ALBANY, N.Y. — Saturday’s ECAC third-place game between Princeton and St. Lawrence was anything but a consolation matchup.
After both teams suffered heartbreaking losses in semifinal action, they had to pick themselves up and play for their playoff lives less than 24 hours later. The winner would probably cement itself in the NCAA tournament field; the loser’s season would almost surely be over.
St. Lawrence, which absolutely needed a win to advance its hopes for an NCAA at-large bid, defeated Princeton in a 3-2 shootout, but the shootout victory was a hollow one to claim third place in the ECAC tournament.
The game will be scored as a 2-2 tie on each team’s official record.
The “loss” left Princeton absolutely elated. It locked up an NCAA bid for the Tigers, which will make its second straight and first-ever at-large appearance in the tournament field.
“We’re still going and we don’t have to shave yet,” said Princeton goaltender and ECAC Player of the Year Zane Kalemba.
The “tie” was also Princeton’s first draw in 81 games.
“On the bench Keith Fisher said, ‘For our first one, it’s not a bad one.’ He’s right; it’s huge,” said Tiger coach Guy Gadowsky. “That tie is monstrous, although ironic, and it just feels great.”
The “win” was fool’s gold for the Saints.
“As tough as it is for us, I love this team,” said SLU coach Joe Marsh. “I’ve never wanted to win so bad for a group of kids in my life.”
“Obviously we’re disappointed that we don’t move on. The ECAC has three great representatives this year [in the NCAAs]; they were one through three in the season, and that’s the way that it’s played out here.”
“Yale didn’t exactly do the league any favors last night,” quipped Marsh. “We had a chance to get four teams in …”
It was not for lack of Saints’ effort that the game ended in the official overtime tie. St. Lawrence came back on two different occasions to erase two one-goal deficits.
After falling behind 1-0, SLU’s Matt Generous tied the game up at the midpoint of the first, blasting a slapper from the right point through traffic past Kalemba. Generous’ tally gave the Saints some life as they earned a power play just 30 seconds later when Sam Sabsky was sent to the box for slashing following sustained SLU pressure in the Tigers’ zone.
Trailing 2-1 in the third period, Derek Keller’s fallaway wrist shot from the high slot clanked off of the left post and fell just inside the right post to deadlock the game at 2-2.
Unfortunately for the Saints, the clock ran out on St. Lawrence. The Saints called timeout in the final minute of the extra period in a desperate attempt to secure a win, but Princeton won a key faceoff just outside the SLU zone and pinned Petizian and the Saints in their own end.
“We couldn’t get out of our end. They knew what they had to do. They are a tenacious team and they support the puck well. They put pressure on you, but they have guys behind in good defensive posture,” said Marsh.
The teams then played a shootout to decide third place, which was won by SLU.
“It would have been just as meaningful as Guy and me going to center ice and playing a round of Canasta; it’s absolutely preposterous,” said Marsh.
Dan Bartlett scored a pair of goals for the Tigers, including one of the power play. It was Princeton’s first power-play goal in 22 playoff attempts dating back to its playoff series against Union.
Bartlett opened the scoring at just 4:59 of the first period, picking up a rebound in the bottom of the right circle and firing a quick shot between Petizian’s pads for the 1-0 lead.
Then, with a five-on-three advantage that carried over into the second period for 1:47 on two St. Lawrence penalties in the final 13 seconds of the first, Bartlett notched his second of the night, making a power move from the bottom of the left circle through the office and beating Petizian over the shoulder to reclaim the lead at 1:16 of the second period.
“It’s unbelievable what Bartlett’s doing right now,” said Gadowsky. “It’s pretty darn entertaining. These aren’t tip-ins that he’s getting; each game he’s got a challenge to up himself and see if he can score a prettier goal.”
Despite Princeton reclaiming a 2-1 advantage, it was St. Lawrence that was dictating play later in the period. After a desperate clearing attempt that resulted in an icing call. Gadowsky was forced to call timeout to quell the momentum and rest his players who were not allowed to change.
“We got caught out long and not only the centerman but both wingers were very tired,” said Gadowsky. “I thought that if we lost the draw with them that tired that [SLU] would be at a huge advantage, so I didn’t want to take that chance.”
And Princeton didn’t take any chances late in the game or in the extra session, playing sound defensive hockey to secure its tournament bid.
“All we can think about after last night is what we had to do to get to the tournament. All the players knew exactly what was up, so they were fighting to move on, and I think they did a great job,” said Gadowsky.
For the Saints, it was the epitome of the sports clich that “they didn’t lose; the clock just ran out on them.” Marsh and company will have to regroup and reload, replacing a senior-laden team with a much less experienced squad for next season.
Having survived a major scare from St. Lawrence, Princeton will eagerly await the NCAA Tournament Selection Show on Sunday at 11:30 a.m. on ESPN2.