HAMILTON, N.Y. — A stifling Colgate defense smothered visiting Princeton and stretched the Raiders’ perfect record in games when allowing two goals or fewer to 10, as they bumped off the Tigers 4-2 in Starr Rink on Friday night.
11 of Colgate’s 15 games this season have been decided by a single goal or involved an empty-net tally, with the Raiders escaping with victories in eight such contests. The senior-laden lineup seems used to the grind of tight third periods and see-saw battles.
“We prepare the guys at the beginning of the year for this kind of game,” said Colgate coach Don Vaughan. “We don’t expect to blow anybody out. Every game is going to be a dogfight.”
Colgate (11-4-0, 4-1-0 ECACHL) surrendered only three shots to Princeton throughout the final frame, and continued to execute on the little things which kept the visitors on their heels.
“They are one of the best faceoff teams I’ve ever seen,” said Princeton coach Guy Gadowsky. “That played a big part in the game. If you win faceoffs in the offensive zone you force your opponent to always play defense, and that’s what happened tonight. Playing defense is tiring and tough.”
Princeton (4-6-1, 4-5-0) fought doggedly as well, refusing to allow Colgate to pull away. Raider tri-captain Adam Mitchell buried a wraparound past scrambling Tiger goalie B.J. Sklapsky less than four minutes into the contest, but Princeton goals leader Dustin Sproat calmly redirected a Seamus Young slapshot for a game-tying power-play tally six minutes later.
“Dustin’s been great,” said Gadowsky. “I haven’t seen everybody in this league, but I’d certainly put him up against any forward I’ve seen so far. He’s been tremendous both ways, not just offensively. He’s incredibly smart offensively and defensively.”
Once again, the Raiders jumped out to an early second-period lead thanks to Marc Fulton’s fifth power-play notch of the season. But Tiger defenseman Luc Paquin drew the score even again with a knuckling one-timer less than one minute into the final period.
“I have a lot of respect for the job they’ve done,” said Vaughan. “Obviously that team struggled last year. You’d never know it by the way they played.”
Paquin’s shot proved to be one of the last quality opportunities for Princeton, though, as Colgate gathered together to throttle the Tiger attack.
“The best thing that we have going for us is our team play,” said Raider forward Dmitry Yashin. “The team really comes together when it’s tough out there, and we play for each other. Coach tells us to play as hard as we can and we’ll come out on top, and that’s what happened today.”
Eight minutes into the third period, Yashin took advantage of his team’s gritty play and scored his first goal of the season, which proved to be the game-winner.
“Ben [Camper] was forechecking in the corner, and he came up with the puck and poked it out,” explained Yashin. “As soon as I got it I shot it high to the glove side just under the crossbar.”
Yashin’s strong board play, along with that of Camper and Liam Huculak, has earned his line more and more chances to play on a team loaded with depth at the forward position. The senior has skated in only seven games this season, but has refused to give up in his final year.
“That line may have been our best line last game, too,” said Vaughan. “We all know Dmitry can score. He can shoot the puck like a pro. I am so happy for him. He’s faced some adversity in his senior year, and he’s handled it like a mature adult. He’s worked hard and been patient, and he’s kept saying ‘When I get my chance, I’m going to make the best of it.’ He did tonight.”
Colgate tri-captain Dave Thomas iced the game with an empty-net goal in the final minute of the contest. The senior appeared to jump on to the ice and slap the puck towards the net before his teammate, who was subbing out for Thomas at the time, had reached the bench.
Said Gadowsky, “I saw six guys on the ice, but that doesn’t really matter now.”
Vaughan seemed unsure of the goal’s validity, and refrained from a definitive response.
“You know, it’s a tough call,” he said. “I didn’t really see it, actually, because there were a lot of guys standing up in front of me. I guess I probably can’t comment until I see it.”
Either way, Colgate’s two points vaulted it into a tie with Brown and Princeton for fourth in the league. The Raiders welcome last-place Yale Saturday night.
Meanwhile, Princeton faces the tough task of tackling Cornell on the road on Saturday. No ECACHL team has yet to take a point from the Colgate/Cornell road trip.
“We have to contain our frantic play in our defensive zone,” said Gadowsky. “If we do that we’ll give up less grade-A opportunities and hopefully generate some of our own.”