May 25, 2013

Pannell's Record-Breaking Career Comes to End

Sets Division I career points record in semifinal loss

by Corey McLaughlin | | Twitter | Live Blog Replay

Rob Pannell became the new Division I men's career points leader, finishing with 354 after a five-goal, two-assist performance in a 16-14 loss to Duke on Saturday at Lincoln Financial Field. 
© Lee Weissman

* Duke Stops Big Red Machine to Make Title Tilt
* Orange Squeezes Out Another One-Goal Win

PHILADELPHIA — Rob Pannell said that he had cried at the end of each of his previous four seasons at Cornell, but always knew there would be a next year. So imagine how he felt when Saturday's heart-breaking 16-14 loss to Duke was complete.

The fifth-year senior's time with the Big Red ended in the NCAA semifinals at Lincoln Financial Field, and Pannell spent close to a minute after the final whistle crouched in a catcher's stance while Duke celebrated as a team next to him. Most of his Big Red teammates gathered on the other side of the field.

"Five years, as fast it could, flashed through my head at that point," Pannell said. "I couldn't believe it was over."

It almost wasn't. During an 8-1 second-half spurt that eventually brought Cornell within one goal in the final minute, Pannell — with three goals and two assists during the run — eclipsed Matt Danowski's all-time NCAA Division I points mark. Pannell finished the game with five goals and those two helpers to close his career with 354 points, one more than Danowski, who stood on the Blue Devils sideline Saturday as an assistant coach.

But there wasn't any celebrating of the record accomplishment afterward.

Pannell walked into the post-game press conference room taking deep gulps of breath and fighting back tears. When he took the dais, fellow senior Thomas Keith put his arm around Pannell. Cornell coach Ben DeLuca did the same when Pannell was asked his first question.

"The record is what it is," Pannell said later. "I'd give up everything I've achieved individually to get a chance to play on Monday."

Duke's rangy, athletic defenseman Henry Lobb drew the almost exclusive assignment of covering Pannell. He fronted him, shut him off and Duke didn't slide. Pannell took 20 of Cornell's 53 shots. But for most of the game, those tries were turned aside by Blue Devils goalie Kyle Turri. The rest of the time, Pannell was often seen cutting around the offensive zone trying to get open.

For as many question mark dodges Pannell made, it begged the question for DeLuca afterward: was 20 shots too many?

"They weren't sliding to him. That was a big part of it," DeLuca said. "They were allowing him to dodge and get his shots off. Rob was taking what the defense was giving [but] I do think we'll watch the film and we'll probably discuss involving some of those other guys, spreading the ball around a little bit."

"Sometimes it was Rob had the opportunity, whether it was transition or the settled offense where he created that shot," DeLuca continued. "You live with that. With a player like Rob Pannell, I'm pretty comfortable with him shooting the ball regardless of the situation, but ... in terms of sharing the ball and getting some other guys involved, it probably would have been a little bit better for us."

Pannell's running buddy, Steve Mock, was held in check by another of Duke long pole, Bill Conners. Mock, who entered the game leading the NCAA Division I in goals with 59, couldn't get open around the crease and rarely connected with Pannell, finishing with one goal and one assist.

After scoring the first goal of the game, Pannell appeared be a step slow in the opening half, but he deflected a question about any potential injury.

"I felt fine. In the heat of the moment, I got dinged up a little bit, but that's not going to stop me from playing," Pannell said. "I think I still got some good opportunities. I just didn't go a good job of capitalizing."

And so the long, winding road that is called Rob Pannell's career came to an end. The now 23-year-old arrived in Ithaca, N.Y. five years ago after spending a post-graduate year at Deerfield Academy (Mass.) after being lightly-recruited out of Smithtown West (N.Y.) High on Long Island. His freshman year at Cornell included the infamous — in Big Red circles — Foxborough Flip game. Eventually, the career grew into a Tewaaraton-caliber one. Then, what was supposed to be his senior year last season was ended prematurely by a broken foot. With a medical waiver, he returned for a final season with one piece of unfinished business.

"This is the last time I'm going to wear this jersey. It's going to take a while for me to take it off, I'll tell you that much," he said. "I came back to win a national championship. But at the end of the day, I'll leave Cornell with 15 new best friends [in the senior class], and a career at Cornell that I can be proud of."

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