HAMILTON, N.Y. — After winning only three games away from Appleton Arena throughout the regular season, St. Lawrence reeled off its third road playoff victory in a row, nipping Colgate 2-1 Friday night at Starr Rink.
The Saints (14-19-6) arrived in Hamilton on the heels of a two-game series sweep over Yale, with both games decided in overtime. St. Lawrence once again dug deep to grind out another one-goal game in its visiting reds.
“We’ve just been getting better as time has gone on,” said Saints head coach Joe Marsh. “Maybe it’s the fact that it’s a new season for us. We haven’t been laboring over what our record had been, and that fresh new start has helped us.”
“The team’s playing better than we ever have before,” said goaltender Mike McKenna. “We entered the playoffs knowing it’s a whole new season, and that’s how we’re treating it. So far this season’s been treating us really well.”
St. Lawrence’s start was less than auspicious, as Colgate’s Adam Mitchell redirected a Justin Spencer slapshot past McKenna a mere 16 seconds in. The goal eerily resembled a tally by Yale’s Ryan Steeves, just 14 seconds into the first game of the ECAC first-round matchup against the Saints.
“The first thing I thought was, ‘Are you kidding me?’” said McKenna. “But when something like that happens that early in the game, you’ve got the whole game to make it up. We responded well, and getting out of the period tied 1-1 was huge.”
Sure enough, St. Lawrence caught the Raiders seven minutes later with a power-play tally. Freshman Kyle Rank knocked a Ryan Glenn wrist shot from midair and under startled Colgate netminder Steve Silverthorn to knot the game.
The Raiders, the ECAC’s regular-season champion, turned up the heat on the St. Lawrence net in the second period, outshooting the visitors 13-5. But Colgate (19-11-5) failed to find a the back of the net, leaving the Saints very much alive with one period left to play.
“Colgate was all over us in the second period,” said Marsh. “We were lucky to survive that. McKenna played absolutely fabulous and kept us in it. I thought we responded well with our backs against the wall, but we felt a little lucky that the score was still tied.”
The reason for Colgate’s goose egg lay squarely on the shoulders of McKenna. The junior goaltender showed good movement and patience, making save after save, including two in a row on Raider Kyle Doyle.
“Part of our not finishing chances was the result of saves being made,” said Colgate head coach Stan Moore. “We’d be foolish not to give consideration to the game McKenna played for St. Lawrence. I thought he played quite well.”
Given a breath of life from their backstop, the Saints responded in the third. St. Lawrence outshot the home team 15-7 in the final frame and returned to the style of play that earned it the playoff sweep one weekend ago.
“They had more momentum,” said Moore. “They did really well on their forecheck and we got turned around. We tried to hurry at times to get it out of the zone and we ended up getting beat.”
Just over 13 minutes into the final period, the Saints’ hard work paid off. Glenn stole a puck in his own zone and sprang Max Taylor and Josh Anderson on a two-on-one rush. Noting that the Raiders seemed to be behind the play, Glenn hustled to trail the two forwards.
Anderson dropped the puck back to Glenn, whose return pass took Silverthorn out of the equation and provided Anderson with an open-net goal. The tally was the first in 30 games for the Saints captain, and his first since scoring the team’s first goal of the entire season.
“It’s great for Josh to get one,” said McKenna. “He’s been snakebitten a little bit. But the kid works harder than anyone I’ve ever seen. He’s a great captain for us.”
The Raiders had chances in the third period, including a breakaway by senior Paul Kelley. But McKenna stood up to every test, and blanked Kelley’s chance to preserve the victory. The breakaway was nothing new to the junior, and actually allowed him to stay cool under the pressure.
“I’ve seen a million of them this year, so it wasn’t a big deal,” he joked.
The 2-1 final represented another odd coincidence. Last season St. Lawrence outlasted Colgate 2-1 in the first game of their ECAC first-round series at Starr Rink, only to drop the next two games to the Raiders. The Saints are determined not to let history repeat.
“We definitely don’t want to let that happen again,” said Glenn. “We want to take advantage of the situation that we’re in right now. Hopefully we’ll get it done in two games.”
Meanwhile, Colgate hopes that a similar effort on Saturday night will put it back on the winning track. The Raiders must win two straight games against St. Lawrence, or else their season will end short of Albany.
“There won’t be a whole lot more that we change,” said Moore. “We’ll stick around their net like we attempted to do tonight and try to look for the second and third opportunities. We’ll have to keep our grit factor up and make sure we stay in there and hang tough.”