POTSDAM, N.Y. — It started off as a bizarre night. It ended with Union’s home-ice playoff hopes fading away.
Ninth-ranked Clarkson got a fluke goal early in the game, goalie David Leggio stopped a penalty shot and the Dutchmen hung goalie Justin Mrazek out to dry too many times in a 6-2 ECACHL loss Friday at Cheel Arena.
While the victory clinched a first-round ECACHL tournament bye for the second-place Golden Knights (12-4-3 ECACHL, 20-7-4 overall), the 11th-place Dutchmen (6-12-1, 13-15-2) look like they will open the first round of the playoffs on the road. They are four points behind Colgate and Harvard, who are tied for seventh.
With three games left in the season, the Dutchmen need to win their remaining games and hope Colgate and Harvard lose theirs to have a shot at home ice for the fifth straight year. A loss to league-leading St. Lawrence tonight will eliminate the Dutchmen from home ice.
“We’ve still got three left,” defenseman Lane Caffaro said. “If we can take all three, we’ll definitely be in there. If we don’t play well these last three, we’ll probably be on the road, which is fine.”
The series of strange events began when referee Alex Dell was set to call an elbowing penalty on Clarkson’s Jeremiah Crowe. Dutchmen defenseman Michael Beynon had he puck in the slot was about to head up the ice while Union goalie Justin Mrazek skated to the bench for an extra attacker.
As Beynon tried to maneuver the puck, Chris D’Alvise slashed Beynon’s stick. That caused Beynon to backhand the puck into his open net 2:47 into the contest.
“My brain shut down,” said Beynon, who, two seasons ago at Cheel, was penalized for shooting the puck after the first period expired, which led to a Clarkson power-play goal.
Union coach Nate Leaman had never seen a play like that before.
“We have to be stronger on our stick,” Leaman said. “We have to be responsible for that.”
Less than five minutes later, Union forward Jason Walters was pulled down on a breakaway by Max Kolu. Walters was awarded a penalty shot. He tried to beat Leggio with a wrist shot between the pads, but Leggio stopped it.
Shortly after that, Union then killed off a two-man two-minute short-handed situation, but then gave up a power-play goal to South Glens Falls native Shawn Weller with 5:50 left in the first. The Dutchmen got that one back on Matt Cook’s power-play tally with 1:59 remaining.
The Dutchmen stood around watching the Knights score goals in the second period. Mrazek couldn’t do anything to prevent one-timer goals by Mike Sullivan and Nick Dodge 57 seconds apart early in the period because no Union player helped out.
When D’Alvise scored his second goal of the game with 2:41 left in the second, three Dutchmen had a nice view of D’Alvise skating to the net and depositing a backhander past Mrazek.
David Cayer, who had three assists, converted a two-on-one for the game’s final goal late in the third period.
“I felt we lost composure defensively a lot,” Leaman said. “A little bit is our youth, but a lot of it playing a good team, [and] they made us pay. They did an excellent job converting on their chances. We had four two-on-ones in the first period, and we didn’t convert on one of them. They scored three goals on two-on-ones.”
Clarkson coach George Roll was pleased with his offense, but not the defense.
“I thought we very good offensively. I didn’t think we were good defensively,” Roll said. “I thought the difference in the game is we finished on our chances, and they didn’t.”
Ken Schott covers college hockey for The Daily Gazette in Schenectady, N.Y.