SCHENECTADY — Coming into Friday, the last time Union (21-14-2) had lost to Princeton (16-12-4) on home ice George W. Bush was the President of the United States. Union had not lost once in the 20 previous contests between the two teams, as the Tigers had become somewhat of a punching bag for the Dutchmen in recent memory. However, Princeton played their hearts out and changed this stat on Friday night.
Union came out of the gate with energy as Liam Morgan converted on a backhand shot assisted by Cole Maier and Ryan Scarfo just 1:50 into the game. However, the Dutchmen then appeared to sit back as even throughout the rest of the first period their pressure wasn’t as intense as the start of the game. Throughout the first period, neither side could really get an advantage. However, while the Tigers were laying it all out there and taking chances, the Dutchmen were playing more lackadaisically and sitting back on their early one-goal lead.
“After we scored we thought it was just going to be easy,” Union head coach Rick Bennett said. “I don’t know why, it’s just a mindset thing… it’s never going to be easy against that team. It’s a heck of a hockey team. We’ve got to learn from history and realize the mistakes we’ve made, watch some film, maybe put some new bodies in the lineup and go from there”.
Princeton continued to pressure the opposition on both ends of the ice but were still making too many little mistakes here and there to get anything going until 13:30 elapsed in the first period. After being assisted by Matt Nelson and Ryan Kuffner, Max Veronneau scored his 16th goal of the season to tie the game at one apiece, where it would stay tied for the rest of the first period.
The Tigers kept the same energy present in the latter half of the first into the second period, as sophomore Jackson Cressey redirected Eric Robinson’s shot past Dutchmen goaltender Jake Kupsky to give his team their first lead of the night. Union captain Cole Maier would quickly respond with a goal assisted by Ryan Scarfo immediately after a face-off, and the game was tied at two at 4:16 elapsed time in the second.
Union was still playing with decent energy throughout the remainder of the second period, as they outshot Princeton as they had done in the first as well. A perfect opportunity arose for the Dutchmen when Tigers’ senior Joe Grabowski was sent to the box for tripping at 9:06. The Dutchmen power play unit was peppering Princeton goaltender Ryan Ferland with shots, but he was resilient and made multiple saves during these critical two minutes. J.C. Brassard almost gave Union the upper hand during their power play, but his shot went just wide of the net as the game stayed locked at two.
Union held possession of the puck with about two minutes left in the second, and the puck was passed around until a turnover occurred and then Sean Harrison regained possession for the Dutchmen. Harrison proceeded to notch the first assist of his college career after setting up Anthony Rinaldi’s goal.
No more scoring occurred during the second period, and both teams started out slowly in the third as well. Neither side could get much of a threatening attack going, as not many shots were taken and those that were taken were blocked without much of a problem.
Princeton was still in dire need of a goal at a critical point in their season, as they could not let Union take a commanding two goal lead in a playoff game like this. When Rinaldi went to the sin bin for hooking, the Tigers saw their chance and seized it. With 7:06 elapsed time in the third, Ryan Kuffner tied up the game in what would be the first of three unanswered Princeton goals.
A few minutes later, Morgan was in great position to get his second goal of the night as he had a one on one in close proximity to the Tigers’ net. However, Matt Nelson shut down the shot attempt and kept the game tied in what would prove to be a vital defensive play.
Princeton had a second power-play chance after Vas Kolias was called for kneeing 14:38 in the third. While Union was unsuccessful the first time out, guys like Brassard and Sebastian Vidmar made plays to keep their team in it while the energy as a whole wasn’t too great.
Princeton was discouraged after not capitalizing on the power play, but they did not give up. They kept pressuring the Dutchmen defense and eventually third-line winger Liam Grande scored a clutch goal 17:51 into the third period.
Eric Robinson would seal Union’s fate with an empty net goal with just over a minute left, making it 5-3 in favor of the Tigers.
“They’re a good hockey team,” Princeton head coach Ron Fogarty said after the game. “Coach Bennett’s going to have them even more prepared for tomorrow… it’s just too tough of a team to let your guard down”.
Rick Bennett was noticeably unhappy with the performance his team turned in Friday night.
“They wanted it more than us,” Bennett said on his team’s effort. “We got exactly what we deserved, so there’s not much to really say there”.
The two teams will play again tomorrow night at 7 p.m. at the Messa Rink in Schenectady. If Princeton can pull out another upset then they will move on to the ECAC semifinals, and if Union wins then they force a decisive third game to see who will move on.