The college conference tournament season has been the season of upsets. One seeds can’t seem to make it through there tournaments, as Jacksonville, St Joe’s, Vermont and Penn State have all seen their conference tournament end already. On Friday night, Yale made their bid to send Cornell to the same fate. In the first meeting, Cornell dominated, as Gavin Adler bottled up Matt Brandau, and the Big Red attack of Michael Long, CJ Kirst, and Billy Coyle gave the Yale defense fits. Since then, the Yale defense has been trending up. Cornell has looked a bit more vulnerable. And the calendar has flipped to May, where anything can happen. The mission was the reverse the script from March, and reverse it Yale did. IT was an offensive explosion and faceoff dominance that delivered a 22-15 victory for Yale.
Yale got the start they needed. They took the opening possession on a faceoff violation, and Chris Lyons scored on an inside roll along GLE to put Yale up 1-0. A quick faceoff win Matt Brandau against an unsettled defense, and he scored from the wing to make it 2-0 in the first two minutes of action. Entering the game, it was hard to deny that the last outing had an impact.
"I was thinking about it, but I don’t think the guys were. They knew how much they grew up since then. Admittedly, it has to be tough for Cornell to come out and do that again. I have a ton or respect for that team. That was an absolute war, and they’re capable of going off for sure," said Yale Head Coach Andy Shay.
"You don’t want to put too much stock in that, it’s two months ago. But also, you know that teams coming. You know they play hard, and they do a lot of good things because they’re a talented team. So going into that one, we knew it was going to be a slugfest and it was all of that. But they just out played us today. They picked up more ground balls, and they executed better," said Cornell Head Coach Connor Buczek.
For the Yale players, it was a different approach. "We were thinking clean slate. After we dropped those tough ones to Cornell and Princeton, we wiped the slate and went back to doing things our way. Back to the basics. And it felt like we were a new team coming into this. We strung a couple wins together before this game, so we felt confident," said Yale attackman Matt Brandau.
Cornell answered a few seconds later. A two man game on the wing forced Yale to switch a shortstick onto CJ Kirst. It was an easy task for one of the best attackman in the nation to shake that matchup and beat Jared Paquette high to make it 2-1. But Yale had the answer. Off an endline restart, Lyons again won as a dodger and beat Chayse Ierlan to make it 3-1. Most of Yale’s settled offense was triggered from behind the goal or on the low wings early on.
Cornell had an answer again, as Cornell’s Brendan Staub scored in transition with a rocket of a pole goal. CJ Kirst added another by calling his own number and isolated against Michael Alexander to tie the game at 3. Teams traded empty possessions, although with no shortage of shots on goal, until Chris Lyons completed his hat trick with 4:43 left in the first to make it 4-3 Yale. Yale’s defense settled in, forcing some low percentage shots from Cornell.
"We slowed our slides a bit and I think that was a big difference. Last time we were running around. We tried not to hand Cornell offense, and you know it worked out," said Shay.
To start the second, Yale won another faceoff, which became a theme. Cornell took a first quarter penalty for violations. Cornell began to show some zone, which in the past, has allowed Gavin Adler to impact other matchups a little more while his own a little less. Lyons saw right through the zone though, skipping a pass to a cutting Leo Johnson to make it 5-3. Nick Ramsey won another draw, and Logan Soelberg scored in a wing isolation to push Yale’s lead to 3. Machado Rodriguez won the following faceoff and took it himself to make it 7-3, forcing a Cornell timeout. The script from March 18th was long gone. The onslaught continued. The timeout couldn’t slow Yale, as Johnson added his second goal immediately following another faceoff win.
CJ Kirst stopped the bleeding with his third of the game on a nice assist from Spencer Wirtheim. Cornell added another on an extra man opportunity seconds later when Long found Rory Graham inside to make it 8-5. Kirst scored his 4th on a spectacular individual effort, driving to his left from X above GLE, rolling back, and scoring while falling down to make it 8-6. The run continued as Cornell won in the sub game, as JJ Lombardi got free while Yale was subbing, and let a rocket go from 12 yards that beat Paquette low and brought Cornell back with in one.
