WORCESTER, Mass. — Perhaps all those long bus trips through the boondocks of upstate New York for the St. Lawrence Saints explain it. There must be some reason for the team’s recent tendency for marathon hockey games.
For the second year in a row, the Saints played a multiple-overtime game in the NCAA East Regional.
Unlike last year’s saga, though, the Saints will not go marching into the next round of the NCAA tournament. Colorado College defenseman Paul Manning scored just his second goal of the season to give the favored Tigers a 3-2 victory three minutes and 30 seconds into double overtime.
Justin Morrison’s pass from the net teed it up for Manning just outside of the crease for the one-timer, giving Saint goaltender Jeremy Symington no chance.
It was an unlikely scenario for the Tiger captain, who has now scored just 12 goals in his four-year career. What was a guy like him doing crashing the net, anyway?
“I just got a little bit lost going down the slot; I’m not used to being there,” Manning said sheepishly. “We expected it to be a lucky play. That’s how you’re going to win in overtime.”
“I saw the battle for the puck behind the net,” said a disconsolate Symington. “I just turned my head for a second, and he snuck in from the point or wherever he came from, and he just slid it through me.”
“I give St. Lawrence a lot of credit,” Colorado College coach Scott Owens said. “For the majority of the game, we weren’t allowed to get into our real up-tempo style of play. We tried to, but they did a great job.”
For hardcore fans in attendance at the Worcester Centrum, the game brought back memories of the Saints’ last game in this phase of the tournament, when St. Lawrence needed four overtimes to beat BU and advance to the Frozen Four. Both years, Maine — scheduled for the next game that evening — was forced to twiddle its thumbs and wonder when it would end.
St. Lawrence coach Joe Marsh was asked if his mind wandered back to that epic battle with the Terriers.
“My mind wanders quite a bit on a regular basis,” Marsh said, as the press corps guffawed. “Yeah, I guess I was thinking about that. It was kind of funny because Maine was sitting right outside our locker room like they were last year, so they were giving us the business pretty good.”
That game proved to be the longest in the history of the NCAA tournament and the second-longest in collegiate history. This one — clocking in at 83 minutes, 30 seconds — ranks third-longest ever in the regionals, seventh-longest in the tournament, and 22nd in NCAA history.
Symington made 46 saves for the Saints, while his counterpart Jeff Sanger stopped 30 shots in the Tiger cage.
In a losing effort, Russ Bartlett had a goal and an assist for the Saints.
The teams began play in front of a sparse crowd, no doubt due to the early start and the fact both teams were playing a long way from home. After some initial shakiness, St. Lawrence proceeded to get the better of the scoring chances early on. Of course, getting the only two power plays of the first period didn’t hurt.
The first goal of the game was a rather sudden development. Tiger sophomore Joe Cullen may not get the media attention of his brother, All-American candidate Mark Cullen, he made the first big play of the game for the Tigers. On the forecheck, Joe Cullen stole the puck from a Saint defenseman low in the left-wing faceoff circle and slipped the puck to freshman scoring sensation Peter Sejna.
The Slovakian winger — who leads all freshmen nationwide in points per game — got the puck on his backhand and beat Symington with a quick, high shot.
The goal was Sejna’s 29th of the season, giving him the all-time Tiger record for goals by a freshman. For Symington, who gave up just one goal in two games last weekend at the ECAC championships, it certainly was a rude introduction to Colorado College.
On another power play at 17:55, ECAC Player of the Year Erik Anderson had a potential goal negated when a whistle blew for a crease violation moments before his shot went in the net.
Early on in the second, Symington managed to get a forearm on a wicked wrister off the stick of Matt Cullen at 2:50. With the help of power plays, the Tigers gained the upper hand in terms of momentum as the period progressed.
However, a Sejna penalty helped St. Lawrence get its offense back in gear. Bartlett carried the puck in on the left wing before pulling up to deftly avoid a defender. Bartlett slipped the puck to Mike Gellard centering the rush, and Gellard dished to Erik Anderson on his right wing for the one-timer to beat CC goalie Jeff Sanger, tying the game 1-1.
The Tigers regained the lead at 10:51 during the waning seconds of another power play. A St. Lawrence defenseman broke up a rush to the net, poking the puck out toward the blue line, only to have Tiger winger Noah Clarke pick it up while trailing the play. Clarke’s soft wrister floated through traffic and beat Symington to make it 2-1 Tigers.
Another Saint penalty kept the Tigers on the attack a few short minutes later. Clarke set up a strong shot by Mark Cullen at the point, and Symington made the initial glove save but dropped the rebound. The goalie managed to cover the puck before Chris Hartsburg could knock it home.
CC had the first good opportunity of the third period as well, when Justin Morrison managed to knock down a knee-high pass from Mark Cullen and put a good shot on Symington. The goalie thwarted Morrison again seconds later after a weird carom suddenly set up the forward just outside the crease.
A suspenseful moment for St. Lawrence fans came at 7:26 of the third when a video review was needed to determine whether a Saint goal would count. Russ Bartlett again showed good playmaking skills coming into the Tiger zone, and then found himself on the receiving end of a Kevin Veneruzzo pass off the left-wing boards. In traffic, Bartlett appeared to barely nudge the puck past Sanger on the far side of the crease, though it may have deflected off a defender. The goal counted, and the fans settled in for an exciting finish.
Mark Cullen had the first good chances in overtime, about four or five minutes in. He unleashed a cannon from 25 feet that Symington blocked, and then threatened to end it again on the same shift. Advantage Tigers, but the game rolled on regardless.
The Saints responded with a small flurry of shots. Many chances came by counterattacking off of Tiger rushes. Freshman Rich Peverly had a good bid halfway through the fourth period, then Ray DiLauro had a solid slapshot stopped after another odd-man rush at 12:23.
The Saints had a rare OT power play but struggled mightily to even get a shot on net, as the Tigers caught on to their attempts to pass around the perimeter of the point. Both teams can say that they had chances to win. Finally, Colorado pulled it out.
While the Saints’ (20-13-4) season is over, the Tigers (27-12-1) square off against North Dakota Saturday afternoon, looking for their second win in four games against the Sioux this season.
“I’m just happy to be playing the game, not to be ending our season,” Owens said.