PRINCETON, N.J. — When you have won just three games all year, a tie is a cause to celebrate.
On Senior Night at Hobey Baker Rink, two freshmen scored in the third period and Princeton (2-34-2, 2-18-2) erased a 2-0 deficit to tie Colgate (14-16-4, 9-10-3 ECAC), 2-2, capping off its best back-to-back efforts of the year in front of a crowd of 2,004.
“I’m pretty excited about the goal, I didn’t want to go the whole year without scoring and it was big for us,” said freshman defenseman Brett Westgarth, whose first career goal knotted the game at 14:13 of the third period. “We felt good with the result. We played hard against Cornell last night and then played hard again tonight. Hopefully, this will give us some momentum for the playoffs.”
Neither team could lose ground in the playoff race, so a tie was perhaps a fitting result. The Raiders remained in eighth place and will host St. Lawrence in the first round. Princeton had the lock on last, and will travel to Providence to battle Brown.
“I’m not disappointed at all with the result,” said Colgate coach Don Vaughan. “Princeton played desperate hockey in the third period. It is really tough to win two straight road games in this league.”
After two periods, the Raiders were poised to cruise to a shutout victory and another notch on the belt of sophomore standout goaltender Steve Silverthorn. Leading scorer Scooter Smith netted his 23rd goal of the year on a beautiful two-on-one rush for the Raiders to put Colgate ahead 2-0 at 15:09 of the second period. Skating down the right wing, sophomore Adam Mitchell froze Princeton senior goaltender Nate Nomeland with a fake shot and slid a perfect pass to the charging Smith for the tally.
However, the Tigers finally tested Silverthorn in the third period. Freshman Sebastian Borza shot a puck through a scrum that somehow eluded the goaltender to get Princeton on the board at 5:31 and Westgarth evened the contest with a blast from the point.
“In the third period, we finally got the puck in the offensive zone and sustained some pressure,” said Princeton coach Len Quesnelle. “We need balance on our team. If you look at who is receiving ice time, everyone in the lineup, freshman to senior, has to give something for us to win.”
Nomeland, little used for his career and making the start largely in deference to his class year, preserved the tie with about a minute and a half remaining in regulation. He jammed his right skate to the post at the last second to rob Kyle Wilson on a breakaway. He made 28 saves on the night.
“I haven’t played in two weeks, so it has been hard mentally to stay prepared,” Nomeland said. “However, I wanted to have a good game because my dad was in the stands and this is probably the last opportunity he’ll have to watch me.”
The Princeton Class of 2003 had its final skate at Hobey Baker Rink and is about to cap what will most likely be disappointing college careers. They are the last Princeton players to have played under the successful regime of Don “Toot” Cahoon, and in their Tiger tenure, never experienced a winning record, topping out at 11 victories last year.
The departing seniors will not leave many marks in the Princeton record books. A small class of just five players, none of them have more than seven points for the year. The career scoring leader among them is captain George Parros, with 20 goals and 32 assists in four seasons.
However, according to Quesnelle, character counts for more than appears on a scoresheet.
“First of all, the seniors are a great group of guys,” Quesnelle said. “It goes for the entire team. You win with good people and the place to start is the seniors.”
While the locals said farewell to their team, including the Jersey-born Parros, it is not quite goodbye, yet. Since everybody in the ECAC makes the playoffs this season, even the Tigers who have just five points to their name, get to wipe the slate clean and take one final shot at etching their names in the program’s storied history.
Princeton will face Brown in the playoffs, and it is hard to imagine that the Tigers will win two out of three games in the playoffs when the team only won two games during its entire ECAC schedule.
However, Princeton’s record belies its threat to the Bears. Quesnelle has exhorted his team all season to exert itself at an effort level commensurate to when he wore the Tiger sweater. The message seems to have finally stuck. Princeton tightened up defensively this weekend and received good goaltending.
Whether they can crack Brown netminder Yann Denis remains to be seen, but the team takes solace in the fresh start the playoffs afford.
“We are going to be underdogs for sure,” Nomeland said. “But perhaps that is not such a bad position to be in. We have worked all season to be playing our best hockey right now and we’ll see how we stack up.”
The tie did not damper the solid second half that Colgate has had. The turning point of the year for the Raiders came when Vaughan started Silverthorn on Jan. 30 to shake things up a little against No. 2 Cornell. Silverthorn stunned the nation by becoming just the second and last ECAC goaltender to defeat the Big Red, making over 40 saves for a 2-1 overtime win.
Silverthorn’s strong play continued this weekend. He stopped 34-of-36 against the high powered Yale offense at the Whale and he turned aside 29 Tiger shots.
“[Silverthorn] has been working hard all year,” Vaughan said. “He received his shot and he has taken full advantage of it.”
The Raiders already had home ice secured, and anticipate playing the Saints. Since the Cornell victory, the Raiders have gone 7-3 and will take the ice at Starr Rink with plenty of momentum.
“After we could no longer earn a bye, it became one of our goals for the year to play at home in the first round,” Vaughan said. “We are pleased where we are.
“There are no easy games in the league.”
That is an adage Princeton hopes to remind Brown of next week.