POTSDAM, N.Y. — Although Clarkson held its official “senior night” a week ago, Saturday’s quarterfinal playoff contest against St. Lawrence will be this year’s graduates’ final memory of their home rink. Not surprisingly, it will be a good memory for those Golden Knights, as their squad came out of the contest on top, 6-1. The win propels the Knights into the ECAC semifinals, to be held next weekend in Lake Placid, N.Y.
With their loss, the second in as many days against Clarkson, the Skating Saints of SLU are eliminated from playoff consideration this year. The loss marks the end of an era for St. Lawrence, which has won the past two ECAC tournaments.
“We lost a lot of guys tonight that played on a couple of championship teams, so it’s kind of a sad time for them to finish their careers,” said Saint Lawrence head coach Joe Marsh after the game. “But, we’re awfully proud of what they have accomplished. They’ve worked hard these last four years.”
“All of us have a lot of respect for this Clarkson team,” continued Marsh in a sporting tribute to his rivals. “They are going to be a very tough team to beat [in Lake Placid].”
Clarkson outplayed its opponent in the first several minutes of the game, culminating in a Joe Carosa goal at 5:03. But, St. Lawrence battled back, scoring a tying marker at 13:43. Stace Page was the man who netted that, the Saints’ only goal of the evening, after being assisted on a well-designed passing play by linemates Rich Peverley and Jim Lorentz.
Given that Saturday’s game against St. Lawrence marked the final home-ice appearance of Clarkson’s 2002 graduating class, it seems appropriate that many of those elder statesmen ended their tenure at the Cheel Arena by making their mark on the evening’s scoresheet. In fact, of the five final-year players who suited up this weekend for the Knights, four tallied points on Saturday. The only senior not to do so — forward Matt Poapst — scored an important goal in Friday’s first game of the series.
The one senior who stood out above the rest for Clarkson on this night was center David Evans, who first broke onto the score sheet at a very important juncture in the game. With the score tied at 1-1 in the waning few minutes of the first, the Saints had their game faces on and looked to capitalize before the end of the period. However, with scarcely 35 seconds left, Knight defender Kerry Ellis-Toddington controlled the puck inside the Saint blue line after a botched clearing attempt. Toddington threw the puck toward goaltender Mike McKenna’s crease, where it eventually found the stick of Evans, waiting near the far post. Evans snapped in his first goal of the night, gaining the Knights a lead heading into the second period — a lead which they would not relinquish for the balance of the game.
“That late in the period, it swung the momemtum back in our favor. It was a real key goal for us,” said Clarkson coach Mark Morris of the eventual game-winner.
Evans, who owned 94 career points coming into this weekend’s series, moved even closer to the century mark later on in the game. With 14:00 left in the third period and the Knights nursing a 4-1 lead, Evans managed to swat a bouncing puck past McKenna after a pretty saucer pass delivered out of the corner by fellow serior Chris Line. A few minutes later, Ellis-Toddington and Evans combined on a play nearly identical to their team’s second goal of the evening, giving Evans a hat trick on the night.
“I think it’s been a challenging year for David, to say the least, and to have him finish off at home with a hat trick has to be very rewarding for him,” continued Morris. “He helped us distance ourselves from St. Lawrence tonight because he had the hot hand.”
Ian Manzano also left his mark in the game’s boxscore when he gave his team a 4-1 lead at 4:18 in the second with a blast through traffic on the power play. A few minutes before Manzano’s goal, three of Clarkson’s promising young stars — Friday’s hero Randy Jones, crafty forward Jay Latulippe, and finally healthy Rob McFeeters — combined to give their team an insurance goal and 3-1 lead on a pretty passing play.
“We knew that this season we hadn’t been 100 percent until this series. It’s the first time that we’ve had all our horses healthy, and we were kind of curious to see what kind of team we were going to be with full lineup,” said Morris. “We limped along throughout the regular season with make shift lines and people playing in roles that they haven’t normally taken on.
“We built some momentum this weekend, and it’s great to know that we’ll be heading to Lake Placid with confidence. Cornell has been sitting pretty for most of the year, and they’ve earned that,” said Morris, looking ahead to a potential and highly anticipated opponent in the ECAC Final Five.
“But, all our games against them this year have been close, and we think that if we can play them when we’re healthy on a big ice sheet, it will play to our favor. Anything can happen in playoff hockey, especially at the ECAC tournament.
“Cornell’s got a fantastic team, and they’re well coached, but they’re beatable. I’d say that they haven’t experienced the low parts of the season like the other teams that will be up there hungry to win. So, there will be lots of reasons for those guys to play hard against them — ourselves included.”