The Lynah Faithful were first introduced to Andy Iles in an exhibition game in October 2009. The Ithacan netminder stood in opposition to Ben Scrivens and the Cornell Big Red. Iles, who had committed to Cornell already at that time, deprived the home crowd of a victory as he outdueled Scrivens. Just over 12 months later, it would be Iles who donned the iconic carnelian-and-white sweater and took his first regular-season start against RIT at Lynah Rink.
Iles's freshman campaign was impressive. The season began with Mike Schafer identifying a rotation between Mike Garman and Andy Iles as the best means to fill the void left in the wake of Scrivens's graduation. Garman defended the Red's blue paint on Fridays while Iles embraced the task on Saturdays. The Big Red earned only a 4-8-1 record when it embarked on the second half of its schedule. Garman's brief illness forced Iles to make consecutive starts from January 22 through January 29. The freshman netminder dropped none of those contests and continued the momentum that had been building in early January (Cornell had gone 3-1-1 since the semester break) with stealing a game at Lynah East. Iles's performance left the Crimson stunned. This success propelled Cornell into the postseason. Iles would record a 30-save perfromance in the 2011 ECAC Quarterfinals, but faulty equipment would not allow proper reviewing and awarding of a Cornell goal that may have prevented him from recording a playoff defeat. Iles ended his first season having recorded more than half of the team's wins and fewer than half of the team's losses.
The Ithacan who dreamt of playing at Cornell at a young age finally had the opportunity to deliver on the sport's biggest stages in his sophomore year. Twice in the season Iles defended successfully a 1-0 victory. What caught headlines early was his defensemen's and his play at home. Iles did not surrender a goal at Lynah Rink from November 18, 2011 until January 20, 2012. This streak stood as the longest such streak in the history of Cornell hockey. Iles also recorded the second-longest shutout streak in program history during his phenomenal home stand. Cornell with Iles backstopping it dominated Boston University in Red Hot Hockey III. The only goal during regulation that Cornell surrendered was when the Big Red were at a two-man disadvantage. Iles turned away 25 salvos from Cornell's historic rival. Cornell's chance at a bid to the 2012 NCAA Tournament seemed in jeopardy at times. Despite Iles helping Cornell wrest a win and a tie from Colorado College in Colorado Springs, a defeat of Union all but guaranteed Cornell a trip to the national tournament. Iles outdueled Hobey Baker Finalist Troy Grosenick in one of the loudest games at Lynah Rink. The sophomore Cornellian turned away 28 shots and gave his team the chance to topple the Dutchmen. Grosenick was not the last Hobey Baker Finalist whom Iles would outcompete. Michigan had national title hopes in the 2012 NCAA Tournament before Andy Iles's 31 saves while killing off seven penalties including two-man advantages slayed it. Iles defeated soundly the best statistical goaltender in the history of Michigan hockey. Iles's poise and skill in the victory solidified his position as one of the elite goaltenders in the nation.
Schafer made it apparent that he expected Andy Iles to backstop Cornell in every contest during Iles's junior season. Schafer flatly remarked before the 2012-13 season that it was his plan. Andy Iles would start every contest. He picked up where he left off the season before with respect to his endurance. Iles catapulted Cornell into the conversation about national contenders in October 2012 with a season-opening shutout of Colorado College at Lynah Rink. Michigan met Cornell in the inaugural Frozen Apple. The Wolverines had designs on revenge, but Iles and Cornell had other things in mind. Iles posted a near-shutout performance against Michigan in a 5-1 victory. The shutouts may not have been as numerous as they had been in Iles' sophomore campaign, but the Ithaca native delivered results when his team needed them most. The 2013 ECAC Tournament began at Hobey Baker Rink for Cornell. Iles delivered his second shutout against another group of tigers. He stood tall between the Red pipes in game two. Iles would turn away 33 challenges in a series-opening contest against first-ranked Quinnipiac. Most regarded Iles as making the singular difference in that contest's outcome. The second game quickly devolved and Cornell braced for game three. Iles was ready for the third game of the series. He was flawless. It took the Bobcats nearly half an hour to solve him. He was undaunted. A series of unfortunate events conspired to allow the Bobcats to push the game into overtime. Iles recorded 60 saves in the contest before it was decided. 28 of those saves came in the 34:08 of double-overtime play. Yes, Iles was resilient and unsolvable in fatiguing double overtime even as he faced nearly one shot per minute. His performance was reminiscent of and beyond the performances of Doug Dadswell in the 1986 ECAC Semifinals and Dave McKee in the 2006 NCAA Regional Final. The game ended in defeat, but Andy Iles proved that he remained one of the best goaltenders in college hockey, especially in games with the highest stakes.
What to Expect
Iles' statistics suffered a slight setback in his junior season relative to his sophomore season. Iles's goals-against average tapered from a 2.12 to a 2.38 and his save percentage did the same from 0.919 to 0.916. It was the second season during which Andy Iles played in all contests. These minor backslides were indubitably disappointing to many, including Iles, but Iles's performance in the 2013 ECAC Tournament and the run-up thereto indicated that most of the performances that weighed down his overall statistics were long forgotten by the time the games of real value were played. The 2012-13 season provides mixed messages from which to prognosticate.
