PRINCETON, N.J. — Nothing like a trip to Princeton to make Cornell feel like its grumpy, old defensive self again.
The No. 15 Big Red (2-1-1, 2-0-0 ECAC) smothered four straight Princeton power plays to open the game, and senior center Ryan Vesce led an offensive outburst with a hat trick and four assists, contributing on all seven Cornell goals to defeat the Tigers, 7-0 in front of 2,338 mostly visitor supporters at Hobey Baker Memorial Rink Saturday night.
The explosion capped a nine-point weekend for Vesce, who had a goal and an assist Friday night against Yale.
“I’ve never seen anything like what Vesce did tonight while being at Cornell,” said Cornell coach Mike Schafer about his captain. “You just don’t see seven points in one game in this league — in junior hockey maybe, but here is kind of freakish.”
Princeton (0-4-0, 0-2-0 ECAC), recalling its gutty performance against the Big Red at Baker Rink last year when it lost 2-1 to the top-ranked Red, came out forechecking and cycling. The Tigers pinned Cornell in its own zone and drew four minor penalties, including a 1:44 two-man advantage.
The Tigers managed nary a shot on goal through any of those power plays. As soon as Cornell allowed itself to play at even strength, Vesce scored to begin personally putting the game out of reach, the first of his three goals and the first of Cornell’s three opening-period strikes.
“It could have been 7-0 after the first period, said Princeton coach Len Quesnelle. “There was a point in the first period when we were looking at each other around the bench in sheer frustration.”
Cornell limited Princeton to 24 shots on goal, making it an easy win for freshman David McKee. It seemed that a young Cornell team had some cracks in its vaunted defense after giving up five goals on Halloween to Western Michigan in a 5-5 tie and then losing a one-goal game, 3-2 the following night.
The start of ECAC play was all that was needed to allay such concerns. The Big Red trounced Yale, 6-2 on Friday at the Yale and buried the Tigers Saturday.
“Bit by bit our team is coming together,” Schafer said. “Western Michigan surprised us with their speed, especially in transition. We have some players now up front, including Vesce and Matt Moulson, who gained some valuable experience last year and now are starting to really produce.”
Sophomore forward Moulson had a goal and two assists in the contest.
“We are learning a lot about ourselves,” Schafer said. “Credit to David [McKee]; he earned the shutout tonight.”
Vesce opened the scoring for Cornell, taking a pass the split the defense and moved in on Princeton goaltender Eric Leroux. He picked the far left corner of the net to give Cornell a 1-0 lead at 11:46 of the first period.
Three minutes later, Cornell sustained pressure again and forced Leroux to make a few spectacular saves, including a kick save that robbed Vesce on the doorstep. Princeton couldn’t clear the rebound, and freshman Byron Bitz poked the puck through at 14:47.
Junior defenseman Charlie Cook showed Princeton how to get the job done on the power play, blasting one through a screen short side off a Vesce pass with 4:01 left in the first period.
“Cornell scored two goals in the first period off the rush,” Quesnelle said. “That should never happen if we are playing the way we are capable.”
Leroux was not the problem for the Tigers during the game as he registered 25 saves and made several good stops. Despite giving up three goals in the first period, he still stopped Cam Abbot on a breakaway and 13 other Big Red, mostly “Grade A” shots.
The game hinged on Cornell’s penalty killing early in the first period. Princeton has been anemic on the power play during this nascent season. One-for-fifteen entering the game, Princeton looked tentative on the man advantage.
During the five-one-three, Princeton’s defense spent most of the time playing catch at the point, reluctant to take a shot. The team remained static, allowing the three Cornell killers to close off the lanes.
“We were not shooting when we had the opportunity to shoot,” Quesnelle said. “Our guys bobbled the puck in the zone, throwing rocket passes around.”
After coming off a tough 3-2 overtime loss the previous night to Colgate, Princeton could not muster a counterattack. Princeton ultimately went 0-for-7 on the power play to extend its season’s futility to 1-for-22. Cornell, on the other hand, went 3-for-6.
Vesce opened up the second period with a power-play goal at 1:05 to make it 4-0. Moulson scored at 16:24. Freshman Dan Glover netted his first career collegiate goal off assists from Jon Gleed and Vesce at 6:38 of the third, and Vesce rounded out his hat trick at 16:14.
Princeton tries to pick up the pieces next weekend at Harvard and Brown, while the Big Red remain on the road, going further north to Clarkson and St. Lawrence.
Notes: Princeton was at a further handicap during this game, playing with only five defensemen. Freshman defenseman Max Cousins was out, for injuries apparently sustained the previous night against Colgate … Princeton has not beaten Cornell in its last seven tries. Quesnelle defeated the Big Red in his first game against the team as coach, and not since.