This Week in ECAC Hockey: Princeton opens playoffs sweeping Dartmouth, Cornell next as Tigers ‘going to give it our best effort’

Princeton celebrates Mark Paolini’s overtime winner last Saturday that lifted the Tigers past Dartmouth and into the second round of the ECAC Hockey playoffs (photo: Princeton Athletic Communications).

Princeton coach Ron Fogarty was happy to get a call from a reporter on Monday, a couple of days after his underdog Tigers swept Dartmouth on the road in the first round of the ECAC playoffs.

”It’s good to hear from you. It means we’ve done something,’’ he quipped.

It’s been a challenging season to be sure for the 6-20-4 Tigers, but they rose to the occasion in Hanover with 4-3 and 5-4 victories, both in extra time.

“We’ve had 11 overtime games now. This weekend was the first time since November we’ve had a full lineup to draw upon,’’ said Fogarty, who is in his sixth season at Princeton.

“There’s a lot of things that go unnoticed through a season in everyone’s program and things came together at the right time for us this weekend. We made the most of our opportunity and now we get the chance to play again.’’

Overtime in the postseason has been par for the course for Princeton – its last three playoff games have gone to OT. The final game against Brown a year ago wasn’t settled until the third overtime.

In Saturday’s decisive game, the Tigers let leads of 3-0 and 4-1 get away. Dartmouth poured 25 shots on the Princeton net in the third period, scoring three times and tying the game with three seconds on the clock.

Princeton’s juniors and seniors had lived that situation before. In the 2018 ECAC championship game in Lake Placid, Clarkson tied the game with six seconds left before the Tigers prevailed in OT.

“We just used that as a reference point. The guys reset and refocused. We were very fortunate to get a power-play goal (by defenseman Mark Paolini) in overtime. It’s very critical to gain experience in playoffs and by winning that series, it’s going to help the other two classes moving forward,’’ Fogarty said.

Despite allowing seven goals in the two games, sophomore Jeremie Forget delivered timely saves both nights.

“The biggest part of his stat line is he had two wins,’’ said Fogarty.

Now the Tigers move on to a David vs. Goliath matchup against 23-2-4 Cornell at Lynah Rink, which will be empty because of coronavirus concerns.

“It’s going to be a tough series, but we just have to stick to the game plan and worry about the five-minute increments of the game, do exceptionally well with our puck management and stay out of the box, with their power play,” said Fogarty.

“They’re a team that can win in multiple ways. It’s an excellent team and coach (Mike) Schafer has them playing extremely well. They have talented players and great goaltending, so it’s going to be a longshot, obviously, but we’re going to give it our best effort.’’

Home sweet home

Home ice is home ice, even if the stands are empty.

That’s how fourth-seed RPI is looking at its second-round ECAC playoff series against fifth-seed Harvard this weekend at the Houston Field House, which will be closed to fans because of concerns over the coronavirus.

The school announced the decision on Sunday and when the team met on Monday morning, coach Dave Smith said step one was to put the situation in the proper perspective. “This decision isn’t about one hockey game or one top four seed or anything like that,’’ said Smith, but a larger public health issue.

So the Engineers will try to make the best of it.

“There’s so many other things that home-ice advantage is and we’ve still earned that. The fact that we don’t have fans there, our families, our friends, that is disappointing, but it doesn’t change where (the game) happens. It just changes the peripheral things and those things are out of our control. We set a plan moving forward. We deal with the things we can control,’’ Smith said.

It took a pair of road wins over Harvard and Dartmouth on the final weekend of the regular season to clinch a first-round bye, but RPI has been playing well since Christmas, going 10-3-1 against ECAC teams.

“Our guys have really been riding this train for quite a while now and playing very confidently. It was an exceptional (final) weekend, but it was on the heels of some other really good weekends, also,’’ Smith said.

The Engineers split their two games against Harvard. They lost 5-3 at home on Nov. 22 and won, 2-0, on Feb. 28.

“They’re a high-skilled team. Their power play is exceptional and you’ve got to pay attention to who’s on the ice. You need complete buy-in from all 21 of our guys in uniform,’’ said Smith, who guided RPI to six wins in his first season, 10 last year and 17 so far this season.

Sophomore goalie Owen Savory has come into his own, earning National Goalie of the Month honors for January and February. One of the reasons, according to Smith, is competition with the other two goalies on the roster, juniors Alec Calvaruso and Linden Marshall.

