HANOVER, N.H. — It took Clarkson nearly 55 minutes to grab its first lead of the game against Dartmouth Saturday night, but David Evans’ goal with just over five minutes remaining was enough to lift the Golden Knights to a 4-2 win and their ninth ECAC regular-season title.
After a series of rebounds, Evans poked in his 11th of the season past sophomore goaltender Nick Boucher, as Clarkson won its second league title in the last three years, fighting back from the bottom of the pack early in the season to edge North Country rival St. Lawrence by three points for the crown.
“This is a real accomplishment for us,” said Golden Knights head coach Mark Morris. “I don’t think most people realize how many players we lost to pro hockey. We have a lot of youth, so it’s very rewarding to see how much we’ve grown this year.
“We started out at the bottom of the pile and worked our way right up. We kept climbing rungs of the ladder, and now we’ve got another banner in the rafters.”
The Golden Knights (20-9-3, 15-5-2 ECAC) claimed first place for the first time all season with a 4-1 victory against Vermont on Friday night.
On Saturday before 3,568 fans at Thompson Arena, Clarkson answered a pair of Dartmouth leads before finally taking the lead in the third.
In net Mike Walsh played an outstanding game, making 28 saves, including 11 of 11 chances in the third, to set up a date between Clarkson and 10th-place Vermont in Potsdam next weekend.
“Mike has made a great difference in our hockey team,” Morris said. “Since he’s taken over as the starting goalie, we’ve had nothing but success. He provides us with a steadying influence and a lot of big saves.”
For Dartmouth (13-12-4, 10-8-4 ECAC), the loss snapped an eight-game winning streak at home, dating back to before Jan. 1.
Still, the fifth-place Big Green will host sixth-place Rensselaer next weekend in a rematch of last year’s first-round series (RPI won that one at its home rink, two games to none).
“I think good things are going to happen for us next weekend,” said tri-captain Michael Byrne, one of three Big Green players honored on Senior Night. “We’re a confident team when we’re at home. I didn’t think anyone could beat us here, but I guess Clarkson proved me wrong.
“I think we’re going to be a tough team to beat next week at home.”
The teams traded goals in each of the first two periods.
Five minutes into the game, Dartmouth got on the board first when sophomore Kent Gillings took a centering pass from linemate Mike Maturo and slid the puck between the legs of Walsh. Maturo’s assist increased his career-high point total to 31.
Late in the period, Clarkson got even, as junior Matt Poapst took a feed from center Kevin O’Flaherty before roofing his 17th of the year. Rookie Rob McFeeters also earned an assist on the play.
Early in the middle frame, the Big Green claimed its second lead of the night when junior Chris Baldwin collected an odd bounce off the boards and rifled in a quick shot from five feet out. Baldwin’s unassisted goal was his 11th of the season.
The Golden Knights again responded, however, using their fourth power play of the night to get even. Seconds after a 5-on-3 advantage ended, McFeeters scored for Clarkson on a 5-on-4, picking up his own rebound before netting his 13th goal of the season past goaltender Nick Boucher (26 saves).
Clarkson made good on two of its 14 shots in the third period. After Evans’ game-winner, O’Flaherty ruffled the empty net to set the final margin.
Now, both teams will prepare to defend their home rinks next weekend in the best-of-three playoff series.
“I’m very proud of the guys for putting ourselves in a position to play at home,” said Dartmouth coach Bob Gaudet. “I think it’s an excellent accomplishment for this team.
“On the other hand, I told them that that’s not what we’re after. That’s a step along the way. What we’re after is winning the ECAC championship.”