PRINCETON, N.J. — As Union senior defenseman Brent Booth was being honored after his final regular-season home game last Saturday, he told the fans that the Dutchmen’s win over Cornell would not be the last game at Messa Rink at Achilles Center this year. While he didn’t guarantee that, Booth proved he can come through with a promise, much like the New York Rangers’ Mark Messier did in 1994 Stanley Cup semifinals against the New Jersey Devils.
Booth scored with 35 seconds left in overtime Saturday, giving the Dutchmen a gut-wrenching 3-2 ECAC hockey victory over Princeton at Hobey Baker Rink, and setting up an ECAC tournament first-round home-ice series against Clarkson next weekend.
Union (14-15-5, 8-11-3 ECAC) finished in eighth place, earning the final home-ice spot by one point over Clarkson, which dropped a 2-1 decision to Cornell. The best-of-three series starts Friday.
Messier guaranteed the Rangers would beat the Devils in Game 6 of the 1994 series in East Rutherford, N.J., and force a Game 7 back at Madison Square Garden. Messier backed that up with a hat trick, leading the Rangers to the win.
“Last week, I obviously tried to be careful with what I said,” Booth said. “The fans back in Schenectady deserve a home series there. They’ve been with us through thick and thin this season.”
Booth, who had a shot ring off the post in the first period, got a fortuitous bounce off the iron on the game winner. His shot from the left circle hit the right post past goalie B.J. Sklapsky, and then slowly rolled over the goal line.
“I hit a post last night, and I hit a post again in the first period today,” Booth said. “I thought it hit the post, and the goalie was sitting on it. But I saw it trickle in behind him. I was thankful.
“I was sort of in disbelief.”
A bad third period, in which Union was outshot, 12-1, set up the overtime. Poirier, who had a first-period tally, scored on the Dutchmen’s only shot of the third with 7:35 left. But as Sklapsky was being pulled for an extra attacker, Dustin Sproat tied it for the Tigers (5-22-2, 5-15-2) with 58 seconds left.
“We did not bring our ‘A’ game tonight,” Union coach Nate Leaman said. “We were playing somewhat of an individual game. We were fortunate enough to find a way to win.”
The Dutchmen needed the victory. Had they finished in a tie with the Golden Knights, with whom they split the season series, they would have lost the second tiebreaker, record against the top four teams (Colgate, Cornell, Brown and Dartmouth), eight points to seven. They would have gone to Potsdam next weekend.
The bench was in constant contact with the press box, trying to find out the Clarkson-Cornell score. Leaman called a timeout with 1:40 left, and told his team goalie Kris Mayotte would be pulled for an extra attacker.
“I was pulling him, no ifs, and or buts about it,” Leaman said. “We were going for the win.”
Mayotte was just getting to the bench when Booth scored. It’s the second straight year Union will be home in the playoffs. A month ago, when the Dutchmen were in the midst of a 12-game winless streak, home ice seemed like a distant dream. A 6-2-1 stretch over the final nine games turned things around.
“It’s huge,” Poirier said. “It’s such an advantage to play home for the playoffs, and have your fans behind you.”
Ken Schott covers college hockey for The Daily Gazette in Schenectady, N.Y.