ALBANY, N.Y. — St. Lawrence didn’t win the ECACHL tournament title, but it got a nice consolation prize.
The top-seeded Saints all but assured themselves of an at-large berth in the NCAA tournament by overcoming a pair of deficits and beating third-seeded Dartmouth, 5-3, in the ECACHL consolation game Saturday at the Times Union Center.
The 11th-ranked Saints (23-13-2), who lost to fifth-seeded Quinnipiac, 4-0, in Friday’s semifinal, were ranked 12th in the Pairwise Rankings entering the game.
“I understood that if we won, we’re in the tournament,” Saints coach Joe Marsh said. “That’s certainly what we were playing for. I think the big thing is that, to come out and play hard and get some good feelings back, and just hope that we can keep on playing.”
It looks like that will happen.
“Getting to the NCAAs is obviously huge,” Saints defenseman Drew Bagnall said. “The biggest thing, like Joe said, was that we live to play another game together. That’s what we’ve been preaching all year.”
But for a while, it looked like the Saints’ season was in jeopardy.
Nick Johnson scored with 24.4 seconds left in the first period to give the 14th-ranked Big Green (18-12-3) a 1-0 lead, and T.J. Galiardi got a power-play goal 2:05 into the second to make it 2-0. The Saints had given up six straight goals during the final four.
“We’ve been down a couple of goals in games before, but you can’t quit,” Saints forward Kyle Rank said. “If you want to quit, you shouldn’t be playing sports. Nobody on this team has quit all year.”
St. Lawrence bounced back. Kevin DeVirgilio tipped a Matt Generous shot past goalie Mike Devine at 6:47. Mike McKenzie tied it 46 seconds later to tie the score. “We were playing with desperation,” Marsh said. “All of a sudden, when we got that first goal, we started feeling better about ourselves, and maybe make more plays and not grip the stick quite so tight.”
J.T. Wyman regained the lead for Dartmouth with 9:56 left in the second when he one-timed a feed from Galiardi past goalie Alex Petizian. But 1:26 later, Jeremiah Cunningham ripped a wrist shot from the right circle past Devine to tie the score again.
“I thought we were running out of gas a little bit,” Dartmouth coach Bob Gaudet said. It’s a physical game, and there is a lot of emotion involved. I didn’t think we had that jump, that freshness as the game progressed.”
McKenzie got the game-winner with 8:33 left in the third period when he tipped Bagnall’s left-point shot past Devine. Max Taylor’s empty-net goal with 7.9 seconds left ended the game, but not the Saints’ season.
“Getting to play another weekend together is the biggest consolation prize you could ever ask for,” Bagnall said.
Ken Schott covers college hockey for The Daily Gazette in Schenectady, N.Y.