Yale was able to answer the Cornell run with a goal from Max Krevsky, on a redodge sweep across the top to push Yale’s lead back up to 9-7. Another juice goal followed. A well timed double forced Kirst into a turnover, and Yale was able to leg the clear out. Johnson found a trailing Jack Stuzin for a missile of a pole goal to push it to 10-7, electrifying the Yale bench. Cornell answerer right away, as Cornell pushed tempo in transition off the faceoff with Billy Coyle getting assisted by Jack Cascadden. The counter punching went on, with Carson Kuhl getting in on the action on a nice assist from Matt Brandau. Johnson added another after that, as he ended up with a short stick on him after two man game. Quick work of the matchup, and Johnson made it 12-8, giving the defender a sarcastic pat on the back after for the effort. 20 goals at the break, and everyone, fans included, needed to catch their breath. Especially the goalies. Paquette made seven first half saves, while Ierlan made just three. 49 total shots were taken in the first half, with Yale taking 31. As the Yale attack continued to produce, Cornell considered some adjustments.
"Give credit to those guys, they’re great ball players. We talked about moving matchups, but I think it was less the individual matchups and more the overall execution. We were giving up spots on the field we didn’t want to give up. The thought process was to defend them as a group, and we just didn’t do that," said Buczek.
Yale had significant faceoff edge at half time, with Ramsey and Rodriguez combining to go 16-22. Cornell also had five first half faceoff violations. A significant possession advantage for Yale would be difficult to overcome if the pace held up. This was the reverse of the regular season matchup.
"Nick had a broken thumb going into that game, and Mack popped his hamstring in that game. So the next guy facing off would have been me, we didn’t want that. But we fought though that, and now here we are. These guys have been working hard all year. And it’s difficult having two guys on your roster that face off with two different styles. But they both had great games," said Shay.
To start the second half, Jack Cascadden won the opening draw, and Spencer Wirtheim scored unassisted, giving the Big Red the start they needed. Yale, as they did all day, had the answer, winning the following faceoff and getting it to Lyons for another unassisted goal, pushing the lead back up to four. The Yale attack was overwhelming, even as Adler and Brandau did battle.
"The phenomenal thing about our attack this year is, if you look at the point distribution, we’re all around the same level. And that spaces to the way these guys have matured. Gavin is a phenomenal player, everyone knows he’s one of the best takeaway defenseman in the country. But we look at it like it’s a unit. If my guy is going to press out or be a tougher matchup, than we rely on the others," said Brandau.
Yale would make multiple defensive stands after, with Paquette registering eight saves in the period. The pace slowed, at least in the goal column, though the attempts on net stayed high. A holding call on Michael Alexander put Cornell on the man up with just over four minutes remaining, giving them a chance to build some momentum. Long found Graham inside, just as he did on Cornell’s first man up, for a dunk inside to make the score 14-10 Yale.
But yet again, Yale had the answer. Cornell tried to show some more zone, but Lyons carved it up with another assist, this one to Johnny Keib, making it 15-10. And as they did all night, another faceoff win from Rodriguez started a fast break that ended with another Lyons goal, his 6th of the night. And another carbon copy right after, except this time Brandau fed Johnson. In a blink, it went from 14-10 to 17-10. Lyons missed the net in the closing seconds of Q3, leaving Cornell with the tall task of overcoming a seven goal efficient in a single quarter.
"The biggest thing was the faceoff transition. That hurts. Every time it felt like we were clawing out way back in there, they’d get one, they’d get two. We got withing three or four, and they banged two right out the front and went down to score. Those are back breakers," said Buczek.
In the 4th, Cornell had to play aggressive to try and force opportunities. A 10 man ride was broken by Patrick Hackler, who fed Lyons for an empty netter from 20 yards. Seconds later, Brandau found a cutting Thomas Bragg to make it 19-10. At that point, Yale started to slow down a bit, happy to play for some longer possessions. Billy Coyle scored on an alley dodge to make it 19-11. Aiden Blake added another to make it 19-12, as the Big Red began to rally. CJ Kirst scored Cornell’s third straight, and chants starting to come from the fans, urging their team to keep the rally going. A cross check on Hackler gave Cornell a man up faceoff and opportunity to keep their rally going. But Yale had the answer, a faceoff win let them kill the Hackler penalty and a large chunk of game clock. Whether it was counter punching or playing on the offensive, Yale had all the answers.
"We look at it as one possession at a time. Whether or not we score, we just want to get better throughout the game. Hopefully we’re able to throw the first punch, and just keep throwing punches. They had that run in the 2nd quarter tighten it up that’s fine, we want the ball and we’re going to keep doing our thing, no matter what," said Brandau.
Long would add another for Cornell with eight minutes left, drawing another Yale penalty and keeping the Big Red hopes alive. Cascadden won the following faceoff, but a Paquette save gave Yale a clear and more time off the clock. The Yale attack had done their damage, a few more empty netters were added and delivered a 22-15 victory.
Ultimately, the late rally would come up short. Yale avenged their mid-season loss, and booked spot in the Ivy Championship against the winner of Penn and Princeton