The image of Iles battling tirelessly in the crease to prevent the end of Cornell's season should be seared in the minds of many. It seems unlikely that he will tolerate being denied a championship in his final season in carnelian and white. One neglected fact remains that most have ignored entirely. Andy Iles was the sixth-best goaltender in the 2013 ECAC Tournament in terms of goals-against average. Iles recorded the third-best save percentage. The only goaltender returning with a better goals-against average in the 2013 ECAC Tournament is Jason Kasdorf. Iles is the returning goalie with the best save percentage.
Iles's playoff performance in the 2013 ECAC Tournament was to the tune of 2.44 goals-against average and a 0.927 save percentage. Those statistics include Cornell's recorded 10-0 loss in the 2013 ECAC Quarterfinals. If one controls for that game as an anomaly that would not have yielded 10 goals against had Cornell's starters remained on the ice, Iles's playoff performance last season improves to a 1.50 goals-against average and 0.959 save percentage.
It is unlikely that Iles will be able to maintain numbers at that pace during the entire 2013-14 season. If the past is any indication, however, one can expect his form to improve as the season continues and for Iles to do his part in bringing a championship to East Hill. It is likely that by season's end Iles will be regarded as the best goaltender in the ECAC.
RPI's Jason Kasdorf has gained most preseason attention. This could prove advantageous. It will provide Iles the chance to improve and hone his skills without the constant pressure of conference-wide expectations. What matters is which goaltender can deliver and Iles has proven that he can. He should be expected to do so again in his ultimate season at Cornell.
Another advantage to Cornell and Iles is that the Big Red once again have a goaltender who is skilled enough, and yet undefined in his role at Cornell, to serve in semi-regular relief of Cornell's starter. Mitch Gillam will provide Iles with some breathing room that he may not have been afforded last season with preseason expectations. Gillam has the skill and ability to back stop Cornell if for some reason Iles cannot perform to the level that the senior desires or the team needs in occasional contests. Iles will have a margin for error this season that he likely felt he did not enjoy last season.
What can be expected? A more consistent Iles who will continue to thwart Cornell's opponents with a flash of the leather and often nerve-racking challenges out of the net that stifle challenger's best opportunities. In other words, Iles will be the Iles that has brought him and Cornell much success with his often unorthodox style. One can safely assume that when the last word of the Chapter of Iles in the Annals of GoalieU is written that the greatest success that Cornell knew during his tenure will not have been in his freshman and sophomore seasons.
A Look Back
The readiest connection between current players at Cornell and the past is through roster number. Most know that Iles chose a uniform number that had not been worn previously. Iles is the first to don 33. He has done already enough to cultivate his legend on East Hill and augment the weight that subsequent Cornell wearers of 33 will bear.
Iles has distinguished himself in another way that connects him with the past. Andy Iles will wear the A of an alternate captain during the 2013-14 season. The notion of a netminder wearing a letter seems alien to many who are relatively recent initiands to Cornell fandom. When Andy Iles takes the ice in his carnelian sweater at Nebraska-Omaha in 33 days, it will be the first time in 30 years that a goaltender has worn a letter for the Big Red. The netminders who were letter wearers are among the many greats who defended Cornell's net.
At least four netminders have worn a letter at Cornell. The most recent duo was Darren Eliot and Brian Hayward. The two famous netminders were captains in consecutive season. Hayward served in an official leadership capacity during the 1981-82 season while Darren Eliot did the same in the 1982-83 season. The two were the instrumental goaltenders whose goalie competition helped fuel the success and intrigue of Cornell's sixth ECAC Championship season.
One needs to leap back nearly two decades to find Cornell's next famous netminder who served as captain. Laing Kennedy wore a letter for the Big Red during his senior campaign in the 1962-63 season. Kennedy's skill between the pipes propelled Cornell to its first winning season at Lynah Rink and first sellout at Lynah in a spectacular defeat of Harvard in February 1962.
Many have lost to history perhaps the first netminder to wear the letter of a captain. Even though it seems an all but abandoned tradition today, Cornell chose a goaltender to serve as its captain in only its tenth season of competition. Malcolm Vail was elected to serve as Cornell's captain during the 1911-12 season, his senior year. Vail stood out as a skilled netminder during the 1910-11 season as he and the 1910-11 Cornell team won a national championship. His skill made the difference in many integral contests during Cornell's championship season his junior year.
When Andy Iles squares off against the Mavericks with an A affixed to his sweater, he will be honoring a proud tradition of captain netminders at Cornell that spans more than a century. Each of those famous netminders found ways to lift the teams of their respective eras. The iron horse of the current epoch of Cornell hockey, Iles, whose presence behind the blue line calms the entire team in ways beyond expression in cold statistics, will do as his predecessors have.