PRINCETON, N.J. — A year’s worth of losing is starting to bother Princeton.
After failing to generate enough offensive chances to capitalize on some shaky Vermont goaltending in a 5-3 home loss Saturday afternoon, the Tigers searched for answers as they hit loss number 18.
“The whole season has been frustrating so far,” said sullen Princeton defensemen Matt Maglione. “We had to get more shots. If we would’ve gotten more shots, we would have scored more goals and we couldn’t get it done.”
Princeton fell behind 3-0 and twice drew the game to within one goal, but did not find the equalizer.
“We have to try and keep our heads up,” Maglione said. “It seems like we always are playing from behind, having to fight our way back into games.”
Maglione started the Princeton comeback on an end-to-end rush, stuffing a shot through Vermont goaltender Shawn Conshafter’s five hole. At 9:15 of the second period, freshman Mark Masters scored his first career goal on a sharp angle shot that somehow eluded the senior Catamount netminder.
Despite scoring two seemingly soft goals, the Tigers only managed three other shots on net during the middle period, and Jeff Miles put the Vermont lead back at two goals with 1:03 left in the frame on a shot that ricocheted off a Princeton defenseman.
Conshafter finished the game with 28 saves, but was fighting the puck all afternoon. He was pulled on Friday in a 6-2 loss at Yale.
“We got off to a good early start,” said Vermont coach Mike Gilligan. “It was anyone’s game by the end and we did our jobs to win at the end of the game.”
“Conshafter did everything we asked of him tonight,” added Gilligan, defending his goaltender. “Yale got to him, and not just him, but the whole team. I pulled him out of there in order to save him for this afternoon.”
At 1:06 of the third period, Princeton leading scorer Chris Owen took a shot from the left circle and followed its trajectory to the net. Conshafter kicked the rebound right back to Owen and he buried it for a 4-3 game.
The Catamounts tightened their defense and Princeton went shotless for the next couple of minutes, either being unable to execute a breakout or having their shots blocked.
“We’ve made it a point to the kids on not giving up shots,” Gilligan said. “We took a lot of good hits and there will be some sore bodies tomorrow.”
Princeton managed to pour on some pressure in the final minutes of the third period, and took 16 shots overall. However, the only other goal came by UVM rookie Baron Becker at 17:36.
“There’s a difference between skating and sprinting,” said Princeton coach Len Quesnelle. The time we spent sprinting was sporadic and periodic play doesn’t cut it.”
The game started poorly for the Tigers when freshman Patrick Neundorfer drilled Catamount defenseman Jason Fortin from behind along the boards. Fortin had to leave the game with injury and Neundorfer received a major penalty and game misconduct.
Brady Leisenring capitalized on the power play opportunity, roofing a shot over the shoulder of goaltender Trevor Clay at 11:18 of the first period. Tim Plant and Jaime Sifers scored the other goals for Vermont.
“Our focus going into the third period was on taking shots,” Quesnelle said. “We shouldn’t be waiting and our players are just as frustrated. Whenever we made a mistake, we paid dearly.”
The Tigers appear headed for their first 20-loss season since 1976-77. This was their weekend set since a three week exam break. Princeton had some confidence entering the layoff, upsetting Harvard, 2-1 at Bright Hockey Center.
If there was one positive from the weekend, it was the continued strong play of Clay. He made 33 saves and only Miles’ goal can be considered his fault. This marked his third quality game in a row, solidifying his hold on the starting job.
But Clay could not get everything and the Tigers now have to start preparing for a visit from Clarkson and St. Lawrence next weekend.
“It seems like we are outplaying them,” Owen said. “Then they come down the ice, get one chance and it goes in. We are going to have to keep working. There are playoff games at the end of the year.”