CANTON — The St. Lawrence University hockey team stood toe to toe with mighty Cornell on Saturday and didn’t back down.
Facing one of the most physical teams in the country as well as perhaps the nation’s top goalie in Matthew Galajda, the Saints hung with the No. 3-ranked Big Red nearly all night.
Yet Cornell emerged with a 1-0 triumph over St. Lawrence as Jared Fiegl scored the deciding goal in the third period and Galajda, a freshman, made 16 saves to record yet another shutout in a bruising ECAC Hockey game before a crowd of 1,405 at Appleton Arena.
“It’s definitely a little sour,” St. Lawrence junior goalie Arthur Brey said of the loss. “For us to be in a game like this and to give up one late in the third (period), it definitely sucks.”
Despite the loss — which was St. Lawrence’s eighth one-goal defeat of the season — perhaps the team can take solace in its effort against league-leading Cornell (20-3-2, 14-2-2).
“But the silver lining is if compare this game to when we played them last, we’re making huge improvements,” Brey said. “I think in our last stretch of games, we’ve made some steps forward.”
“That was a great college hockey game and I’m pleased with our effort,” St. Lawrence coach Mark Morris said. “We did a lot of good things in that game.”
A night after defeating Colgate, 5-2, to begin the weekend, the Saints (7-20-2, 3-14-1) were limited to single-digit shot totals in all three periods against Cornell, including six in the final frame.
“We’ve just got to find a way to score more goals,” Morris said. “It’s hard to get to their net with all of their big bodies around. And (Galajda) made tough saves look like they were routine.”
It was Galajda’s second straight shutout game.
“They’re a top team and obviously a tough team,” St. Lawrence senior and team captain Joe Sullivan said. “We were right there until the end. We played hard, we’re a smaller team and we played fast. Just one bounce went their way and that was the game.”
Fiegl’s tally was the only goal of the weekend for the Big Red, who recorded a scoreless tie at No. 7 Clarkson on Friday night.
“It was a tough game and I thought we played well in the third period,” Cornell coach Mike Schafer said. “So to go on the road and only score one goal, but get three points, that’s a good result for us.”
Galajda also recorded his eighth shutout of the season, which leads the nation.
“He’s just played phenomenal for us,” Schafer said of Galajda.
The Big Red finally broke through as Fiegl lifted his own rebound past a sprawling Brey for a 1-0 lead with 12 minutes and four seconds remaining in regulation.
“We had two guys collide in front and they (the Big Red) got free for a split second and they banged home the rebound,” Morris said.
Brey continued: “The puck popped out and their guy was right there and made a first save. I just remember shooting out and I tried to fall back, but the rebound popped right to him.
“But that’s what happens when you leave guys alone in front of the net, so I think we’ll look at the video and we’ll clean that up.”
St. Lawrence didn’t help its cause later in the period as sophomore Carson Gicewicz was assessed a five-minute major and a game misconduct for butt-ending with 4:56 left in regulation.
“I don’t think he intentionally did it,” Morris said of Gicewicz. “… He’s not a dirty player. He was trying to push the guy away, and it was unfortunate that it happened.”
The Saints came close to tying the game as Galajda stopped Ryan Garvey’s backhand bid with two minutes left and with Brey pulled for an extra attacker, Mike Marnell was denied on a long-range drive with 20 seconds left.
“We had a number of near misses and one at the tail end that just skidded by the post,” Morris said.
Brey finished with 29 saves for the Saints and in all, stopped 62 of 65 shots faced over the weekend.
“Art played well, he gave us a chance tonight again,” Sullivan said. “He’s really finding his groove and it’s making us a better team.”
In the second period, the Saints came close to breaking through, but Galajda made a blocker save on freshman Keenan Suthers in the final minute of the frame; and earlier in the period, senior Ryan Lough cruised in on a breakaway attempt, but shot the puck wide.
The Saints went 0-for-5 on the power play, but also fended off four Cornell power plays.
There was more bad news for St. Lawrence on the injury front as senior defenseman Nolan Gluchowski left the game after he was hit with 3:18 left in the period, after junior forward Jacob Pritchard was injured during Friday’s game.
Also with the loss, St. Lawrence is assured of playing the first round of the ECAC Hockey playoffs on the road.
The 12th-place Saints, who have four regular-season games left, trail Dartmouth, Princeton and Yale, who are tied for sixth place, by 10 points in the standings.
The Saints will play at Harvard and Dartmouth next Friday and Saturday.
“We’re feeling pretty good,” Sullivan added. “Obviously it’s a good time of the year to start finding your groove and I think we’re doing that. So it’s looking good for a playoff run, hopefully.”
■ NOTES: Cornell won the first meeting between the two teams, 6-1, on Nov. 27. … After next weekend, St. Lawrence will conclude the regular season by hosting Quinnipiac and Princeton Feb. 23-24. … Pritchard, the team’s leading scorer, was sidelined for Saturday’s game after he had returned the night before from injury. Freshman Jacob Nielsen took his place.