PRINCETON, N.J. — Senior night is the last chance for a graduating player to impress his home crowd. Two Princeton players sure made it count.
Senior goaltender Dave Stathos stopped 36 shots for his first career shutout and winger Ryan Kraliz scored his first goal of the year — a beautiful breakaway, top-shelf finish — en route to a 3-0 drubbing of Harvard on Saturday night in front of a sold out Hobey Baker Memorial Rink.
The win gave Princeton a sweep of the weekend and catapulted it into sixth place in the ECAC. Meanwhile, the Crimson tanked in its final weekend, getting swept, lucked out with a third-place finish and a first round matchup against Brown
“I can’t explain it, it is just an awesome feeling,” said Princeton captain Dave Schneider. “This was just a gritty, old-fashioned effort. I’ve never been prouder to wear the jersey.”
After an even first period, Princeton turned it on in the second period for the second straight night. Its top line of Neil Stevenson-Moore, David Del Monte and George Parros continued to set the tone with a fierce forecheck. The Crimson struggled to clear the defensive zone and the front of its net.
The hard work of the top line paid off, breaking a scoreless game at 3:49 of the second period. On the power play, Crimson forward Dennis Packard whiffed on a clear in front of the net and Del Monte scored his ninth goal of the season.
Junior winger Trevor Beaney gave the Tigers a 2-0 lead at 10:17 as Harvard got caught on a line change and the puck came to a wide-open Beaney at the top of the left faceoff circle. With all day to wind up, Beaney blasted one past Harvard goalie Dov Grumet-Morris for his fifth goal of the year — and his career — and his first goal since Jan. 4.
“Everyone knows that Harvard is a very skilled team,” Schneider said. “Physical play is one of their weaknesses, and we took it to them.”
Between Beaney and Kraliz, Princeton received goals from a pair of unlikely sources.
At the other end of the ice, goaltender Stathos was not going to let anything spoil the final home game of his Princeton career. Whenever Harvard counterattacked, Stathos had the answer, making a brilliant kick save on a shot by Ryan Lannon with five minutes remaining in the second period.
Coach Len Quesnelle gave Stathos a hug on the ice after he completed the clean sheet.
“It was well-deserved shutout for Stathos,” Quesnelle said. “We were outshot and he made some big saves for us.”
Morris made 26 saves for Harvard.
This was a contest that both teams needed to win. Princeton still could have missed the playoffs if it lost, and Harvard — which once sat in first place in the ECAC and was nationally ranked — could have been on the road during the first round.
Both Princeton and Harvard have an unusual schedule in that the school’s break for first semester final exams is in January, whereas virtually every other college in the nation holds its exams before Christmas. The two Ivy League schools have been on different paths since their rigorous tests. Harvard has been in a tailspin, going 2-7-1 in the month of February. The Tigers, on the other hand, have played their best hockey of the season, going 4-3-2 over the same stretch.
“This one felt good,” said Princeton coach Len Quesnelle. “We played hard two nights in a row and to finish the year 10-10-2 in the league is a big accomplishment.
“We have really come together as a team. If we continue to stay close we are going to have some chances in the postseason. This is a special team and a special run.”
Mirroring its collapse of the season, Harvard grew increasingly frustrated as the minutes ticked off in the final period, taking a few hard penalties and showing a general lack of effort while the Tigers simply smothered them.
While Harvard has a good playoff draw in Brown, it remains to be seen if the team can turn it on in the playoffs.
“We didn’t play well tonight,” said Harvard junior forward Dominic Moore. “However, the hockey gods were with us and we still finished third even though we didn’t do anything to help ourselves. Hopefully, we can turn it on in the playoffs.”
The game was extra special for Kraliz, who has played in only 32 games during his four years on the team. The goal was the pinnacle of years spent practicing, working hard, but knowing that most likely he would be watching the games from the stands.
“This night made it all worthwhile,” Kraliz said. “I’ve thought about quitting 100 times over the years, but I stuck with it. I will never forget this night.
“It’s a great effort we have put forth as a team. We were spinning our wheels before the exam break, but now we are unbeaten in five.”
Princeton ended up in a three-way tie for sixth place with Colgate and Brown. The Raiders held the tiebreaker over the Bears, but the Tigers edged Colgate to claim the highest seed of those not receiving home ice.
The shutout was the first by Princeton of Harvard since Jan. 12, 1952.