LAKE PLACID, N.Y. — St. Lawrence is a team anchored by the best senior class in the league. How appropriate that the nine Saints seniors stood on the Olympic Center ice Saturday night, choked up with emotion, and held high the Scotty Whitelaw trophy after defeating Cornell, 3-1, to win the 40th annual ECAC Championships.
With the victory, this year’s St. Lawrence team becomes only the second squad in school history to win back-to-back ECAC championships. The Saints captured last year’s title with a 2-0 win over RPI. It was also the fifth ECAC title for St. Lawrence coach Joe Marsh, which sets a new ECAC record.
“I think what made it so special is that these [seniors] were freshman when we made it just barely [in 1998],” said Marsh. “And to get to the finals three years a row is tremendous. I don’t think I have ever had a team that has played for each other as much as this one did. There is a special bond between these guys.”
The Saints earned their title by doing something which neither Princeton nor Harvard — both playoff victims of the Big Red — was able to do throughout the past two weeks: break through the best defense in the league.
“I thought that they really came at us,” said Marsh. “I was impressed by how they played against Harvard, and I felt that they were playing well offensively and moving well through neutral zone. Our guys did a good job of gapping up and moving along the blueline. We fought hard to get defensive posture on them and that’s not easy to do against a team like Cornell.”
Despite the fact that St. Lawrence had the upper hand against Cornell all season long with two regular-season victories, the outcome of this contest was hardly a foregone conclusion.
The Big Red, who entered the game with a renewed offensive confidence after netting five goals against Harvard in the semifinals, was able to control play throughout the first 10 minutes. As the teams entered the 11th minute of play, however, St. Lawrence junior Robin Carruthers was able to gain control just to the left of the Big Red net and slide a centering pass over to linemate Blair Clarance.
The sophomore centerman wristed a shot which was quickly tipped away by Cornell netminder Matt Underhill, but with the Big Red defense overloaded on the left side, junior Russ Bartlett pinched in from the right point, picked up the loose puck and fired a high slapshot over a sprawling Underhill.
“That first goal is critical especially in a tournament game,” said Cornell head coach Mike Schafer. “They got on the board in the first period. [We] had some scoring chances in the first period, but didn’t capitalize on them. That was the difference between last night’s game and this one.”
The Saints added a second tally at the 3:28 mark of the second period. Senior Al Fyfe made a move to put the puck between the legs of a Cornell forward. He then took off, hitting Mike Gellard, who made a quick move at the blue line. Gellard barreled down the left wing, and just as he hit the left faceoff circle, flicked a centering pass to a trailing Clarance who one-timed a shot past Underhill for the 2-0 advantage.
Fyfe extended the lead to 3-0 with an empty-netter with 2:36 remaining in the third period.
After 58:54 minutes of scoreless hockey, the Big Red was finally able to find a way past Symington. With Underhill still pulled from the net and an extra Cornell skater on the ice, David Kozier knocked home a loose puck in the low slot to end Symington’s shutout bid.
St. Lawrence had been literally unbeatable in Lake Placid as of late, not allowing a single goal in 208:22 in the Olympic Center dating back to the third period of last year’s semifinal game against Cornell. Symington’s play capped off a tremendous season for the senior goaltender, who found himself playing behind Eric Heffler and Derek Gustafson over the past three years.
“When you have the hot hand, you have to accept that,” said Symington about finally getting his chance. “I was patient and I am happy for [Heffler and Gustafson] to go on. This year it was mine and Sean’s chance. I guess patience pays off.”
“We were all pulling for Symie to get that shutout,” added Marsh. “Two shutouts would have been something, but it wasn’t meant to be.”
The Saints’ win ended Cornell’s hope of becoming the winningest program in Championship history. The Big Red is tied with Clarkson, which was upset in this year’s quarterfinals by 10th-seeded Vermont, with 65 tournament game victories. Those 65 wins have earned Cornell nine ECAC Championship titles, while Clarkson has won only four in the 40-year history of the event.
After reveling in the program’s sixth ECAC Championship title, the Saints will begin preparing for the first round of the NCAA tournament, where St. Lawrence will likely face off against Colorado College or Minnesota on Friday night.