PRINCETON, N.J. — With just under two minutes to go, the tension in Hobey Baker Rink was thick. Colgate, which had been down 4-1, had fought back with its season on the line to tie No. 5 Princeton. With the pressure on, Tiger senior Sarah Butsch rose to the occasion and notched the 5-4 game-winner to propel Princeton into the ECACHL semifinals for the first time in three years.
Butsch has scored numerous clutch goals over her four years at Princeton, but perhaps none was as big as this one.
“Butschie’s been clutch her whole career, but this is the biggest one of her career and obviously came at the right time,” said Princeton coach Jeff Kampersal. “We were a little bit nervous of what was going to happen tomorrow if that was the case.”
The game-winning score started with sophomore Brittany Salmon digging the puck out of the corner and passing to junior Kim Pearce, who took a shot. Butsch fielded the rebound and fired it the lower left portion of the goal past Colgate goalie Brook Wheeler.
“I think everyone was up and down and full of nerves the entire game,” Butsch said. “Everyone knew that we needed to win this game. We didn’t want to play tomorrow.”
In contrast to the taut, mostly defensive battle in Game One Friday, Game Two was wide open and full of scoring, action, momentum swings, and controversy. Colgate (12-15-7) drew first blood on a power play when senior captain Becky Irvine found junior Ashley Johnston camped out in front of the net and hit her with a perfect pass. Johnston’s first shot was deflected by Tiger netminder Roxanne Gaudiel, who did the splits while making the save. She couldn’t contain the rebound, though, and Johnston was there to flip it over Gaudiel’s head.
Princeton (21-6-4) drew even when freshman Annie Greenwood, the team’s high scorer for the year with 25 goals, found an opening under Wheeler’s stick arm for a tying goal at 16:17 of the period.
In contrast to Friday’s game, in which all the scoring for Princeton came from a wing on its third line (freshman Christine Foster), in this game the points came from the Tigers’ big guns on their first and second lines. Their second goal came 1:35 into the second period from junior Kim Pearce, Ivy League Player of the Year and a Patty Kazmaier Award finalist, who fired a slap shot in from the slot. Pearce, clearly playing in pain, was an inspiration for the rest of her teammates.
“Pearce is a warrior,” Kampersal said. “She’s banged up, but for a while there she carried our team on her shoulders.”
Pearce’s goal kicked off a scoring explosion by Princeton that eventually produced a 4-1 lead just past the game’s halfway point. The next goal came from sophomore Marykate Oakley, who knocked in a rebound from close range. This was followed with a goal by sophomore Brittany Salmon between Wheeler’s legs.
A 4-1 lead seemed safe, but Colgate showed tremendous heart by battling back. They began in the second period with a power-play goal by sophomore Kara Leene, who deflected a shot by sophomore Mallory Johnston.
There was some controversy in the last three minutes of the period. Butsch hit a Colgate player from behind and into the boards. Initially there was no call, which prompted an animated response from Colgate coach Scott Wiley. The referees then huddled for a few minutes, and finally sent Butsch to the box. This was bad news for the Tigers, because they already were a player down. Then, just over a minute later, junior Laura Watt was the third Tiger sent to the box. Princeton, who struggled on the penalty kill all game, came up big and killed off all of the penalty time during that stretch.
“The rule is if you call a hit from behind along the boards, it’s an automatic five-minute penalty and a game misconduct,” Wiley said. Instead, Butsch received a two-minute minor. Ultimately the game was not decided by this contretemps.
In the dramatic third period, Colgate kept the pressure on the Tigers, who seemed to be reeling from the pressure. Red Raider senior Allison Paiano took advantage of some sloppy defensive play by the Tigers to score and make it 4-3 at 3:10 of the third period.
“We were up 4-2 and that was great, but once they got that goal to make it 4-3 we were back on our heels,” Butsch said.
“We had nothing to lose, we played our hearts out,” said Paiano. “I am so proud of our team.”
A pall fell over the home crowd just under three minutes later when a shot by Leene was partially stopped by Gaudiel, but she couldn’t hold it and watched helplessly as it trickled across the net.
“The one thing as a coach you want is for your kids to play sixty minutes and show some heart and not give up,” Wiley said. “We’re still a pretty young group. We don’t have a lot of real veterans besides our two seniors. I thought everyone played really well — scrappy, hard-working, really never gave up, which is what I can walk out of here proud of.”
For the next twelve minutes, both teams played tense, nervous hockey, likely knowing the next goal would likely decide the game. At 18:09 Butsch was up to her old tricks and Princeton had a ticket to Canton, N.Y. for the ECACHL semifinals.
“I think that this game is actually a blessing in disguise,” Kampersal said, “because it gave us a bit of a wake-up call and it’s good to play under that adversity and to stare it down and score with two minutes to go.”
For Princeton, this win was the 21st of the season, the most in program history. It is also the Tigers’ eighth win in a row, which ties a team record.
Princeton will next play Brown in the ECACHL semifinals on Saturday.