PRINCETON, N.J. — A senior forward playing in his final home game made it a memorable finale for himself and eight classmates as Princeton defeated Brown, 4-3, in the deciding contest of their best-of-three ECACHL first-round playoff series before 1,002 fans at Hobey Baker Rink on Sunday evening.
Princeton senior wing Grant Goeckner-Zoeller both set up the game-tying goal and then tallied the game-winning marker in the third period in his last-ever home appearance, as the Tigers rebounded from a one-goal deficit after two periods of play to win their first conference playoff series since besting Cornell here back in 1999.
“It was certainly a big way to leave Baker Rink,” said Goeckner-Zoeller. “We’ve been so good in close games this year, and with the improvements we’ve made, I knew we’d find a way to battle it out.”
11th-seeded Brown (11-15-6) triumphed, 4-3, in the opener on Friday, while sixth-seeded Princeton (15-14-3) responded with a 2-1 win on Saturday, with both of those games going to overtime. Princeton, which has won six of its last eight outings, now advances to the best-of-three ECACHL quarterfinal round on March 9-11 at third-seeded Dartmouth, which had a bye this weekend.
“I thought it was a great hockey game,” said Princeton head coach Guy Gadowsky, who celebrated his 100th career collegiate victory the previous night. “We were fortunate to come out on top, but both teams deserved to win.
“You don’t win a series like this by luck,” he added. “We showed character, especially our seniors, and they should feel good. It was just hard, tough hockey.”
“I thought we played hard and gave ourselves a chance,” said Brown head coach Roger Grillo after his team’s season came to an end. “We made a couple of mistakes in the third that put us in a bad spot.”
Princeton went 1-for-6 on the power play in the clincher, while Brown went 1-for-9 with the man-advantage and also outshot the Tigers, 35-31. Freshman goaltender Dan Rosen made 27 saves for the visiting Bears, including 13 in the first period, while senior B.J. Sklapsky made 32 stops for the Tigers, including 12 in each of the last two periods, in recording his third straight victory in what was his final home game.
Brown had the first solid offensive opportunity of the game with just over nine minutes left in the opening period. Senior wing Brian Ihnacak was tuned aside by Sklapsky on a backhand try in front, and freshman center Devin Timberlake was knocked down before he could get to the rebound. The host Tigers then had a close-in chance of their own with seven minutes left as the puck bounded off the end boards in the Brown end and came in front to Princeton junior center Landis Stankievech, forcing Rosen to make a close-in save.
For the second straight night, Princeton took a 1-0 lead, this time on a goal from senior defenseman Daryl Marcoux. The Tigers set up in the Brown zone and freshman wing Dan Bartlett sent a pass from the left side over to Marcoux in the right circle. Backing up on one foot, Marcoux wristed a shot past Rosen at 18:24 to put the Tigers on top. Keith Shattenkirk also assisted on the play for Princeton, his first point of the season.
The opening goal held up until the 6:06 mark of the second period when junior wing Chris Poli passed across to freshman Aaron Volpatti, who beat Sklapsky from the right hash marks to tie the game. Princeton, though, answered just 23 seconds later as Lee Jubinville scored his 10th of the year from the right edge of the crease, assisted by sophomore forward Brett Wilson and senior captain Darroll Powe. Not to be outdone, Volpatti again knotted affairs with his second goal of the game and fifth of the year, as he tipped home sophomore Matt Palmer’s shot from the left point at 9:46, with Poli picking up his second assist of the contest.
Princeton junior defenseman Mike Moore brought the crowd out of its seats with a heavy hit on Timberlake at center ice with 7:15 left that sent both players sprawling, but it was the visitors who took their first lead of the night less than two minutes later after Powe was sent off for hooking at 13:35. Sklapsky stopped a shot by Brown junior defenseman Sean Hurley, but the puck popped out to sophomore center Matt Vokes, who put it in at 14:39 for 10th of the year for the 3-2 lead, with the other assist going to rookie blueliner Jeremy Russell.
The Bears then carried most of the offensive play for the rest of the period. Junior wing Jeff Prough broke in on the left wing on a power play, only to hit the post with just under two minutes remaining, before Vokes was turned aside point-blank by Sklapsky less than a half-minute later, with the puck going up and over the net.
Brown picked up a minor penalty at the very end of the second period, and then another just 37 seconds into the final stanza for having too many men on the ice, and the Tigers took advantage with a 5-on-3 power-play goal at 1:31 to tie the game. Wilson sent the puck from the left corner behind the Brown net into the right corner for Goeckner-Zoeller, who slid it into the high slot where classmate Kevin Westgarth rocketed a shot under the crossbar for his eighth goal of the campaign.
Princeton then took back-to-back penalties, with the Bears coming up with several good chances on a goaltender interference infraction charged to Powe at 3:58. Ihnacak hit the post on a wrister from the left circle and Poli was stopped point-blank by Sklapsky, who then came up with a glove save on a shot from the right circle moments later by junior wing Brian McNary.
Princeton regained the lead for good at 7:22 as freshman center Mark Magnowski took a feed from Marcoux, broke into the Brown zone on the right wing, and sent a pass across the slot to Goeckner-Zoeller, who connected from the left circle for his eighth goal of the year and a 4-3 lead. The goal also pushed him into a ninth-place tie with Ed Lee (1981-84) on the all-time Princeton scoring scroll with 106 career points.
“I was so excited (on the goal) that I didn’t know what to do,” said Goeckner-Zoeller. “It was nice to get it … They’re a good team and they played well.”
The Los Angeles native then just missed on a wrist shot from outside the circle just before Magnowski was whistled for holding the stick at 9:02, but the Tigers managed to kill off the penalty. The teams went back-and-forth down the stretch, and Brown was down to its last chances when, with 1:32 left, senior wing Antonin Roux powered in from the left side and tried to jam home a shot, but was instead penalized for contact to the head of Sklapsky just before Prough was tagged with a 10-minute misconduct. The Bears pulled Rosen for an extra attacker with a minute remaining in regulation but couldn’t come up with the equalizer, as Princeton missed several attempts at the empty net.
Afterwards Grillo looked ahead to the future as the present season came to a close.
“Obviously we’re on the younger side,” he said of a team that dressed nine freshmen and/or sophomores Sunday night. “We need to get better and mature and improve. Hopefully our young guys have now learned about the league and the playoffs, and we can build upon that next year.”
He also praised his three-man senior class, who played in their final games for Brown on Sunday.
“Those three were awesome,” admitted Grillo. “Ihnacak came up big this weekend, and Roux and Sean Dersch have been unbelievable captains, role models and human beings. We’ll miss those three a lot.”
For Princeton, it’s now on to Hanover, but not just yet.
“We’ll take a day and regroup, and just enjoy this,” said Gadowsky.
The Tigers posted a 3-0 win and a 3-3 tie against Dartmouth during the regular season and have won five of their last six meetings with the Big Green, a trend they hope to continue in this post-season.
“We’ve had some regular season success, but in the playoffs everyone is giving their best and the checking is tight,” said Goeckner-Zoeller. “Hopefully we can go in there and get some wins.”