point lead over the second-place Big Red (8-3-5, 11-6-6). Cornell has a game in hand on Union, and that will be made up next Saturday when the Big Red host Yale while the Dutchmen are off.
In his career with Union, Zajac has nine game-winning goals and two game-tying tallies. He led the team with five game-winners last year.
"It's been fun being able to play with him," said Dutchmen junior right winger Wayne Simpson, who set up Zajac's goal. "I've witnessed, first-hand, some of the clutch goals."
The goal almost never happened.
The Dutchmen were down, 4-3, entering the third period. In three of their last four games, the Big Red took a lead into the third, only to blow it.
But the Big Red were doing a great job of bottling up the Dutchmen in the neutral zone as they stretched three players along the blue line. During one stretch, Union went offsides four times. The Dutchmen were too stubborn to dump the puck into the Big Red zone.
"We had about four offsides, so what does that tell you?" Union coach Rick Bennett said. "Maybe you want to get the puck deep and go to work and use our feet to generate some offensive chances with our O-zone play. We can work hard, but you've got to work smart."
The Dutchmen finally got some penetration late in the third period, and it produced the goal.
Simpson had the puck behind the Cornell net, and he got goalie Andy Iles out of position.
"I got the puck at the side of the net," Simpson said. "I didn't think I had a good angle to shoot, so I held onto it."
Simpson didn't have anyone open in front. However, Zajac was all alone at the bottom of the right circle. Simpson sent the puck to Zajac, who fired it into the open net.
"'Wayneo' made a great play," Zajac said. "It was a scrambling play in front of the net there. I saw an opportunity to come out to the side, and he made a nice pass. It took a lucky bounce. It went off the guy's shin pad and went in."
Just another clutch goal for Zajac.
"He is one of those guys that really steps up to the plate in those big-time situations," Bennett said. "And that's what you want from your leaders."
Zajac became the Dutchmen's all-time career assist leader at the Division I level with 85. He surpassed Adam Presizniuk, who had 83 career assists from 2007-11.
"That's, obviously, a great honor to have your name up there," Zajac said. "But I think that's a big compliment to the players I've played with and the teams I've played with the last four years."
The next milestone for Zajac will be Union's all-time career points mark. He has 121 career points, and is 10 behind Presizniuk.
It would be appropriate if Zajac does break the record, it comes on an important goal. He is, after all, Mr. Clutch.
Cornell coach Mike Schafer has gotten himself in trouble over the years with his complaints about the officiating.
He took a factious, yet funny approach to it during his postgame press conference.
"Did you see our power play tonight?" Schafer said. "Oh, yeah, that's right."
Cornell got one power play in the game, but it lasted just 33 seconds. Union had gotten its third power play of the game when Erik Axell was called for holding the stick at 7:29 of the second period. But that was nullified when Union's Kyle Bodie was called for elbowing at 8:02.
The factiousness continued.
"We shrugged off not playing very well on the power play tonight," Schafer said. "We couldn't get it going on the power play against Union this evening with all the calls we had against us.
"We really grew as a hockey team this weekend. Our power play grew this weekend, again. We were able to fight through, given the tremendous amount of calls against us this past weekend. The power play is extremely frustrated [that] it didn't perform tonight."
Then, Schafer got serious.
"Overall, it was a good hockey game," Schafer said. "Union's got a good team. It was a hard-fought game between two hockey teams."
A video of Schafer's press conference is listed below.
So-so night for Stevens
Colin Stevens made his second straight start in goal in place of Troy Grosenick. The Niskayuna native He was outstanding Friday against Colgate, but had an OK effort against Cornell.
Two of the goals he allowed were soft. He seemed to get a piece of Sean Collins' first-period goal. On Brian Ferlin's goal that tied the score, 2-2, at 5:48 of the second, Stevens was too deep in his net as the shot went over his left shoulder.
Stevens did make some good saves. He had a facemask save off of a Sean Whitney right-point drive in the second period. In the first period, Stevens made two good pad saves on Ferlin from close range.
Stevens had some shaky moments late. He fumbled a Vince Mihalek shot with just over a minute left in regulation. Mihalek shot the rebound wide.
Late in overtime, He got a pice of Greg Miller's shot. The puck lay in the crease before it was cleared out.
Stevens finished with 19 saves.
As of 12:10 a.m., Union is tied for 10th with Notre Dame in the Pairwise Rankings.
I have two postgame videos.
To see the coaches' press conferences, click here.
To see the press conference with Zajac, Simpson and Shayne Gostisbehere, click here.
My three stars of the game:
1) Kelly Zajac, Union center — Had one goal and two assists. He becomes Union's all-time career assist leader at the Division I level.
2) Shayne Gostisbehere, Union defenseman — Had four assists to tie a team record for assists in an ECACH game.
3) Mathieu Brisson, Cornell defenseman — Had a goal and an assist.
That's all from Messa Rink. Don't to check out my College Hockey Slap Schotts blog on Monday.
Good Night! Good Hockey!