Release and photo courtesy of Cornell Athletic Communications
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- It’s official: Rodger Craig has a knack for scoring big goals.
The sophomore winger popped home a rebound 3 minutes, 35 seconds into overtime on Friday to give the Cornell men’s hockey team a 3-2 win over top-seeded Michigan in an NCAA tournament regional semifinal at Resch Center.
Freshman defenseman Joakim Ryan started the play that led to the winner with a slick pass to send sophomore forward Dustin Mowrey into space on the left side. He drew the defense to him before sending a pass across to junior Greg Miller, who got off a shot that forced a brilliant save from Michigan goalie Shawn Hunwick. But the puck kicked back into the slot, and – with Hunwick out of position after making the save on Miller – Craig deposited the puck in the vacated net to kick off a wild celebration.
Fourth-seeded Cornell (19-8-7) advances to Saturday’s Midwest Regional final against second-seeded Ferris State at 8 p.m. CDT Saturday. The Bulldogs defeated third-seeded Denver, 2-1, in Friday’s earlier semifinal to advance.
It was Craig’s fourth career goal and second of the season. His first was also dramatic, proving to be the game-winner in the third period of a Feb. 24 game against Union at Lynah Rink. The goal also effectively erased bad memories in a rink that saw the Big Red lose the longest game in its program history, when it lost 1-0 in triple overtime against Wisconsin in a regional final in 2006.
In the early going, it was hard to believe this trip would fare any better for Cornell after it fell behind just 1:11 into the game. Michigan won a battle along the halfwall on the right wing, working the puck back to the right point for a shot that was deflected on goal by Luke Glendening. Iles made the save, but the rebound popped back out in front for A.J. Treais to give a whack. Iles made another save, but Glendening picked up the last rebound and slid a shot by the goalie’s left skate.
Things appeared to get worse 22 seconds later when a Wolverines two-on-two sent another rebound past Iles. Luke Moffatt beat his defender wide on the right and cut to the top of the crease. Iles made the save, but Kevin Lynch was on the doorstep to sweep in the rebound for what appeared to be a two-goal Michigan lead just 1:33 into the game. But as Cornell took its timeout to regroup, the officiating crew reviewed the play and disallowed the goal, ruling that Moffatt had interfered with Iles as he cut across the crease.
Faced again with a more manageable one-goal deficit, the Big Red went to work turning the tide of the game – largely thanks to the line of Craig, senior Erik Axell and junior Vince Mihalek. The trio had a positive shift at around the five-minute mark, highlighted by a 150-foot solo dash up the ice by Axell and a Mihalek redirection that narrowly missed the cage.
The line then drew the first power-play opportunity of the game when Michigan’s Jeff Rohrkemper was whistled for hitting Axell with a high stick in the neutral zone. Cornell wouldn’t waste the opportunity. Junior defenseman Braden Birch started the puck up ice, and senior center Sean Collins gained the zone before dishing off to freshman John McCarron coming down the right wing. He wound up for a shot from the top of the circle that clanked off the far post and in, beating Michigan goalie Shawn Hunwick low to the blocker side. It was the sixth goal of the season and fifth tally over the last 10 games for McCarron, a Michigan native.
The period ended tied at 1 and with Michigan enjoying its first power play. Little did anyone know just how often that would be the case in the second period.
Yet it was Cornell that struck with the discrepancy in man power. Collins took the puck away from a Michigan defenseman on the left point and swept the puck up the wall, only to have it go off the linesman a couple feet away. That allowed Collins to take possession back and start up the wing on a two-on-one. He feathered a perfect saucer pass across the slot to freshman defenseman Joakim Ryan, who fired a shot past Hunwick’s blocker at the 40-second mark to give Cornell its first lead. The goal was Ryan’s seventh on the year – a program record for freshman defensemen – and his second shorthanded tally.
Michigan’s next power play featured the next best thing to a goal as far as the Wolverines were concerned – another Cornell penalty. But down five-on-three for 38 seconds, the trio of Axell, Birch and senior defenseman Sean Whitney did yeoman’s work to kill of the prime scoring opportunity for the Wolverines. The only shot on goal Iles saw was a sharp-angle offering from Treais, which was routinely stopped and swept down ice by Whitney.
Even after the ensuing five-on-four was killed, Michigan got its fourth consecutive power-play opportunity a short time later. But that chance ended early after senior forward Locke Jillson’s incessant pestering of the Michigan point men eventually led to a holding the stick penalty on Merrill.
The barrage of penalties continued when Cornell was whistled for a five-minute major – just its fourth of the whole season. A quick Michigan penalty cancelled two minutes of the ensuing power play, then the Big Red was awarded a penalty shot when Jillson’s was twisted up by Merrill on a breakaway. Jillson made a move to the forehand and tried to beat Hunwick low, but the puck deflected away off of the goaltender’s right pad. Cornell has now gone 809 games since its last penalty-shot goal, which was scored by Joe Nieuwendyk on Feb. 27, 1987.
The game took another dramatic turn just 43 seconds later, when the Wolverines were once again put on a two-man advantage with a roughing call in the neutral zone. This five-on-three was significantly longer than the first – 1:36, to be exact – but it was also successfully killed. Birch and defenseman Nick D’Agostino were on the ice for the duration, blocking multiple shots and watching the most ominous chance kick off the post to Iles’ left, though it probably wouldn’t have counted since it was directed toward goal with a skate.
In all, the Big Red was shorthanded for a staggering 9:37 of the middle frame – including 2:14 of two-man disadvantage – yet it was Cornell which scored the period’s lone goal. Iles stopped all 13 of Michigan’s power-play shots in the period.
Nursing the one-goal lead in the third period, Michigan eventually equalized with 4:01 remaining to force overtime. Luke Moffatt had the original shot, which Iles stopped, by Lynch converted from point-blank range on the rebound.
A Big Red turnover in the defensive zone with just 20 seconds remaining in regulation provided a tense moment, but Iles was able to stop Treais from in tight and force extra time.
Saturday’s game will be the Big Red’s first trip to a regional final since 2009, when it lost to Bemidji State in a Midwest Regional final. This is Cornell’s 19th trip to the NCAA tournament.
Craig's OT Winner Puts Cornell Men's Hockey in NCAA Regional Final