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Men’s hockey returned to Baker Rink this weekend as the Tigers (1-2-1 overall, 1-1-0 Eastern College Athletic Conference) hosted two ECAC foes to initiate conference play, besting Cornell (0-3-1, 0-2-0) but falling to No. 4 Colgate (7-3-0, 1-1-0).

The Tigers, who entered play this weekend with a record of 0-1-1, started their conference schedule on a high note, besting Cornell (0-3-1) in a tightly contested 2-1 game that came down to the wire. The home side started strongly, scoring just 3:14 into the game. After Cornell’s Jared Fiegl was sent to the penalty box for hitting from behind, senior defenseman Aaron Ave’s slap shot from the point found twine and put the Tigers on the board.

Following Ave’s goal, the Big Red controlled play for most of the first and second periods, largely due to five Princeton penalties. Constantly on the penalty kill, the Tigers relied on sophomore goaltender Colton Phinney to preserve the narrow lead. Phinney impressed in the net, never losing focus despite facing a barrage of Big Red shots. Through two periods, the goalie out of Chatham, N.J., made 32 saves, effectively controlling rebounds and making athletic stops in tough spots when necessary.

The pace settled down in the third period, with scoring chances coming at a premium. Playing at even strength, the Tigers were better able to stymie Cornell’s attack, only conceding nine shots. After neither team could notch the all-important second goal, the Ithaca squad was forced to pull their goalie following a timeout with just a minute to play. Fans who stayed for the entirety of the match were rewarded, as the next 60 seconds provided some thrilling hockey.

After Cornell won an offensive zone faceoff and furiously attempted to get a shot past Phinney, the puck squirted into the neutral zone where sophomore forward Garrett Skrbich scored an empty net goal. Racing at full tilt for the loose puck, the sophomore barely managed to flick it down the ice before taking a monstrous hit near the left-side boards at the red line. Baker Rink erupted as the puck glided through the crease and into the back of Cornell’s vacant goal.

The Big Red were relentless though, and spoiled Phinney’s shutout by scoring a goal with 16 seconds left after pulling their goalie for a second time. In the waning seconds, the Tigers managed to hold on, starting out ECAC play on the right foot and winning the home matchup, a feat they accomplished just twice last season.

Unfortunately for the Princeton faithful,Saturday night’s game was a vast departure from Friday's. Colgate, ranked fourth in the nation entering the matchup, had lost 5-0 to Quinnipiac on Friday and was determined to right the ship. The Raiders played at a physical, fast pace, and each team laid some big hits early. The visitors scored twice in the opening period, first on a rocket slap shot from the point and then on a shorthanded effort that barely got by Phinney.

Early in the second period, the Tigers caught a break, as a Raiders goal was disallowed after a lengthy video replay determined that the play was dead before the puck found the net. However, the team from Hamilton would quickly bury another one, with Tyson Spink going bar-down to increase the differential to three. The final blow came late in the second, as Colgate scored on an odd-man rush on the power play just moments after it seemed as though Princeton had notched its first tally. Senior Tucker Brockett’s shot hit the post before landing behind Charlie Finn, Colgate’s goalie. While some Tiger players thought that the original shot had gone in, play continued. After a Raider defender kicked the puck to safety, Tyson Spink scored on the other end to put the game out of reach.

Down 5-0 after conceding another goal early in the third, the Tigers went on the power play with 38 seconds left in the game. Refusing to quit and determined to end Finn’s shutout, first-year head coach (and Colgate alumnus) Ron Fogarty pulled Phinney for an extra skater. The move paid off, and sophomore defender Tommy Davis notched his first collegiate goal with just seconds remaining. The final scoreboard read: Colgate 5, Princeton 1.

There was a scary moment in the second, when junior forward Kyle Rankin dove to block a slap shot from the point on a penalty kill. The shot struck him in the face, and after briefly going down, he skated to the locker room, bleeding heavily. Rankin later returned to action, to the relief of concerned Princeton fans.

The game was particularly notable for the number of penalties committed by both teams, with the Tigers responsible for 13 to Colgate’s eleven. Once again, the Tigers were outshot, this time by a margin of 40 to 23.

While Saturday’s result was not optimal and the young Tiger team will have to play with more discipline going forward, the home squad surpassed expectations this weekend. The win over a talented Cornell side has the Tigers halfway to matching last year’s win total at Baker Rink, and Friday’s performance shows that the they are capable of winning games against good teams in one of the nation’s deepest and most competitive conferences.

The Tigers return to action next weekend as they travel to New York to challenge current ECAC leader Rensselaer (4-6, 3-1) and defending national champion Union (5-4-1, 0-3-1).

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