SCHENECTADY, N.Y. — When Dartmouth trailed St. Lawrence 1-0 after two periods despite holding a 26-10 shot advantage, Big Green coach Mark Hudak couldn’t help feeling a bit of dj vu, and it wasn’t a good feeling. The day’s script seemed like a rerun. As in 2004, Harvard had won the first semifinal 2-1 in overtime, and Dartmouth was struggling against a hot St. Lawrence goaltender.
But in another sense, Hudak knew this year would be different because of the confidence of this year’s team and the quality of the leadership. In the third period, No. 4 Dartmouth (26-5-0) came back to take a 2-1 lead, St. Lawrence (26-7-5) answered, and Dartmouth answered back again for a 4-2 victory.
St. Lawrence junior goalie Jessica Moffat stopped 37 of 40 shots, but she never saw the game’s most critical shot from Dartmouth’s Cherie Piper on the power play, because linemate Meagan Walton was providing the screen. Piper’s goal broke a 2-2 tie with 3:07 left, and Tiffany Hagge added the empty-net clincher at the end.
“It was just a lot of traffic in front of the net,” Piper said. “What we try to do on our power play is get a lot of people going to the net and a lot of shots to the net.”
It was an undeserved ending for Moffat, who stopped breakaway after breakaway when Dartmouth was successful springing a forward up high. The Saints were fortunate to be up 1-0 after a period — the only goal came on a long shot from Christin Powers just as she skated into the offensive zone. St. Lawrence coach Paul Flanagan admitted the team might have relied on Moffat too much.
“Obviously Jess played a great game, from the beginning even when there were screens she seemed to be seeing the puck well,” Flanagan said. “She gave us a lot of confidence back there, but at the same time we realized we needed to generate more at the other end.”
Walton failed on two breakaways in the first two periods, but she became the first Big Green player to turn the tables at 3:48 of the third period when she one-timed a pass in front by Tiffany Hagge from behind the net to tie the score 1-1. Walton has been playing with a broken finger for the past month, but she has had plenty of adrenaline to block out the distraction.
“It’s kind of like a monkey off my back,” Walton said. “I didn’t want those two breakaways to come back and haunt me. We were getting a lot of shots on her and we knew if we kept plugging away we’d get one eventually.”
Five minutes later, sophomore Caroline Ethier batted down a loose puck in mid-air for a 2-1 lead. The goal was all the more remarkable because Ethier was only two weeks removed from a knee injury against Brown.
“She worked really hard to rehab and not get out of shape,” Hudak said. “She does have a nice set of hands, so she can find the puck in the air and put it in.
The Saints’ second-leading scorer Emilie Berlinguette nearly singlehandedly tied the game on another quick St. Lawrence shot after entering the offensive zone, but the list of offensive highlights for the Saints proved far to short. Flanagan noted that Berlinguette could only do so much because she was playing hurt.
“They’re a physical team, they have size and strength and they used it tonight,” Flanagan said of the matchup with Dartmouth. “We’re relying on six forwards to do it a lot, and I think it was a mismatch physicallyWhen you combine skill with a lot of physical presence it’s pretty tough on your D.”
The Saints’ most glaring failure was on special teams — a reoccurring pattern throughout the season. The penalty kill was a respectable 6-of-7, but the game-winner for Dartmouth came on the power play. The St. Lawrence power play was an atrocious 0-for-8, including three failures to score on 5-on-3s. The Saints not only failed to score, they failed to pressure Dartmouth sophomore goalie Christine Capuano with any regularity.
“Our team has prided ourselves on our hard work, and the PK exemplifies that,” said Dartmouth junior forward Tiffany Hagge. “We wanted to be aggressive and not overcommit, and we really forced them. We wanted to control what they were doing as much as possible.”
For all their recent success, the Saints have just one ECACHL final appearance in the last five years last season’s 6-1 loss to Harvard. St. Lawrence has tended to peak at NCAAs, and Sunday the team is expected to make its third NCAA tournament in the event’s five-year history.
“We were out of sync a little bit, and that was most evident on the 5-on-3s,” Flanagan said. “We just didn’t have it in critical situations tonight. I can’t pinpoint why. Our preparedness wasn’t what we wanted both physically and mentally. Hopefully we get a chance next week to redeem ourselves.”
Dartmouth moves on to the ECACHL final against Harvard. The Crimson swept Dartmouth during the regular season, but the Big Green won the last four head-to-head tournament meetings from 2000 to 2003.