LAKE PLACID, N.Y. — For 57 minutes, Thursday night’s ECAC play-in game was utterly forgettable. But the final three may be the most memorable of any for those on the ice in legendary Lake Placid.
Rennselaer scored two goals in the final three minutes of the game to turn a 1-0 deficit into a dramatic, 2-1 victory over Dartmouth in the play-in game held at 1980 Olympic Rink.
“As far as the game was concerned, it was a nightmare turned into a dream,” said RPI coach Dan Fridgen. “We were tentative throughout the game, but we did a good job holding them to one goal and when we got the offensive chances, we capitalized.”
For the longest time, it looked like neither team wanted to win and earn the right to face Cornell in Friday’s semifinal game, but the Engineers woke up in time to give an exciting finish to an otherwise miserable game.
The comeback started with an RPI faceoff win and a shot by Danny Eberly that went through the defense and bounced to sniper Matt Murley at the left faceoff circle. Murley calmly put the puck in the open net at 17:24 to tie the game at one.
Two minutes later, at 18:52, the puck ricocheted off the boards to sophomore defenseman Scott Basiuk at the left point. Basiuk blasted a seemingly harmless shot from the left point, that goaltender Darren Gastrock missed, letting it graze off his shoulder.
“I just took a look out, put the puck on the net, and it went in,” Basiuk said. “You never know. I’m never expect to score goals, but I’ve scored a few in my career just getting the puck on net.”
Dartmouth seemed to have the game in hand, outshooting and out-chancing RPI. At the end of the second period, the Big Green had a 23-9 advantage in shots. Dartmouth didn’t take the lead until 10:59 of the third when senior Chris Baldwin fished a loose puck from in front of the net, worked himself into a shooting position, and trickled a shot through RPI goalie Nathan Marsters.
“I thought we played about as close to a perfect hockey game as we could,” said Dartmouth coach Bob Gaudet. “We limited their chances, but it just came down to a few breaks.”
Dartmouth peppered Marsters, who made 36 saves on the night. Gastrock, in contrast, faced only 18 shots.
“We didn’t have our best game tonight, but it hasn’t been an easy season for us by any means,” Murley said. “We have had sickness, personal injuries, but through it all we stuck together as a team.”
Although Dartmouth had the edge in play, neither team particularly impressed. There were numerous turnovers, prime scoring chances sent wide, and intermittent physical play. Even the officiating seemed out of joint as referee John Murphy could not decide when the goaltender had the puck covered and the linesmen were late several times on obvious offsides calls.
“If Cornell was in the stands watching the game, we really didn’t show them anything,” Fridgen joked.
The Engineers entered the game as one of the hottest teams in the ECAC, losing only two of their last 12 games. The Big Green, on the other hand, came into the contest with a reputation for ending hot streaks. Dartmouth stopped an eight-game Colgate unbeaten streak and an eight-game Cornell winning streak in the same weekend earlier this year. In the end, RPI found a way to keep going.
The loss ends the career of one of the best Big Green classes in a few years, and Gaudet’s first recruiting class. Dartmouth will especially miss Mike Maturo, a local star from Manchester, N.H. Maturo finished his Big Green career with 110 points.
“We definitely had a great time here,” Maturo said. “We did all we could. All of us left it on the ice tonight. We did the best we could.”
Gaudet was more effusive in praising his first senior class.
“We’ve been through so much together,” he said. “This is very difficult for them and for me. [Dartmouth] wasn’t a strong program when we came in, but they pulled it up by their bootstraps.”
The victory capped a good day for the Engineers, which started with RPI junior Marc Cavosie winning the ECAC Player of the Year Award. Cavosie led the league in scoring with 48 points.
The win also gives RPI a shot to redeem itself against the Big Red. Cornell swept the Engineers during the regular season, winning 4-1 at Lynah and 2-1 at Houston Field House.
“We’re happy to get another chance against Cornell,” Fridgen said. “The win also was a measure of redemption for us as Dartmouth was the team that eliminated us from the playoffs last year. I always tell my team that you have to play for 60 minutes and we did tonight.”
Thursday night’s game will be the last play-in game for the ECAC Championship tournament. Next year, the conference switches playoff formats and will have two weekends of best-of-three series to determine four teams that go to Lake Placid.