ITHACA, N.Y. — On Friday night, Cornell managed to down Ivy League foe Princeton, 5-1, to maintain a five-point lead in the ECAC standings.
Normally, such a sound victory would be cause for celebration. After all, Cornell is a member of the usually volatile ECAC, where single-point margins often decide playoff seeding and league titles. On this night, however, the Red did not perform at the level to which they are accustomed, and they were not happy about it.
“I just didn’t think we played very well tonight,” said slightly-dejected Cornell coach Mike Schafer after the contest. “It was our sloppiest game in a while.”
Indeed, Cornell was lucky to come away with a victory given some of Princeton’s offensive opportunities on the night. In total, Princeton had just as many quality scoring chances as its opponent. But, in failing to capitalize on three partial breakaways, having what looked to be a goal curiously called back by official Dan Murphy, and going 0-for-3 in man-up situations, the Tigers simply couldn’t keep up with the Big Red’s scoring output.
“I thought our effort was good tonight. But mistakes that we made, chances that we gave Cornell, they took full advantage of and capitalized on them,” said Tigers coach Len Quesnelle. “We couldn’t score on the power play. Coming down the stretch, we’re a team that has to find a way to score some goals.”
Largely responsible for shutting down Princeton’s offensive attack was senior Cornell netminder Matt Underhill, who played the type of technically sound game to which Lynah’s faithful have come to expect from their goaltenders over the course of this season.
“They had a lot of good quality chances early. Matt stood on his head tonight and made a lot of big stops,” said Big Red defenseman Brian McMeekin. “Whenever they got in close, Matt stood tall for us.”
McMeekin also put forth a solid effort on the night. At 4:20 in the first period, the big defenseman found himself uncovered on the opposing team’s blue line while all others on the ice were focused on a scrum for possession below Princeton’s net. When teammate Mike Iggulden eventually emerged from the corner carrying the puck, McMeekin pinched down into the low slot, where Iggulden fed him. McMeekin’s wide-open shot easily beat goaltender Dave Stathos, and momentarily energized the Big Red.
However, soon thereafter Cornell lapsed into poor play, and was lucky to escape the first with a 1-0 lead given two subsequent man-down situations.
“In the second, I thought we came out and started playing physical. I thought we definitely didn’t do that in the first,” said Schafer of his team’s letdown following McMeekin’s tally.
In the second period, the Big Red returned to goal-scoring form, as Matt McRae, David Kozier, and David Francis each solved Stathos on close-proximity shots. Following up their improved play in the second, Cornell also managed a goal in the third period, thanks to fan favorite Greg Hornby.
Princeton continued to apply good pressure to the Red in the second and third periods, but effectively fell out of contention midway through the second facing a three-goal deficit. But, the Tigers did beat Underhill on one occasion. At 12:32 in the second, center Brad Parsons collected the puck along the boards behind Cornell’s goal. He then headed up the boards, as if looking for an opportunity to cycle the puck back below the goal line. When he saw linemate Josh Roberts cutting unnoticed towards the crease, Parsons fired a crisp pass two thirds of the way across the zone, where Roberts buried it for his team’s single marker.
With their loss, the Tigers fall to 6-9-0 in league play for the season. Their record puts them in a four-way tie for eighth place in the ECAC. Tomorrow they travel to Hamilton, where they look to right the ship against rejuvenated Colgate, which is fifth in the league after a 5-0-1 stretch.
“We’ve got to play two games every weekend; that’s the mindset we’ve got to get ourselves into,” said Quesnelle looking forward. “Tomorrow night it has to be the same type of effort, a little bit better execution, less mistakes.”
Cornell returns to action at home Saturday against Yale.