“All of them, I believe, are good Division I goaltenders. That competition and that camaraderie among those goalies has lifted all of them, and Owen Savory, to great heights. He competes every day in practice because he knows that those other two guys are chomping at the bit to get their opportunity. He’s really run with it.’’

The breakout offensive star for RPI has been right wing Todd Burgess, who has a team-leading 14 goals after scoring a total of eight in the previous two seasons. He has 10 goals in the last 10 games, including four against Princeton in his 100th career game on Feb. 22.

His success is no surprise, Smith said.

“This is what I thought he was capable of. He was an elite recruit coming out of junior hockey before I even got here. He’s very passionate about the game. But he missed his entire freshman season with knee surgery.’’

Smith said he uses Burgess’ line in a shutdown role in addition to its contributions on offense.

“He’s been doing what he’s been doing offensively playing in a 400-foot role – 200 feet offense, 200 feet defense. I’m really proud of his commitment to the entire game,’’ he said.

Burgess, a senior, was drafted in the fourth round by the Ottawa Senators in 2016. He is eligible to play another NCAA season as a graduate student, if he chooses.

Previewing the second round

The second round of the ECAC Hockey playoffs starts on Friday with four best-of-three series. The winners advance to Lake Placid. Here is a look at this weekend’s matchups.

No. 11 Princeton (6-20-5) at No. 1 Cornell (23-2-4)

On paper, this is a mismatch of the highest order, but at least the Tigers won’t have to contend with the raucous crowds at Lynah Rink, where fans won’t be allowed.

The Big Red have size, skill and speed as well as a top goalie in Matt Galajda. They have been rolling since their season started in November. They won both regular-season games against Princeton, 5-1 in Ithaca, and 5-3 in New Jersey.

One part of Cornell’s game that doesn’t measure up to the rest is the penalty kill. It’s 48th in the country at 78.4 percent.

For Princeton, goals at even strength have been hard to come by, but their power play is 16th in the country at 21.9 percent. They went three for six on the PP last time against the Big Red.

No. 8 Colgate (12-16-8) at No. 2 Clarkson (23-8-3)

With a .938 save percentage, grad student Frank Marotte, playing behind a corps of big, strong defensemen, has been a revelation for the Golden Knights.

Up front, Clarkson has been led by Harolds Egle, Devin Brousseau and Josh Dunne.

Colgate averages just two goals a game. Seniors Bobby McMann and Ben Sharf are the top scorers, each with 10 goals and 20 points.

Sophomores Mitch Benson (.925 save percentage) and Andrew Farrier (.919) have split the duties in goal.

Clarkson won the first game between the teams in November. They tied 1-1 on Feb. 28.

No. 6 Yale (15-15-2) at No. 3 Quinnipiac (21-11-2)

They call it the battle of Whitney Avenue. Quinnipiac has turned it into a one-way street.

Since Yale beat Quinnipiac in the national championship game in 2013, the Bobcats of Hamden have gone 14-1-3 against their archrivals from New Haven.

Quinnipiac is young, with 11 freshmen and only three seniors. They are led by five-foot-seven Odeen Tufto (38 points in 34 games) up front and by Peter DiLiberatore on defense. Goalie Keith Petruzzelli (.920 save percentage) has had a good season.

Yale’s offense relies heavily on sophomores Curtis Hall (17 goals) and Justin Pearson (14 goals). Senior Corbin Kaczperski has been their go-to guy in the net.

This is the third playoff series between the schools. Quinnipiac won this season’s games, 3-2 in overtime and 5-0.

No. 5 Harvard (15-10-6) at No. 4 Rensselaer (17-15-2)

The series between the Crimson, with nine NHL draft picks, and the Engineers, with only three picks, could be the most competitive of the second round.

There’s no hotter goalie in the country over the last few weeks than undrafted Owen Savory of the Engineers, who has allowed just two goals in the last four games.

Harvard has leaned on freshman Mitchell Gibson, a fourth-round pick of the Washington Capitals.

Up front, the Crimson’s weapons include freshman Nick Abruzzese (44 points in 31 games), Jack Drury and Casey Dornbach.

In Jack Rathbone and Reilly Walsh, they have two top offensive defensemen..

Harvard’s power play is the best in the country at 31.2 percent.

RPI relies on balanced scoring, with eight players with more than 15 points. Chase Zieky leads the way with 23 points. Todd Burgess has 14 goals. Defenseman Will Reilly has 22 points.

The schools split their two games, with RPI losing 6-3 at home in November and winning 2-0 at Harvard on Feb. 2.