This story has been updated.
A Friday night matchup with last place Princeton seemed like an afterthought for men’s hockey ahead of a weekend that featured a Saturday night tilt with first place and top-ranked Quinnipiac.
The Tigers (4-10-1, 3-5 ECAC) stormed into Lynah and pulled off a shocking upset, scoring twice in the first period and withstanding a late push by the Red in the third period to hand Cornell (12-4-1, 7-2-1 ECAC) a 5-4 defeat. The loss was the team’s first at Lynah Rink since March 15, 2019.
“You can’t take any teams lightly,” said senior tri-captain Kyle Betts. “With the big game tomorrow, I think some guys were overlooking Princeton, but in Division I if you don’t give your best effort it doesn’t give you a chance to win.”
The Red failed to capitalize on multiple scoring opportunities on odd-man rushes and breakaways in the first period. Freshman forwards Ondrej Psenicka and Sullivan Mack both came up empty on open looks at the net off of breakaways in the first seven minutes. Two minutes later, Cornell had a two on one entering the zone, but sophomore forward Jack O’Leary’s shot missed wide.
The Tigers, meanwhile, made the most of the few chances that Cornell allowed them. Princeton opened the scoring just past the halfway point of the period after the puck took an unpredictable bounce off the back boards and fell in front of Joe Berg, who was open in the slot. Berg converted, giving Princeton a 1-0 lead on its first shot of the night.
Four minutes later, the visitors extended their lead to 2-0 after a shot from the point was redirected past freshman goaltender Ian Shane.
“We didn’t come out with the urgency that we needed to,” said Associate Head Coach Ben Syer. “It was kind of a tough bounce off the end boards that went right out to him for the first goal and that put us on our heels.”
Syer was once again filling in for Head Coach Mike Schafer ’86, who tested positive for COVID on the team’s trip to North Dakota and missed last Saturday’s game against Yale. Schafer was with the team in Ithaca this week but was not behind the bench on Friday night.
Cornell had a chance to get on the board late in the first period when junior forward Jack Malone fed senior forward Brenden Locke in front of the goal after a lengthy possession. Locke nearly redirected Malone’s pass into the net, but missed high and wide.
The two first period goals were especially surprising for a Princeton team that entered the contest with just three goals in its last six games.
“We get everybody’s best when they come here and we saw that tonight,” Syer said. “They were extremely physical, they came with purpose … and you knew after the outcome they had on Tuesday that they would be ready to go.”
Even more surprising was when Princeton jumped out to a three goal lead with just under 13 minutes left in the second period. The Tigers’ third goal came after some aggressive hits, which prompted Syer to ask the officials for a review.
Freshman defenseman Hank Kempf was banged up after a hit on the play before the goal, but the lack of whistle meant he had to stay on the ice for a minute to finish his shift. After a review, the goal stood, much to Syer and the Lynah Faithful’s displeasure.
The officials told Syer that there was no penalty because the hit was initiated by Kempf, not the Princeton player.
The challenge gave Cornell an opportunity to regroup after falling behind.
With an anxious and quiet limited capacity crowd awaiting the officials’ verdict, Betts could be heard yelling to his teammates: “We’ve been here before!”
Two weeks ago, Cornell pulled off a three goal comeback in the final minutes of its game against North Dakota. The Red’s play improved during the second half of the game, but it was not enough to overcome its deficit.
“I think we played decently in the second half of the second into the third, but even if you play your best hockey in half a game, that’s not enough to win games,” Betts said after the game.
Cornell managed to get on the board late in the second period after junior defenseman Sam Malinski’s shot from the blue line was tipped in by sophomore forward Kyle Penney to cut Princeton’s lead to 3-1.
The goal brought the crowd at Lynah, which was at 50 percent capacity, back to life. A tripping penalty on Princeton with five and a half minutes left in the period gave Cornell an opportunity to further cut into the deficit.
The Red came up empty on the power play, but immediately got a second chance after Betts drew a hooking call moments after the first man advantage. Once again, Cornell failed to score on the power play, and Princeton took a 3-1 lead into the second intermission.
Down two goals, Cornell ramped up the pressure. Penney had a great opportunity to score his second of the night, receiving a pass with Princeton’s goaltender out of position just past the 16 minute mark, but he fanned on his shot.
Cornell then took two penalties that killed its momentum. With 14 minutes left, Sullivan Mack was called for high sticking. The Red killed that penalty behind a big blocked shot by junior defenseman Sebastian Dirven and a nice save by Shane.
Cornell went back on the kill just past the 10-minute mark when junior defenseman Travis Mitchell tripped up a Princeton skater as he was cutting to the net. Once again, the Red got the kill.
Following the kills, Shane made a series of big saves to keep Cornell alive, but with four minutes left, Cornell was running out of time to even things up.
The two teams combined for five goals in the final three minutes of the game. Cornell had three of those goals, but allowing Princeton to answer its first two cost the Red a chance at taking the game to overtime.
Malone started the scoring frenzy with 2:57 left when he buried a pass from Malinski to make it 3-2 Princeton.
Princeton reclaimed its two-goal lead a minute later when Spencer Kersten got a puck past Shane with 1:55 to go.
The insurance goal paid off for the Tigers, because with 49 seconds left and an extra attacker, Cornell scored its fourth goal off the stick of Travis Mitchell. The goal brought the Tigers’ lead to 4-3.
Princeton responded once again only 25 seconds later. After junior forward Matt Stienburg’s shot was stopped in traffic, Princeton’s Ian Murphy launched a shot all the way down the ice that slid into Cornell’s empty net and gave the Tigers a 5-3 lead with 24 seconds to play.
Cornell scored again with 10 seconds left, this time off a one-timer from Ben Berard, but there was not enough time to complete the comeback.
The defeat was a rare loss for the men’s team at Lynah. Friday night was the first loss at Lynah for all but three of the players that were on the ice for Cornell.
“It does feel a little bit foreign,” Syer said. “For many of these guys, it’s not a regular occurrence and they don’t want to make it one either.”
Cornell’s attempt to salvage its weekend will take place Saturday night against No. 1 Quinnipiac.
“There are some guys that are pretty disappointed in the locker room,” Syer said. “We get the postgame meal in us and then we start to flip the page … By the time we get going tomorrow we’ve got to be ready to go and start to dial in and focus on Quinnipiac.”
While the top-ranked Bobcats might be one of the last teams Cornell would like to face in a bounce-back game, the Red has had success when playing the nation’s top teams while coming off a disappointing loss. Two weeks ago, Cornell rebounded from being swept by Arizona State and took two games against then No. 5 North Dakota.
“I think this feels a little bit like that,” Betts said. “Tonight was just flat out a poor effort, and I didn’t think that was the same case against Arizona State. I hope that this is a scenario where we needed a kick in the butt and some good self reflection that will help us navigate the challenges of tomorrow.”
Cornell had a few days off to ruminate over what went wrong in Arizona before traveling to North Dakota, but will have to face Quinnipiac on a 24 hour turnaround.
“After Arizona State we watched a lot of video and really drilled down on where we need to improve,” Betts said. “I think we have to do the same thing tomorrow morning, get in here with a fresh mind, see what went wrong and make those adjustments tomorrow night.”
Cornell will try to bounce back against Quinnipiac 7 p.m. Saturday at Lynah Rink.