Barn-burner in Ithaca as Tigers fall to Big Red

Michael Sowers of the Princeton Tigers fights off a Cornell Big Red defender on April 29, 2017. (Photo credit: Robert Goldstein)
Michael Sowers of the Princeton Tigers fights off a Cornell Big Red defender on April 29, 2017. (Photo credit: Robert Goldstein)

The Princeton Tigers had a chance at a title on Saturday, but Cornell played spoiler with an 18-17 Big Red win at Schoellkopf Field.

It was senior day for the Big Red, who sent their fans home happy, though there will be no playoffs in Ithaca. For the Tigers, the loss was just a small bump in the road that will ultimately take them to the Ivy tournament this Friday at Yale, where they will face the #3 Brown Bears in the first semi-final.

Harvard beat Yale earlier Saturday meaning a Princeton win would have tied them for the regular season Ivy title. Even with the number two seed locked up, the Tigers badly wanted that title.

“We were excited for the chance to play at possibility of sharing the regular season Ivy title and to end the season off on a high note before the post-season started,” Tigers midfielder Zach Currier said. “It’s never fun to lose but we’ll learn and grow from it moving forward.”

Jake McCullough (6G/3A) broke open a 17-17 tie with 2:24 to play in the game, fighting off a defender to beat Tigers goalie Tyler Blaisdell. Austin Sims had the last shot for the Tigers with a second left but Christian Knight made the save for the Big Red.

McCullough opened the scoring less than a minute into the first. He and Michael Sowers (4G/3A) traded the game’s first four goals. Gavin McBride (5G) had a natural hat-trick for the Tigers and Jeff Teat (5G/7A) scored his first two of the game. Colton Rupp also scored for the Big Red for a 5-5 tie after the first.

Sowers and Austin Sims (4G/1A) put the Tigers up 7-5 early in the second. Sims scored through the legs of a defender who was screening his own goalie. Teat and Jordan Dowiak tied the game at seven. Sims put Princeton back on top temporarily but Cornell went on a four goal run to go up 11-8. Riley Thompson (1G/1A) put a stop to the Big Red run with 1:17 left in the half.

Jeff Teat’s assist on McCullough’s goal at 1:50 broke Rob Pannell’s Cornell freshman scoring record of 67 points. It was also an Ivy record until last week when Michael Sowers, who now has 77 points, broke it first.

Cornell outscored Princeton 6-4 in the second quarter to lead 11-9 as the Tiger man-up unit looked tentative on their two 30 second chances and failed to take any shots.

Zach Currier of the Princeton Tigers. (Photo credit: Robert Goldstein)
Zach Currier of the Princeton Tigers. (Photo credit: Robert Goldstein)

Currier said nothing was different against Cornell. The Tigers power play operates around 50% so the lack of aggressiveness wasn’t normal.

“I’m not sure what that’s about, but it would have been nice to capitalize on a few more of those chances,” Currier said. It could have made the difference in such a close game.

The third was about momentum as Cornell went up 15-9 on four straight goals. Princeton then scored five of their own to answer. Currier’s goal started the comeback as he scored while facing the wrong way and throwing a backhand past Knight. Princeton trailed 15-13 after three.

Sowers closed the gap to 15-14 just under two minutes into the fourth. Tigers senior attackman Sean Connors scored his fourth of the year and McBride also had a pair in the frame that saw the game tied at 16 and then 17.

McCullough, however, not only scored the winning goal, he had a hat-trick in the quarter which was enough to secure the Big Red victory.

The Tigers finish the regular season with a 9-5 record overall and a 4-2 Ivy record. Sowers finishes as their leading scorer with 77 points. McBride finishes second with 66 points and Currier third with 56. Currier also finishes with a .553 face-off percentage and 114 ground balls which leads the Tigers.

The trio is dynamic to watch. Currier does the dirty work on face-offs and by picking up those ground balls to give his team extra possessions. Sowers and McBride then make the magic happen offensively.

“It’s pretty amazing the way those two play off of each other,” Currier said. “They’re so in sync at all times and it’s a fun thing to watch.”

Both Sowers, the freshman phenom, and Currier, the senior sensation, have made the 25 man nomination list for the 2017 Tewaaraton Award. The final five nominees will be announced May 11.

Currier’s happy about the nomination, but it’s the last thing on his mind right now. He and the rest of the Tigers are solely focused on the upcoming Ivy tournament.

“It won’t mean much if our season gets cut shorter than we want it to,” he said. “We’re going to have to work as hard as we can in order to keep playing late into May.”