NEW HAVEN, Conn. — St. Lawrence head coach Joe Marsh stood in the visiting locker room at Ingalls Rink in front of his ecstatic players.
“I want you to really soak this up,” he said, his voice wavering with pride and excitement.
He was addressing a Saints team that had every right to enjoy the moment. They had just — for the second consecutive night — defeated Yale in overtime, again by a 4-3 score and again after weathering a furious late-game comeback by the Bulldogs. The victory gave the Saints the 2-0 win in the best-of-three playoff series, and sent them to Colgate for the second round.
It was a great play from senior captain Rich Peverley that gave the Saints the victory. Peverley, one of a handful of players who were freshmen when SLU won the ECAC tournament in 2001, got the puck in the neutral zone and skated in alone on Yale goaltender Matt Modelski before burying the game-winner.
“I was lucky to be a part of that  team,” said Peverly, who also scored a crucial goal late in the second period. “We’ve got to bring a lot of experience and we’re going to keep this momentum going.”
The victory capped off an excellent series for the Saints. Marsh’s team earned its first overtime victory in two and a half years Friday before notching its second in a row Saturday.
“Isn’t it unreal?” asked Marsh. “I think it was the best hockey we’ve played — clean, fast, and exciting, the way hockey should be played.”
Goaltender Mike McKenna was strong again for the Saints, stopping 32 shots, including three in overtime. On the other end, Modelski started in place of Yale’s usual netminder, Josh Gartner, who was serving a one-game suspension after a butt-ending penalty the night before. Modelski made 33 saves in his appearance.
The Saints will go on to face Colgate, a team they played in the first round of the ECAC playoffs last season. SLU went up 1-0 on the Raiders on the road, but gave up the next two games.
They did not repeat history in New Haven, although the Elis came close to extending the series to three games. Captain Vin Hellemeyer’s tying score came with 1:09 to play in regulation after the Bulldogs pulled Modelski for the extra skater. The strategy worked, with defensemen Jeff Dwyer and Joe Callahan setting up Hellemeyer for the 3-3 score.
The inspired play of both Dwyer and Hellemeyer, who are seniors, was evident over the weekend, as was that of classmate Ryan Steeves.
“It’s been a real challenge all year, and those seniors weathered the storm and they had their best weekend this weekend,” said Yale head coach Tim Taylor, who traveled to the SLU locker room after the game to deliver a personal word of congratulations to the Saints.
In fact, a “storybook finish” for the senior class, as Taylor described it, was only inches away when Dwyer set up Steeves for a breakaway in overtime. Steeves’ attempt to win the game was stymied by McKenna shortly before Peverley put the contest away 5:14 into the extra period.
The Saints began the game with an early goal when Jeremy Cormier unleashed a slapshot 4:59 into the first period that gave St. Lawrence the 1-0 lead. Midway through the period, St. Lawrence increased the Yale deficit to two goals with a turnaround wrister by Drew Bagnall from the left point that went past a screened Modelski.
“To tell you the honest truth, I just spun around and fired,” Bagnall said. “I got the puck with an open lane and threw it on net.”
No penalties were called until midway through the second period, and Yale managed to kill off St. Lawrence’s first power play. With 3:18 to play in the second, Steeves was whistled for tripping and the Saints earned their second power play of the night.
With a heads-up play, Christian Jensen stole the puck in center ice and skated in alone on McKenna. He lost the puck, but Hellemeyer was there to sweep in the shorthanded goal for his first of the game, creating a one-goal margin with 2:41 to play in the second.
Yale’s fortunes were short-lived, however, as the Saints answered on their next shift with a slapshot from Peverley that hit the back of the net, giving SLU a 3-1 lead and deflating the Bulldogs.
“They had that breakaway goal, but getting back right after took the wind out of their sails,” Peverley said. “We were fortunate there.”
The Elis were not playing well throughout the third period, having been unable to score on two power plays, until Taylor called timeout when Yale was awarded a third extra-man advantage. With 13 seconds left in that power play, Jensen’s goal, set up by a big Callahan shot from the point, ignited the Ingalls crowd.
With 1:36 to play Yale pulled Modelski, and the Saints nearly scored on the empty net. But Hellemeyer pushed the puck in to send the game into the second overtime in as many nights.
As they did last night, the Bulldogs seemed to save their best play for the extra period, putting pressure on SLU and nearly tying the series on several occasions. But in the end, the turnover to Peverley gave St. Lawrence the upset series victory.
“I think we feel we’ve made a huge step, with two overtime wins,” Marsh said. “Winning a championship is a process, and I’m very proud of our team and the way we’ve played.”