This post has been updated.
For the second time in as many seasons, Cornell women’s hockey saw its dreams of ending its ECAC title drought come crashing down in the conference championship game on home ice. This year, it was No. 6 Princeton hoisting the championship trophy at Lynah Rink.
The Red’s 3-2 overtime loss to Princeton marked the first Cornell loss at Lynah this season and snapped a 22-game unbeaten streak. Mariah Keopple’s goal just 58 seconds into the extra period gave the Tigers an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament.
After a scoreless third period, Keopple rifled a shot early in overtime that deflected off a skater in front of the net and past an unsuspecting Cornell junior goaltender Lindsay Browning, earning Princeton a walk-off victory. It was the Tigers’ first-ever league title — Cornell’s ECAC championship drought is now at six years.
— ECAC Hockey (@ecachockey) March 8, 2020
After scoring two goals in the first three minutes of the opening period on Sunday, Cornell — the top seed in the ECAC playoffs — looked like it was well on its way to locking up its first ECAC title since 2014.
But the Tigers had other plans: Princeton responded with two goals of its own in the second period to tie the game, sending a championship weekend game between the Ivy League rivals to overtime for the second time is as many seasons — avenging last season’s double-overtime ECAC semifinal loss to Cornell.
“We haven’t quite been as sharp as we had been early on in the season and unfortunately in the championship game it cost us,” said head coach Doug Derraugh ’91, whose team will hope to do what it did last season: advance to the Frozen Four despite a loss in the league title game.
The Red came out of the gates firing: Just 1:26 into the game, senior forward and captain Kristin O’Neill beat Princeton netminder Stephanie Neatby to give the hosts an early 1-0 lead. It was O’Neill’s 25th goal of the season and sixth of the playoffs.
Less than a minute and a half later, sophomore forward Gillis Frechette got in on the action, doubling the Red’s lead to 2-0.
After taking two penalties, Cornell successfully survived 1:37 of 5-on-3 shorthanded hockey to preserve its two-goal lead. The Red allowed the Tigers just a single shot during the two-skater advantage.
While the Red dominated puck possession for the first half of the frame, Princeton’s offense began to gain its footing during the second half of the period before finding its groove early in the second frame.
The Tigers’ momentum from the opening period manifested in a goal by Sarah Fillier under four minutes into the middle period, cutting Cornell’s lead in half. The goal was Fillier’s 22nd of the season. The standout sophomore was named the league tournament’s most outstanding player.
After fruitless power-play opportunities for both teams (both teams went 0-for-4 on the power play), Cornell took over briefly, outshooting Princeton, 7-1, over a five-minute stretch. But Cornell couldn’t break its scoring drought, which dated back to the 2:49 mark of the first period.
Browning, whose 12 shutouts this year set a single-season program record, stood tall in net to preserve the two-goal lead: Princeton’s Maggie Connors skated alone behind Cornell’s blue line. With only Browning to beat, Connors attempted to sneak the puck past the goaltender’s left side, but Browning covered it up for a key denial.
Just seconds later, however, Princeton converted on a chance, putting the Tigers at a one-goal deficit. After senior defenseman Jaime Bourbonnais blocked Carly Bullock’s shot but failed to clear, Bullock corralled the loose puck and put it past Browning to knot the game at two apiece.
In overtime, it took the Tigers just 58 seconds to secure the upset victory, beating the nation’s top team on its home ice for the first time all season.
“Right now they can absorb it, but this is the only season that we’ve ever had where we’ve gone undefeated in [conference play during] the regular season and they should be really proud of that,” Derraugh said of his postgame message to the team. “It’s the championship game so obviously it’s the biggest game of the season, but it is, I guess, still just one game, and their consistency and their effort throughout, they should be really proud of.”