SCHENECTADY, N.Y. — Union was cruising along with a 4-0 lead against Princeton, and it appeared the Dutchmen were on their way to an easy victory.
But then they learned a hard lesson that nothing ever comes easy.
The No. 19 Tigers rallied for three extra-attacker goals, including one that was awarded after the final buzzer sounded. But the Dutchmen managed to hold on for a 4-3 ECAC Hockey win Friday at Messa Rink.
“We got away from our game plan a little bit,” said Union goalie Justin Mrazek, who made 27 saves. “We were successful dumping [the puck] in and forechecking. We got away from that with a couple turnovers. They got a few bounces. They earned it. They wanted to battle back. They made some great plays.”
The victory moved the Dutchmen (7-4-2 ECACH, 12-9-3 overall) into a fourth place tie with Princeton and Yale. Union is a point in back of Quinnipiac, which is tied for second with Cornell. The Dutchmen face Quinnipiac tonight at 7 p.m. at Messa.
The Dutchmen jumped out to a 3-0 lead on goals by Mario Valery-Trabucco, Matt Cook and Torren Delforte in the first 8:13 of the game. They had a 10-1 shot advantage at that point, and Princeton coach Guy Gadowsky called a timeout to settle his team down.
Stephane Boileau’s power-play goal midway through the second period made it 4-0.
“It’s foreign territory when we get up, 4-0,” Union coach Nate Leaman said.
Then, while on the power play late in the period, Gadowsky replaced starting goalie Zane Kalemba with backup Thomas Sychterz. The Tigers didn’t score on the power play, and the game seemed well in hand for Union.
“Anytime you see a goaltending change, you want to get shots on him as soon as you can because he’s cold,” Cook said. “Sometimes, when you say to yourself, ‘I want to get shots,’ it’s the hardest thing to do.”
Union got just two shots on Sychterz. But it didn’t seem to matter much, because the Tigers (8-5, 11-9) weren’t getting any pucks past Mrazek.
But the momentum changed when Union’s Brendan Milnamow got a roughing penalty with 8:40 left. Sixty-one seconds into the power play, Sychterz was pulled for an extra attacker, giving the Tigers a two-man edge. It worked. Mike Kramer scored with 7:02 to go, ending Union’s streak of 24 straight penalty kills.
Sychterz came out again with 6:04 left. Just under a minute later, Taylor Fedun’s backhander from the high slot found its way past Mrazek.
Sychterz came out one last time with 3:15 left. As time was winding down, Brett Wilson fired a shot from the left circle past goalie Justin Mrazek, but it appeared to hit the post and came right back out. The goal judge didn’t turn the light on, and time expired.
But as Union was celebrating, assistant referee Stephen Shufelt told referee Dan Murphy that Wilson’s shot went in, and the goal was awarded. The clock was reset to 10.8 seconds.
“The linesmen witnessed the puck go in the net,” Murphy said in a statement. “The goal judge did not see it. I didn’t see it.”
The Dutchmen were stunned.
“I originally thought it was in, but the play kept going, so we kept going,” Mrazek said. “I’ve never seen that before, [having a goal] awarded after the game and come back and play for 10 seconds.”
The Tigers had one last shot with 2.5 seconds left, but couldn’t get the tying goal. That allowed Leaman to relax a little bit.
“We kind of got up there, we were playing well and we lost our desperation,” Leaman said. “Princeton does not quit. They’re a well-coached team. They have really good forwards. We lost our desperation, and I thought ‘Magic’ made some great saves.
“It’s a step our team has to take. Part of it is maturity in getting the guys used to winning a lot. The right things were said by the guys in the locker room after the game. Hopefully, we can learn from this experience.”
Ken Schott covers college hockey for the The Daily Gazette in Schenectady, N.Y.