After knocking off the Tigers, 5-1, before winter break, Cornell earned a sweep of the season series with Princeton with a 3-2 road win on Friday.

Ben Parker / Sun Staff Photographer

After knocking off the Tigers, 5-1, before winter break, Cornell earned a sweep of the season series with Princeton with a 3-2 road win on Friday.

January 4, 2019

No. 20 Men’s Hockey Rings in New Year With Tough Win, Season Sweep of Princeton

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There must have been something in the Christmas ham.

Despite sitting idle for five weeks — the longest such stretch in program history — Cornell men’s hockey returned to action flying and swinging to notch a regular season sweep of Princeton, 3-2, and once again avenge last season’s ECAC semifinals loss.

Still missing its star goaltender and a top-four defenseman, the Red took a quick two-goal lead and appeared poised to earn a decisive victory. But after blowing its lead to the high-flying Tiger offense, Cornell hung on for a quality win to bolster its spot in the conference standings behind 31 saves from sophomore goaltender Austin McGrath.

Initially waved off for goaltender interference, senior defenseman Alec McCrea’s review-awarded goal gave Cornell the lead late in the third period and earned McGrath, filling in for the still-injured sophomore Matt Galajda, his second consecutive win after he backstopped the Red to a 2-1 win at Harvard before the break.

Associate head coach Ben Syer, filling in for an under-the-weather head coach Mike Schafer ’86, lobbied the officiating crew to review the apparent McCrea goal, and his push in of itself ended up being the game’s most important play.

“That gave our guys a chance to kind of collect themselves. [McCrea] was adamant that there was no interference,” Syer said. “The way the tide of the game was going, [assistant coach Sean Flannegan] was chirping in my ear, he goes, ‘We need a break anyway.’

“Just felt when our guys were that adamant, we needed to take a timeout.”

Any post-winter break rust wasn’t evident for the Red in the early-going against the Tigers — Cornell took a 2-0 lead over the reigning ECAC champions into the first intermission. But Princeton knotted the game at 2-2 in the third before McCrea’s goal gave Cornell the lead for good with 7:05 to play.

“I thought there was a lot of games played in the 60 minutes,” Syer said. “I thought the first 20 [minutes] were great, we played the way that we wanted to. The second period I thought Princeton had some great pushback. … I thought we got away from some of our detail, but they did that to us. … We were a little sloppy on some of our systematic things that hopefully we can clean up.”

“It was all over the map. I thought there was three different games in one game tonight,” he added.

Both of Cornell’s goals in the first period came from players who hadn’t been in the lineup since November. Sophomore center Brenden Locke gave the Red a 1-0 lead, and junior defenseman Brendan Smith doubled the lead with less than a minute to play in the opening period. The tallies represented both Locke’s and Smith’s first goals of the season after each missed several games on the shelf.

While the five-week break allowed Cornell to return to nearly full health, the most notable absence was the All-American Galajda, who did not suit up for the Red’s third straight game. McGrath himself has played to a high level, making 31 saves on 33 shots Saturday and 72 on 78 shots in his three total starts. Sharp all night, McGrath made his best save late in the second, a sprawling stop on Princeton’s Alex Riche to temporarily preserve his team’s two-goal lead.

But the two-goal lead wasn’t safe. Matthew Thom scored for the Tigers late in the second, and a strange-bounce goal tied the game with less than eight minutes to play — a blast from the Cornell blue line caromed off the end boards and onto Corey Andovski’s stick for the second Tiger goal.

“Princeton, we know they are a skilled team,” Syer said. “They push and push and they push and they push, and that’s what they did. We knew there would be pushback.”

Then, a blast from McCrea, some debate team practice from Syer, and Cornell was permitted to start 2019 with a celebration.

Cornell takes on No. 3/5 Quinnipiac at 7 p.m. Saturday.