PRINCETON, N.J. — For the first time in nearly a decade, Princeton University is headed to the ECAC Championships.
The second-seeded Tigers advanced to the league semifinals on Friday at the Times Union Center in Albany after recording a 4-0 victory over seventh-seed Yale University Sunday tonight in the deciding game of their best-of-three ECAC quarterfinal series in front of 1,234 at Hobey Baker Memorial Rink.
Princeton (19-13-0) took the opener on Friday by a 3-0 count, while Yale (16-14-4) rebounded for a 4-3 win last night.
Tonight’s victory also marked the first time Princeton has garnered an ECAC semifinal berth since 1999, when the league championships were held at Lake Placid. The Tigers won the ECAC title and garnered their only NCAA tournament berth there in 1998.
“Yesterday you saw one desperate team, and tonight you saw two,” said Princeton coach Guy Gadowsky. “We got scoring tonight from several different places, and it helped our cause.”
Princeton sophomore goaltender Zane Kalemba recorded his second shutout of the series and fourth whitewash of the season, making 31 saves as he improved to 17-10 on the year. Yale sophomore netminder Billy Blase recorded 28 stops in finishing the season at 13-8-4. Princeton outshot Yale, 32-31, and converted one of six power-play tries, while the Bulldogs went scoreless in their five man-advantage attempts.
“We have a good team, and we were confident going into this game,” said Princeton senior captain Mike Moore, who played in his final home game at Baker Rink.
The host Tigers struck just five seconds into their first power play of the evening to open the scoring for the third time in the series. After Yale’s Jeff Anderson was sent off for boarding at 3:22, Princeton defenseman Taylor Fedun fired a puck from the left side that was stopped by Blase, but dropped just outside his crease. Princeton junior Brett Wilson twisted to his left and managed to chip the rebound into the half-empty net while falling down for a 1-0 lead at 3:27. It was Wilson’s team-leading 14th goal of the campaign, and the Tigers’ fourth power-play score of the series.
“If you keep giving up soft goals early on, it’s just too much to ask the guys to come back from,” said Yale coach Keith Allain.
The Tigers made it 2-0 for the third consecutive night when sophomore Mark Magnowski raced down the left side with the puck and broke over the Yale blue line with classmate Cam MacIntyre on the right wing. Magnowski went wide in the left circle as a Yale defender sprawled to cut him off, and then sent a pass across the low slot to MacIntyre, who redirected it inside the far post at 14:24 for his third goal in two games and 12th of the year. Matt Arhontas also assisted, as he pushed his personal point streak to three games.
Yale winger Denny Kearney took an interference penalty early in the second period, and Blase managed to turn aside back-to-back chances at the left post by MacIntyre before Brendan Mason took the puck back the other way for the Bulldogs. Mason got past Moore at the Tigers blue line for a semi-breakaway and managed to get off a shot in close despite being held by Moore, but Kalemba made the pad save.
“Zane’s mental strength just amazes me,” said Gadowsky. “He played great. He’s a killer competitor and a very strong mental athlete.”
Just before the halfway point of regulation, Yale’s Broc Little came up with a bouncing puck at the Bulldogs’ blue line and raced away with several Princeton players in pursuit. Little skated right up to the Princeton crease for a point-blank try, despite being dogged from behind, but Kalemba again made the stop for the Tigers. Blase equaled that feat at the other end when he denied Keith Shattenkirk’s one-timer on the doorstep with 6:47 left in the second stanza.
The Tigers increased their lead with 3:34 remaining in the middle session when Kevin Kaiser sent a pass from the right circle into the high slot to a partially-covered Brandon Kushniruk, whose half-swing beat Blase on the glove side.
Princeton then used a shorthanded goal early in the final period to close out the scoring and the series, after Shattenkirk had been sent off for interference at 4:18. Moore banged the puck off the right wing boards and out of the Princeton zone while killing the penalty, but the disk glanced off the leg of Yale defender Mike Matczak and to a waiting Arhontas at center ice. The freshman winger skated in all alone and shelved a shot on Blase’s glove side at 5:41 for his eighth goal of the season and third in the three games this weekend.
“Matt does things that help us win hockey games,” said Gadowsky. “He scored a huge goal and a beautiful shorthander, and he’s a talented guy”
Moore extended his point-scoring streak to five games with the lone assist on the play, and has tallied three goals and two assists in that span.
“I give Mike a lot of credit,” said Gadowsky. “He did a tremendous job this year getting our young defensemen ready.”
The teams exchanged power plays down the stretch until the final horn sounded, concluding Yale’s season, securing Kalemba’s shutout, and sending Princeton on to Albany against eighth-seeded Colgate, which upset top-seeded Clarkson.
“A series like this does two things,” said Allain. “It’s a lot of experience for our younger players, and it also exposes weaknesses that we as a coaching staff can learn from. Our senior class also did a great job in providing leadership, and was one reason a lot of our young players contributed and were integrated so successfully.”
Gadowsky’s team will play on next weekend, but he and his staff didn’t have to lecture their squad on the importance of tonight’s contest after the Tigers failed to close out the series last night.
“All year when we’ve had small setbacks, the quality of the guys in that (locker) room have straightened us out,” he said. “No, we didn’t have to say much at all.”
“Every since Coach Gadowsky came here, there’s been a phenomenal turnaround,” said Moore of the Princeton hockey program as a whole. “It’s a completely new mentality, and we never accept anything but success. The program has grown, and it’s just been an incredible journey.”