PRINCETON, N.J. — The roles were somewhat reversed Friday night at Hobey Baker Memorial Rink, as perennial ECACHL powerhouse St. Lawrence came in unranked against host Princeton University, ranked No. 18 in the nation. Just like last year though, it was the unranked team that came out ahead.
Senior winger Charlie Giffin scored a shorthanded goal with just 4:25 left to lift the visiting Saints (4-5 overall, 1-3 ECACHL) to a 4-3 victory over the host Tigers (3-1, 2-1 ECACHL) in the latters 2007-08 regular season home opener, and also hand Princeton its first defeat of the season.
“I just knew as soon as I got it that I was going to one-time it,” said Giffin, who added he didn’t get the puck far enough in front of him to try for a high shot off a 3-on-1 break into the Princeton zone on a five-minute major power play against the Saints.
“I tried to go five-hole and I got lucky,” he said about his fifth goal of the season.
Saints sophomore center Jeremiah Cunningham skated into the right circle of the Princeton end on the odd-man rush and then dished across the slot to Giffin, who fired the puck past Princeton sophomore goaltender Zane Kalemba as he tried to get across on what turned out to be the game-winning goal. Kalemba finished with 27 saves, while St. Lawrence senior netminder John Hallas picked up his second win of the season and second of his career with a 31-stop effort.
“Johnny did a great job,” said St. Lawrence coach Joe Marsh of Hallas, a Florida native and SLU graduate student. “He looked poised and he’s got some confidence now. He’s waited a long time for this, and the guys are happy for him.”
Marsh was also pleased with the effort of the rest of his team as they picked up their first conference win of the campaign with a little luck.
“We were very fortunate to get a win tonight,” said Marsh, now in his 23rd year behind the Saints bench. “We played desperate, especially with a man down, and we got a carom and converted. I’m proud of the way we responded, and we got a couple of big goals from our fourth line tonight.”
St. Lawrence jumped on top just 7:46 into the game on a goal by junior wing Kevin DeVirgilio, his third of the year, while the teams were skating four-on-four. DeVirgilio took a pass at the blue line from junior defenseman Matt Generous, raced down the slot, and stayed just ahead of a Princeton defender as he cut right and then fired the puck past Kalemba, who was sliding back into his net. Giffin picked up the second assist on the game-opening score.
Princeton responded with a power-play goal at 14:24, just 11 seconds after Saints’ freshman defenseman Matt Raley had been penalized for interference. The puck went back to Princeton senior captain Mike Moore at the left point, and his slapper was deflected in by sophomore wing Tyler Beachell for his second goal of the season and a 1-1 tie. Freshman wing Matt Arhontas earned his first career point with the other assist.
Princeton sophomore right wing and leading scorer Cam MacIntyre picked off a puck in the slot and had two close-in chances with 2:35 left before intermission, but was turned back twice by Hallas. St. Lawrence junior center Brock McBride then collected a loose disk in the left circle of the Princeton zone on the Saints’ next rush and wristed a shot just wide of the far post for the last good chance of the period.
The Saints regained the lead at 6:33 of the second session, shortly after an SLU power play had expired. This time it was freshman right wing Nick Pitsikoulis picking up the first goal of his collegiate career by clanging a shot off the post from outside the right circle and into the cage. The lone assist on the goal went to sophomore center Sean Flanagan.
A puck popped loose behind Hallas with 9:27 left in the period and was tapped in by a Princeton player, to cheers from the crowd, but that was well after an official’s whistle had put an end to the play. A minute later McBride outraced two Tiger defensemen to a loose puck that drifted back into the Princeton zone for a shorthanded breakaway. McBride deked right and went left, but Kalemba sprawled to the ice and kept the puck out with his right pad. The Saints had to weather two more Princeton power plays to end the period with the 2-1 lead, with Hallas stopping two strong shots by Princeton senior left wing Kyle Hagel in the final 20 seconds.
Magnowski had a chance on the doorstep just two-and-a-half minutes into the third stanza, but was denied by Hallas point-blank. MacIntyre then knotted affairs once again for the Tigers as he skated into the left circle and zipped a shot inside the far right post at 3:08 for his team-best sixth goal of the season, with Moore assisting.
The Saints looked to their freshmen class once more to get back on top at 6:28. A loose puck drifted from the left circle into the high slot for SLU rookie right wing Jared Keller, who pulled it in and fired it past Kalemba on the glove side for his first career college score and a 3-2 lead.
The host Tigers then rebounded a third time, this time off a rebound at 11:51. Moore’s shot from the right point was rejected by Hallas, who then stopped a second chance by Princeton sophomore center Dan Bartlett in front, but the puck was finally put away by junior right wing Brandan Kushniruk for his second score of the season.
The game swung on a special-teams situation, though not in the manner that might have been expected. McBride was banished for the night on a five-minute major and subsequent game misconduct for hitting from behind at 12:26, but his teammates held on behind Hallas and responded with Griffin’s shorthanded marker with just under four-and-a-half minutes left on the clock.
St. Lawrence then killed off the rest of the five-minute power play and didn’t allow Princeton to pull Kalemba for an extra attacker until only 29 seconds remained in regulation as they kept the puck deep in the Tigers’ defensive zone and thwarted several clearing attempts.
“I felt we were fighting uphill every step of the way,” said fourth-year Princeton head coach Guy Gadowsky following the game. “We tied it up and with the five-minute power play, I thought perhaps that was the only time we might have had the upper hand. Unfortunately, it didn’t go the way we planned.”
“They play like we do, and it’s a lot of fun to play them,” said Marsh of the Tigers. “I’m impressed with what Guy’s done here. They’re a tough team, and it’s a big win for us.”
“We’ve been playing well, and tonight we finally put it all together and got the two points,” said Giffin, who added the Saints again look to be a force in one-goal games like they were last year, when they won ten of eleven such outings.
The Saints will skate at Quinnipiac on Saturday evening, while the Tigers will entertain eighth-ranked Clarkson in a matinee contest. Princeton claimed both meetings with the Golden Knights last season, after being swept by Clarkson in 2005-06.
“The effort was there tonight, but we weren’t as sharp,” said Gadowsky on Friday. “I want to see us get our mental edge back.”