SCHENECTADY, N.Y. — With all the struggles the Union offense has gone through over the last three months, the last thing the Dutchmen would have been happy about Saturday was getting shut out by Princeton.
But, in a twisted way, not scoring against the Tigers in the final game of the regular season proved to be just fine because, for the third straight year, the Dutchmen will be home next weekend for the first round of the ECACHL tournament.
The Dutchmen clinched the final home-ice berth by skating to a 0-0 tie with the Tigers at Messa Rink.
Union (12-20-2, 8-13-1 ECAC) earned eighth place by one point over Clarkson, which dropped a 3-0 decision to Cornell. The Dutchmen went 1-0-1 over the weekend, while the Golden Knights were 0-1-1.
“The main goal coming into the weekend was, obviously, home ice,” Union forward Scott Seney said. “We got shut out, but we can take so many positives from the way we played tonight. A couple of bounces the other way, we could have had five or six. But we’re happy with the way the weekend turned out. We’re excited to play Clarkson.”
For the second straight year, the Dutchmen will host the Knights in the opening round. Despite having home ice last year, Union was swept by Clarkson by scores of 8-3 and 5-2.
Game 1 of the best-of-three series will be played Friday, with Game 2 on Saturday and, if necessary, Game 3 on Sunday. All games will start at 7 p.m.
Meanwhile, the 11th-place Tigers (8-18-3, 6-14-2) travel to St. Lawrence to face the seventh-place Saints next weekend.
Princeton goalie Eric Leroux made 38 saves, while Union freshman Justin Mrazek, making his first start since giving up three goals on four shots to Harvard Feb. 1, stopped 16 shots for his first career shutout.
“I haven’t had a shutout in about two years,” Mrazek said. “To get this one, it’s a great feeling. To have the defense we had tonight, it would have been a shame if we didn’t get the shutout.”
It is the Dutchmen’s first scoreless tie since Nov. 4, 1995, at Army. It is the first time, at the Division I level, that Union has played to a scoreless tie at home. It is Princeton’s first-ever scoreless tie in its 103-year history.
Union was shut out for the seventh time this season, and sixth in league play, which are team records. But no one is complaining.
“When you play a pretty solid defensive game like we did, [getting shut out] can be a good thing,” Union forward Jordan Webb said. “Obviously, we would have liked to had a couple goals on the board or a win. But a tie gets us home ice, and that’s what we wanted coming into this hockey game.”
Union turned up the pressure in the third period, outshooting Princeton, 18-5.
“We didn’t have our legs for the first two periods,” Union coach Nate Leaman said. “Then we turned it up in the third period. I was real happy to see that because we showed some urgency, and showed that we really wanted it.”
Seney, who had a hat trick at Princeton Nov. 19, had some excellent opportunities in the third. He fired five shots on goal, but Leroux stopped them all.
“He’s a big goalie, and he plays his angles very well,” Seney said. “Every time I was shooting at him, he was always square on me. You’ve got to give him some credit.
“But next week, those shots are going to go in.”
Ken Schott covers college hockey for The Daily Gazette in Schenectady, N.Y.