PRINCETON, N.J. — Finally, a win.
After frontloading its schedule with powerhouses North Dakota, Providence and Cornell, Princeton broke the ice and earned a victory on its sixth attempt of the season, defeating Rensselaer, 4-3, in front of 1,993 at Hobey Baker Memorial Rink on Saturday night.
“It has been a rough start,” said sophomore goaltender Trevor Clay, who had to really earn his first career victory, scrambling all over the ice for 45 saves, 39 in the last two periods. “To get everything started off, all it takes is one win. You can hear the noise in the dressing room, it feels so good to win.”
The Tigers had three different two-goal leads in this game. The final one came from the stick of sophomore Neil Stevenson-Moore, who took a pass from Mike Patton on a two-on-one that developed down low at 15:54 of the third period. He put the puck inside the right post for his second strike of the night and third of the season.
As the seconds ticked off in the third period, it was increasingly clear that Princeton wanted this win very badly. The Tiger bench erupted after almost every good Princeton play, especially after Clay robbed freshman Kevin Croxton on the door step with an incredible glove save with 2:28 left in the game.
“We’ve been setting small goals for ourselves,” said Stevenson-Moore. “We really made a positive effort on the bench mentally to bring something different to the game. It was nice to get the crowd into it.”
Croxton became the key Engineer in the waning moments of the third period. He had already scored at 15:01 to put the game at 3-2. Shortly after Clay robbed him, he exacted some revenge by screening the goaltender for captain Danny Eberly to make the game 4-3 on a sharp angle shot. After he helped the Engineers draw close, Croxton then helped insure his team would get no closer, taking a goaltender interference penalty with 55 seconds remaining and RPI pressing.
It has been an eventful few games for the freshman, who won the ECAC Rookie of the Week Award last weekend.
“He’s a good player around the net,” said Rensselaer coach Dan Fridgen. “He’s deadly because he goes to the open space and has a quick release that makes him difficult to contain. … We have to look to everybody and get everybody involved in the offense.”
It sure seemed that everyone was involved in the offense as RPI kept plugging away at Clay, forcing him to make several spectacular saves and shooting many pucks into him on can’t-miss chances. One comical moment came in the third period when Engineer Ryan Shields one-timed a quick pass on the doorstep that went into the pad of a prone Clay. Shields immediately rose his stick in celebration and the RPI team congratulated him for about a minute after the goal before being informed that the puck sat safely in the goaltender’s equipment.
Moreover, the Engineers had an Eberly goal disallowed with under six minutes left in the game for a crease violation. The goal came six seconds into a 55-second two-man advantage. Croxton would score his goal on that power play, but with RPI up only one man.
“I don’t know if it was him stopping them or us shooting it into him,” Fridgen said. “There was a lot of net at times. … The last two periods, we pretty much dominated.
“I can’t remember all the would’ve, could’ve, should’ves since the start of the season,” he added.
The power play proved critical in this game despite neither team’s man-advantage unit clicking before this contest. Princeton had managed just one power play goal in 24 previous chances, while the Engineers had a better, but still not good, 10-for-58 (17 percent). Princeton scored twice with the man advantage, while RPI bagged three on nine chances, putting 32 shots on goal on the power play. Defenseman Steve Slaton particularly hurt the Tigers, taking five minor penalties.
Princeton managed its success without injured senior defenseman and power play quarterback Neil McCann. Defensemen Luc Paquin and Matt Maglione filled McCann’s role admirably, playing keep away at the points of the power play. After one such sequence, Maglione blasted the puck short side past RPI netminder Kevin Kurk at 11:41 of the third period to make the contest 3-2. The goal was the junior’s first of the year.
“We tried to simplify things on the power play,” said Princeton coach Len Quesnelle. “Our work really paid off tonight … I thought Mags did a real good job tonight.”
RPI’s barrage over the final two periods of this game was a turnaround from the first period, when Princeton came out like gangbusters pressing the physical play and buzzing around the net. It outshot the Engineers, 13-6 and took a 2-0 lead out of the period. Dan Hursh netted one at 10:39 followed by Stevenson-Moore at 1:04, a veritable outburst for a team that had only seven goals through its first five games.
Scott Romfo put the Engineers on the board at 8:15 of the second period, his first career goal.
The night before Princeton turned in a dismal performance that Quesnelle worked very hard to turn around, including shaking up the lineup. With McCann out of the lineup, Princeton was forced to dress only five blueliners. He used three forwards who weren’t in the lineup the night before. Moreover, he switched freshman Dustin Sproat from left wing to center and slid sophomore James Fitzpatrick from right wing to Sproat’s vacated position.
“This was a great effort by our team, especially coming 24 hours after the [4-1 loss against] Union.” Quesnelle said
Next up for Princeton is a trip to upper New England to combat Vermont and Dartmouth. The Engineers have just a Saturday affair at home against Mercyhurst.