This post has been updated.
Brenden Locke picked the perfect time to make his mark.
In an uncertain high-scoring affair, it was the freshman who secured the Cornell men’s hockey team’s fate, notching a late game-winning goal to help his team edge out Princeton on the road Saturday night, 5-4, for the Red’s best start to a season since 2006-07.
In the late moments of the game, the Ontario-native, who was kept out of the lineup in Friday night’s win over Quinnipiac, decided to have a whack at the puck from just in front of the blue line — a fine decision, indeed. Locke’s shot screamed past Princeton goaltender Ryan Ferland for what proved to be the deciding goal in the contest.
“He’s got a lot of poise offensively,” head coach Mike Schafer ’86 said of his rookie. “It was funny, because he played left wing and right wing [tonight], and I don’t know if he’s ever played those positions in his life.”
But Locke’s clutch goal was the culmination of a comeback effort that began much earlier for the Red.
No. 18 Cornell (4-0, 2-0 ECAC) and Princeton (1-1-1, 0-1-1) traded goals early in the contest, with the Red striking first less than two minutes into the game. Junior Alec McCrea and senior Alex Rauter provided goals in the first period for their team, but the Tigers immediately followed up each Cornell score with tallies of their own.
Then, with 17 seconds remaining the first, Princeton squeezed a third goal by Cornell freshman goaltender Matt Galajda for its first lead of the night, 3-2.
“They won battles,” Schafer said of Princeton’s early success. “They did a lot of things we take great pride in. We got away with one tonight as far as our effort.”
That third Princeton goal would be all for the young netminder, as senior Hayden Stewart, who sat out injured in the first pair of games against Alabama-Huntsville this season, took over in goal to start the second period for his first appearance of the year.
“It was a good lesson for Matt like the rest of the team. I don’t think he was very sharp tonight,” Schafer said of Galajda. “[There were] a lot of rebounds that he left laying around. [Princeton] is hungry around the net, and I didn’t think he fought through traffic to find shots.”
Stewart’s night would not begin well, however, as Princeton netted its third unanswered goal to start off the second period for a 4-2 lead. But the senior in net would settle in from there, shutting Princeton out for the remainder of the game and finishing with 13 saves.
“[Stewart] has worked really hard to get his opportunity and really rose to the challenge,” Schafer said. “He made a huge save in the second period when the game could have went to 5-2.”
And as the defense stopped the bleeding, the offense fought back.
A pair of pivotal goals in quick succession from sophomore Yanni Kaldis and senior Trevor Yates evened the score, 4-4, heading into the final period of play, where Locke’s heroics were showcased to secure a second-straight weekend sweep for the Red.
“It really sets the standard that they know every game is going to be a battle,” Schafer said of the bout with Princeton. “[Our team has] to come ready to get after it and they didn’t do that. … They have confidence that they can come back but they also know and heed the warning signs that they have to come ready to play, and play hard.
“It’s not like we didn’t play hard, we just didn’t play really hard. And that’s what you need to do in college hockey, night-in and night-out.”
The Red found success on the man-advantage Saturday, capitalizing on two of five power play opportunities.
And on the other side of special teams, Cornell killed four of five penalties, surrendering its first power play goal of the season to snap a streak of 17-straight goalless kills to kickstart the year.
After a 2-1 win over No. 11/12 Quinnipiac (3-3-1, 0-2-0) on Friday evening, Saturday’s win provides Cornell with another ECAC road victory to remain undefeated through four games to start the 2017-18 campaign — a mark Cornell has not achieved since the 2006-07 season.