ALBANY, N.Y. — Was it Mike Willemsen’s nifty goal with nary four minutes to play in the second period, giving Clarkson a 3-1 lead, that put upstart Dartmouth to rest?
Oh, no, it was actually Chris D’Alvise’s deke at 5:05 of the third, to put the Knights up 4-2, that actually sealed it.
The Big Green were big trouble for the second-seeded — but popularly-favored — Golden Knights, as the Ivy skaters pulled even despite the pair of third-period two-goal deficits. Not until junior Steve Zalewski roofed a breakaway shot over Mike Devine’s blocker with 41 seconds remaining was the scoreboard set for good.
“It was a great college hockey game,” said Dartmouth head coach Bob Gaudet. “It was a slugfest. It went back and forth; they got the last shot, and they won.”
Clarkson’s George Roll may as well have been reading from the same script.
“Great college hockey game. It seemed like the last guy to get a shot was gonna win it in the third.”
The 5-4 victory vaulted Clarkson into the ECACHL championship game for the first time since March 2004. Dartmouth was again denied a shot at its first league tournament title.
The five-goal glut in the final frame seemed out of place in retrospect, as only four goals were scored in the first 40 minutes of play. The teams played evenly to open the game, with neither side gaining a distinct advantage.
Clarkson rang Devine’s post with 13 minutes on the board, and again on the power play six minutes later. Frustrated but not finished, the Knights saw the red light rather than settling for just seeing red.
On the first power play of the game, Shawn Weller collected a lively rebound off his own initial shot, and roofed it from close range just underneath the crossbar. The goal judge was on Weller’s side, but referee Peter Feola wasn’t so sure. The brief replay powwow confirmed the judge’s observations, and the Clarkson offense was off and running.
With 4:06 left in the first and again on the man-advantage, Weller again had a beauty of an opportunity. Receiving a straight feed across the crease, Weller uncorked a textbook one-timer, but Devine’s left pad was there to meet it.
The Golden Knights took their first penalty — one of only three on the evening — with three minutes to go, but even the penalty-kill unit seemed to dominate the Green.
On the advantage again two minutes into the second, Clarkson displayed one of a game full of brilliant offensive setups, rattling Devine right off the drop. The transition game and possession-offense were spotty despite their occasional genius, and Dartmouth tied the tilt at 8:48 of the second on a low line drive by Rob Pritchard, who fired it low to David Leggio’s left from the high slot.
Clarkson regained the lead only 38 seconds later, as a Nick Dodge shot bounced off Devine and around a crowded crease, eventually to be deposited by a Dartmouth skate. Only a few seconds after that, Clarkson’s Tim Marks nearly dangled his way around Devine, but couldn’t finish.
Knight defender Michael Grenzy separated Hobey Baker finalist David Jones from the puck, and nearly his skates with a crushing hit in open ice with five minutes to go. The proceeding play eventually resulted in another Clarkson goal, as Dan Tuttle put a pass on Willemsen’s stick in the low slot with four minutes and change on the clock. Willemsen ignored the Green defense on his back, and somehow slid the puck underneath a prostrate Devine for the two-goal lead.
However, Dartmouth wasn’t going to give up so easily. The Green made it 3-2 three and a half minutes into the third, as senior defenseman Grant Lewis floated a forgettable 25-foot shot on net from the right-wing circle. The disk eluded Leggio, and gave Dartmouth new life.
Not quite a minute and a half later, Clarkson turned the heat way up as Chris D’Alvise received a Shea Guthrie pass in the Dartmouth slot. Moving from Devine’s left to his right, the sophomore forward deked to his backhand, and the right-handed shot then pulled the puck back behind the committed goaltender to wrap it in.
T.J. Galiardi kept the goals coming at the 6:16 mark of the third, whipping a wrister over Leggio’s glove from low on the right wing circle.
As though by United Nations ceasefire, the teams held their ground for the following 12 minutes of game time until Dartmouth looked to send the game to overtime.
J.T. Wyman took a Kevin Swallow feed low to Leggio’s left, and put a seeing-eye shot into the twine to knot the game at 4.
But before the Green Gathering in the Times-Union Center stands could sit down again, Zalewski put a Golden dagger through the Ivy’s heart. Taking a pass from Weller, Zalewski flew down the left wing. Despite being hampered by desperate Dartmouth defenders, the 33-point scorer notched his 16th of the year with a wrister over Devine’s blocker.
“It’s not easy,” Gaudet said of the loss.
The Green put their NCAA at-large hopes on the line against regular-season champ St. Lawrence Saturday afternoon. The Big Green were 0-2-0 against the Saints this season.
“We get to put the jersey on tomorrow,” said Dartmouth captain Tanner Glass. “We’re proud of our school, and we’re proud of our team.”
Clarkson looks forward to Quinnipiac, 4-0 victors over SLU in the early game.
“If we come back with that kind of game tomorrow night, it’s going to be another great game,” said Roll.
The Knights split the season series with the Bobcats, with each team winning on the road. Clarkson is playing for its first ECACHL tourney title since 1998-99, and for the best possible seed in the NCAA tournament. The team was tied for third in the PairWise at press time.