PRINCETON, N.J. — Brenden Locke and Brendan Smithcelebrated their returns to the lineup with goals, but it was Alec McCrea's strike with 7 minutes, 5 seconds left in the third period that stole the show Friday night. The senior defenseman's one-timer was originally waved off by one of the referees, only to be overturned after video review in the Cornell men's hockey team's 3-2 victory over Princeton at Hobey Baker Rink.
Princeton got goals from Matthew Thom and Corey Andonovski to erase a two-goal deficit, with the latter's strike coming with 8:23 to play. But the game was turned on its head 78 seconds later and put the officiating in the spotlight even on a night that produced the first penalty-free Division I men's hockey game in more than three years.
After touring the Princeton zone with the puck for a bit, Max Andreev came to a halt on the right faceoff dot and teed up McCrea for a one-timer from the center point. The puck sailed past Michael Regush's screen from the top of the crease and over the glove of Princeton goaltender Ryan Ferland – but the referee nearest the play immediately washed it out. The verdict: Regush made contact with a defender that resulted in interference on Ferland.
With officials declining to review the play, Cornell (7-5, 5-2 ECAC Hockey, 5-1 Ivy League) had to decide whether or not to use its timeout to force the issue. Associate Head Coach Ben Syer, assuming the helm with Jay R. Bloom '77 Head Coach of Men's Hockey Mike Schafer '86 absent due to illness, did just that.
"(McCrea) was adament there was no interference … and the way the tide of the game was going, (assistant coach Sean) Flanagan was chirping in my ear that we needed a break anyways," Syer said. "We were going to get a break no matter what and with how adament the guys were about it, we needed to take the timeout."
After a somewhat lengthy review, referee Tom Dellafranco emerged from the replay area and pointed to center ice. Cornell had its lead back, and would proceed to hold off Princeton (5-9-2, 3-5-1 ECAC Hockey, 1-2-1 Ivy League) and sweep the season series.
Playing its first game in 32 days – the longest mid-season hiatus in program history – Cornell came out on point with 18 shots on goal in the first period. One of those, after Morgan Barron's forecheck created a turnover, led to Locke's goal. Smith doubled the lead in the second period in the first game either he or Locke played since suffering injuries Nov. 9 at Northern Michigan, and the Big Red looked to be off to the races against a Tigers squad it had scored 27 goals against in their last six meetings.
Making his third straight start in goal, sophomore Austin McGrath kept Princeton at bay until Matthew Thom's goal late in the second. Andonovski's strike was the only other shot to elude McGrath, who finished the game with a career-high 30 saves.
"We know they're a skilled team, and they push and they push and they push, and that's what they did," Syer said. "We knew there would be pushback. It was all over the map. There were three different games within one game tonight."
One game that wasn't present was the special teams game. It was first in Division I since American International and Bentley avoided the penalty boxes on Dec. 1, 2015, and it marked the first time Cornell didn't take a single penalty since a Feb. 19, 1999 contest against Brown – a span of 659 games.
With the win …
• Cornell improved to 15-1-2 in its last 18 Ivy League games. The Big Red now has a four-point lead in the Ancient Eight standings.
• Cornell is 10-2 in its first game after New Year's Day over the last 12 years.
• Syer pushed his record as acting head coach to 7-0-3 over his career. All but one of those games have come in his seven-plus seasons at Cornell.
How The Goals Were Scored:
Cornell's 1st Goal
1st period, 10:28 • Locke 1 (Barron) • Cornell 1, Princeton 0
• Kaldis had a shot blocked from the left circle that was tracked down in the opposite corner by the Princeton defense. With the forecheck starting to apply pressure, the Tigers chipped a pass back to a defenseman – but the puck was in his skates. That allowed Barron to swoop in and poke the puck loose and into the path of Locke breaking in from the circle. He deked Ferland to the ice before sliding in a backhand.
Cornell's 2nd Goal
1st period, 19:27.2 • Smith 1 (Nuttle, Bauld) • Cornell 2, Princeton 0
• Barron wheeled from behind the net up the right wing before unleashing a shot that hit a net-fronted Bauld square in the shin pads. The puck got poked back toward the center point where Nuttle gained control. With the defense recovering, and turned and sent a pass back to Smith for a one-timer in the right circle past a sprawling Ferland.
Princeton's 1st Goal
2nd period, 16:06 • Thom 3 (Paolini, O'Neill) • Cornell 2, Princeton 1
• The Tigers moved the puck out of their zone on the right side before Paolini slashed through the middle of the neutral zone and gained the zone on the left wing. With both of Princeton's forwards shaded to the that side of the ice, Thom sneaked into a soft area on the weak side. Paolini found him with a perfect pass near the right dot, and Thom snapped a shot by McGrath's left shoulder.
Princeton's 2nd Goal
2nd period, 11:37 • Andonovski 3 (Thom, Paolini) • Cornell 2, Princeton 2
• Thom came through the neutral zone on the left side with the Big Red stacking three defenders across the blue line. But Thom's speed allowed him enough space to gain the zone and uncork a slap shot that missed the net high and wide of the near post. The puck then kicked hard off the back glass and toward the bottom of the right circle, where Andonovski charged hard to score into the empty net.
Cornell's 3rd Goal
3rd period, 12:55 • McCrea 2 (Andreev, Leahy) • Cornell 3, Princeton 2
• After sustained pressure in the Princeton zone, Mullin's shot was turned away by Ferland into the left corner. Leahy poked it back to Andreev at the left point. He then worked against his defener by cutting toward the middle and down into the right circle before slamming on the brakes. Andreev then slipped a pass back to McCrea at the center point, who one-timed a shot through Regush's screen and over Ferland's glove.
• Cornell continues its travels with a jaunt up Interstate 95 into the Nutmeg State for a meeting with #3/5 Quinnipiac at 7 p.m. Saturday. The game will be broadcast on ESPN+.