HANOVER, N.H. — Two wins later, the defending ECAC champions are back in the playoff hunt.
The youthful St. Lawrence Saints gave veteran head coach Joe Marsh their best 60 minutes of the season Saturday night, completing a perfect four-point weekend with a 4-3 win over Dartmouth in front of 2,719 at Thompson Arena.
The Saints (6-13-0, 4-5-0 ECAC) surged to a 2-0 lead and then responded every time Dartmouth (8-8-2, 5-4-2 ECAC) appeared to be getting its act together, netting a couple of power-play goals — including the game-winner off captain Robin Carruthers’ stick in the third period — as they climbed out of the basement and ran their winning streak to three games.
“That was the best game we’ve played this year, by far,” said Saints head coach Joe Marsh. “Special teams was a big boost for us this weekend. It was a huge weekend for us because we’ve struggled to get the wins. To win a one-goal game like this is very important.”
St. Lawrence’s previous league wins had come against Princeton, Rensselaer and Vermont — all lightly, if at all, regarded as playoff contenders.
But this win, coming against a highly regarded Dartmouth team that does not lose very often at home, gives the young Saints some confidence looking ahead.
“For us, to win on the road is important,” Marsh said. “But to get a win against a real quality team is even more solid. Dartmouth is certainly a contender for this league. We’re very fortunate to get a one-goal win.”
For the home team, an increasingly relevant question is: Which Big Green team will show up?
Dartmouth was behind the 8-ball from the opening faceoff, getting beat to pucks left and right as it skidded toward a one-point weekend, its least productive two-game set at home since Nov. 17-8, 2000, when the Big Green dropped a pair to Yale and Princeton.
After looking like a title contender the past two games, Dartmouth slumped back into the mode that led to disappointing losses to last-place contenders Vermont and Colgate earlier this season.
“St. Lawrence is a very good hockey team,” Dartmouth head coach Bob Gaudet said. “Not that Colgate and Vermont aren’t, but we played them in their buildings. It’s not easy to win on the road.
“But I don’t like losing at home. Period. I don’t care who comes in here. I think we should win every game at home. I’ll always feel that way.”
St. Lawrence grabbed control early, as junior Jim Lorentz one-timed a centering pass from Stace Page past Nick Boucher (28 saves) at the 4:15 mark.
The Big Green nearly equalized when Chris Baldwin hit a post on a Dartmouth power play, but instead the Saints claimed a 2-0 advantage at the 13:05 mark, when Rich Peverley tapped in his own rebound off a 2-on-1 rush.
Dartmouth seemed temporarily energized by a Gary Hunter goal at 3:20 of the middle frame. Hunter redirected a Chris Hontvet blast from the blueline, lighting the lamp for the first time since Feb. 2, 2001, at Rensselaer.
“It’s always nice to get a goal,” Hunter said. “Chris Hontvet made a splendid play. He had some great patience and poise with the puck. He put it right on my stick and I didn’t have to do much.”
But any momentum the Big Green gained from Hunter’s goal was sapped away by a 5-on-3 St. Lawrence power play moments later. With Mike Murray and Pete Summerfelt both in the sin bin, Page snuck the puck inside the right post from the top of the left circle.
The Big Green had three separate 5-on-4 power plays after Page’s goal and ultimately converted on the third one at 6:05 of the third stanza.
Center Kent Gillings netted the goal, chipping the puck past Mike McKenna’s reach to make it a 3-2 game.
But again, St. Lawrence responded to the brief Dartmouth momentum boost, as Carruthers redirected a Page pass on a power play to reclaim St. Lawrence’s two-goal lead.
“That was a huge goal for us,” Marsh said. “It gave us some energy. It was just a bullet shot that got tipped by Carruthers. He’s done that his whole career. He doesn’t have a hundred goals, but the ones he gets are huge.”
The Big Green climbed to within 4-3 when Summerfelt lined in a blazing shot from the blue line with 4:01 to go. Mike Maturo’s assist on the play gave him two points on the night and 99 for his career.
After Summerfelt’s goal, the Saints survived a challenge from Dartmouth’s best string of shifts of the night as McKenna emerged victories with 34 saves in the St. Lawrence net.
“St. Lawrence is a hard-working team,” Hunter said. “Tonight, as well as last night, we didn’t seem to have our ‘A’ game. We sort of threw away the weekend by not working our hardest and not sticking to the game plan.
“We just have to work hard all week and look forward to next weekend.”
Both teams return to action next Friday. St. Lawrence will host Colgate at Appleton Arena, while Dartmouth will play the first of four against Albany-area teams with a game at Union’s Achilles Rink.