A goal by St. Lawrence’s Russ Bartlett scored at 7:26 of the third period to knot the Saints with Colorado College 2-2, and the two teams played a nailbiter down the stretch before heading into overtime.
For hardcore fans in attendance at the opening game of the East Regionals at the Worcester Centrum, the game brought back memories of the Saints’ last game in this phase of the tournament, when St. Lawrence needed four overtimes to beat BU and advance to the Frozen Four in 2000.
It remained to be seen how long this one would go.
The teams began play in front of a sparse crowd, no doubt due to the early start and the fact both teams were playing a long way from home. After some initial shakiness, St. Lawrence proceeded to get the better of the scoring chances early on. Of course, getting the only two power plays of the first period didn’t hurt.
The first goal of the game was a rather sudden development. Tiger Sophomore Joe Cullen may not get the media attention of his brother, All-American candidate Mark Cullen, he made the first big play of the game for the Tigers. On the forecheck, Joe Cullen stole the puck from a Saint defenseman low in the left-wing faceoff circle and slipped the puck to freshman scoring sensation Peter Sejna.
The Slovakian winger — who led all freshmen nationwide in points per game and was third among all players nationwide in goals per game — got the puck on his backhand and beat Saint netminder Jeremy Symington with a quick, high shot.
The goal was Sejna’s 29th of the season, giving him the all-time Tiger record for goals by a freshman. For Symington, who gave up just one goal in two games last weekend at the ECAC Championships, it certainly was a rude introduction to Colorado College.
Another Tiger penalty late in the period gave the Saints a few more quality chances. At 17:55, ECAC Player of the Year Erik Anderson had a potential goal negated when a whistle blew for a crease violation moments before his shot went in the net.
Early on in the second, Symington managed to get a forearm on a wicked wrister off the stick of Matt Cullen at 2:50. With the help of power plays, the Tigers seemed to have gained the upper hand in terms of momentum as the period progressed.
However, a Sejna penalty helped St. Lawrence get its offense back in gear. Bartlett carried the puck in on the left wing before pulling up to deftly avoid a defender. Bartlett slipped the puck to Mike Gellard centering the rush, and Gellard dished to Erik Anderson on his right wing for the one-timer to beat CC goalie Jeff Sanger, tying the game 1-1.
The Tigers regained the lead at 10:51 during the waning seconds of another power play. A St. Lawrence defenseman broke up a rush to the net, poking the puck out toward the blue line, only to have Tiger winger Noah Clarke pick it up while trailing the play. Clarke’s soft wrister floated through traffic and beat Symington to make it 2-1 Tigers.
Another Saint penalty kept the Tigers on the attack a few short minutes later. Clarke set up a strong shot by Mark Cullen at the point, and Symington made the initial glove save but dropped the rebound. The goalie managed to cover the puck before Chris Hartsburg could knock it home.
Despite piling up scoring chances, the Tigers had to feel a little stymied to merely retain their one-goal margin after another 20 minutes of hockey.
CC had the first good opportunity of the third period as well, when Justin Morrison managed to knock down a knee-high pass from Mark Cullen and put a good shot on Symington. The goalie thwarted Morrison again seconds later after a weird carom suddenly set up the senior from Los Angeles just outside the crease.
A suspenseful moment for St. Lawrence fans came at 7:26 of the third when a video review was needed to determine whether a Saint goal would count. Russ Bartlett again showed good playmaking skills coming into the Tiger zone, and then found himself on the receiving end of a Kevin Veneruzzo pass off the left-wing boards. In traffic, Bartlett appeared to barely nudge the puck past Sanger on the far side of the crease, though it may have deflected off a defender. The goal counted, and the fans settled in for an exciting finish.
A balanced game ensued, with both squads getting fair but not great scoring chances. The Saints rode the momentum of the equalizer for a while and played with real confidence.
With four minutes left, the Tigers had a good bid when Sejna collected the rebound of a Tom Preissing shot from a nominal distance, but Symington made the save.
With just over a minute left, Tom Preissing skated in from the point before taking a backhander, but to no avail.
The winner squares off against North Dakota tomorrow afternoon.