ALBANY, N.Y. — As the number-one seed in the ECAC tournament, Colgate expected to win on the final day in Albany. Just not in the early evening.
Colgate captain Rob Brown put an unsatisfying cap on the season in which he guided his program to a regular-season championship by teeing a seemingly-harmless shot from the right point that deflected off a Dartmouth defenseman into the net at 18:40 of the third period to snap a 2-2 tie and give the Raiders a victory in the ECAC Consolation game.
“This was a racehorse brand of hockey,” said Colgate coach Stan Moore. “I was really pleased with the way both teams played. We got the go-ahead goal and made it stick.”
Colgate made it stick through the good graces of a quick whistle by referee Scott Hansen. With 32 seconds left in the game, the Big Green’s Lee Stempniak put a rebound that had trickled through Colgate goaltender David Cann’s legs into the net to score the apparent equalizer. The goal was immediately waved off because Hansen believed Cann had the puck.
“I’m not even disagreeing with the call,” said Dartmouth coach Bob Gaudet. “But I’m caught between a rock and a hard place. I tell the kids it’s an important game, a playoff game and there’s no instant replay. There’s no one to watch the monitor when everyone can see it on the big monitor.”
Even if there was instant replay, this particular call was not reviewable.
The Big Green had already successfully tied the game once in the third period with some nice strategy by Gaudet. After Colgate took an ill-advised too-many-men penalty, he called a timeout with about 10 minutes left in regulation.
The Big Green man advantage clicked from the get-go, hitting a post early in the man advantage before Mike Ouellette walked out of the corner into traffic and stuffed the puck home past Colgate goale Sean Samuel.
Colgate went on top when Dave Thomas scored a beautiful breakaway goal at 14:42 of the second period. The teams traded goals in the first period with sophomore center Max Guimond scoring his second goal of the season at 8:57. Junior Darryl McKinnon responded for the Raiders on the power play at 12:14 off an assist from assistant captain Adam Mitchell.
There was one scary moment late in the first period when Colgate freshman Marc Fulton drilled a prone Dartmouth player along the boards in the back of the head. Fulton received a five-minute major and a game misconduct. The Big Green failed to convert on the power play.
Both teams played their backup goaltenders. Cann made 35 saves for Dartmouth in his final college game. Samuel stopped 29.
“It’s been the best four years of my life,” Cann said. “I’ve gotten the best deals ever. I was able to keep playing hockey and get one of the best educations in the country.”
Despite faltering in the playoffs, Colgate had a stunningly good season, finishing in first place with a 21-12-5 record. Before the year, the Raiders announced that their longtime coach, Don Vaughan, would spend the year as the school’s interim athletic director, handing the job to top assistant Stan Moore.
Moore united what appeared to be a mediocre squad, predicted to finish eighth in preseason polls, and carried them to the Cleary Cup.
A number of players emerged on this year’s squad. Sophomore forward Jon Smyth led the ECAC in scoring with 21 goals and 21 assists, picking up First Team All ECAC honors and the Best Defensive Forward award. Captain Rob Brown was named Second Team All-ECAC as a defenseman. Junior goaltender Steve Silverthorn, who had a magnificent second half, posted a 1.82 goals against average and a .927 save percentage.
For his efforts, Moore was named the ECAC Coach of the Year.
“The first three years we didn’t play so well,” Brown said. “We didn’t necessarily plan to finish in first this year. We have a great bunch of guys. Win or lose, we are always having fun.”
The Raiders now face an uncertain offseason because in addition to the usual turmoil of graduating top players like Brown and Kyle Doyle, who had 28 points, Vaughan will resume his head coaching duties. Moore has shown enormous loyalty to the program, leaving the top spot at Union where he had won Coach of the Year to become Vaughan’s assistant.
However, it seems improbable that he can go from being the top coach in the conference to the number-two man on the same team.
For the Big Green, this tale has been written before. Blessed with perhaps the most fearsome top line in the league of Hugh Jessiman, Mike Ouellette, and Lee Stempniak, the Big Green came up empty in the Albany/Lake Placid portion of the ECAC tournament for the third straight year. That trio combined for 47 goals and 47 assists this year.
Moreover, junior goaltender Dan Yacey emerged as a potentially elite goaltender, proving his mettle in the second round of the playoffs against RPI. After the Engineers upset the Big Green in the first game, Yacey did not allow another goal the rest of the way, including winning a 1-0 duel with goaltender Nathan Marsters in Game 3.
The good news for Dartmouth is that the team’s only scheduled significant loss is captain Brian Van Abel, a tough defenseman who presided over a blueline that started two sophomores and three freshmen. However, it has been widely speculated that Jessiman, a former first round pick, may sign with the New York Rangers this year.
“Our guys have worked hard to get back [to Albany],” Gaudet said. “I think the urgency of it is not lost on the players. I think what they did down the stretch is they played really hard because it’s not like the younger guys can say they are going to be here again.”