PRINCETON, N.J. – Junior goalie Andy Iles made 26 saves for his first career playoff shutout, and sophomore defenseman Joakim Ryan paced the offense with a goal and an assist in Cornell’s 4-0 victory against Princeton on Friday night at Hobey Baker Rink.
The victory gives ninth-seeded Cornell (13-14-3) a 1-0 lead versus eighth-seeded Princeton (10-15-5) in the best-of-three first-round series of the ECAC Hockey Championship. The Big Red can clinch the series with a victory in Game 2.
It was Iles’ second shutout of the season and first since a season-opening blanking of Colorado College on Oct. 26, 2012. Iles has a 5-1-1 record, 1.42 goals-against average and .950 save percentage in the past seven games.
The first period roared by in just 26 minutes with both teams generating only a couple of decent chances with no goals to show for it. Each squad had the advantage of one abbreivated power play — Cornell’s best chance came when Nick D’Agostino found Greg Miller cutting down the slot for a quick shot that was saved at the 8:18 mark, then Princeton’s best threat was when Rob Kleebaum’s whirling backhander from short range was foiled by Andy Iles a little more than a minute later.
The Big Red made a more concerted push toward the end of the frame, but Condon kicked out his left pad to thwart Vince Mihalek after a turnover deep in Tigers’ territory at 17:55, then flashed his catching glove to turn away Brian Ferlin’s shot from an angle about 30 seconds later.
The second period featured a similar chess match with tons of hitting and tactical maneuvers characteristic of playoff series. Cornell tightened defensively, surrendering just three shots in the middle frame, but it was also able to score a pair of goals to take an all-important lead into the third.
One of just two New Jersey natives playing in the game — Cornell sophomore defenseman Joakim Ryan — got the scoring started. Classmate Joel Lowry started the play with a rush up the left wing that was stopped. But he was able to regain possession behind the net before passing to linemate Brian Ferlin. He was then able to make a diagonal pass across the zone back to Ryan at the top of the right circle, with his wrist shot beating Princeton goalie Mike Condon at the 8:51 mark.
Iles kept the lead safe a couple of minutes later on Princeton’s best opportunity of the period, when defenseman Jeremy Goodwin joined a line rush and had a clean shot from the slot, but Iles was equal to it, snapping the puck with his catching glove.
The Big Red then doubled its lead with just 27 seconds remaining before the intermission. Freshman defenseman Reece Willcox hit senior John Esposito with a breakaway pass up the middle. Esposito drifted a bit to the left before ripping a shot back the other way and below Condon’s glove for his 11th goal of the season.
Freshman Christian Hilbrich added a little insurance in the third period with his second collegiate goal. A deflected puck at the Cornell blue line bounced into the neutral zone, with Hilbrich sprinting away on a breakaway. He made a couple of moves before vaulting a shot over Condon’s blocker at the 5:59 mark to push the lead to 3-0.
Sophomore forward John McCarron iced the game with an unassisted empty-net goal with 12 seconds remaining.
The victory improved Cornell’s all-time postseason record against Princeton to 6-2-1, but it was the program’s first playoff win at Hobey Baker Rink (1-1-1). The Big Red is now 14-2-2 under head coach Mike Schafer in its postseason openers.