The Princeton men’s ice hockey season this year can be viewed as one long comeback. Situated in the cellar of the ECAC for much of the beginning of the season, the team clawed its way back in order to earn a No. 7 seed and home ice for the first round of the conference tournament. However, this feat pales in comparison to the comeback pulled by the team in this weekend’s three-game playoff series against Colgate. Literally a second from elimination, Princeton fought back to win the series and advance in the tournament.
Friday night’s game one began slowly, with neither team able to get on the scoreboard for the first 39 minutes of play. Colgate ended the drought, however, with a goal from Mike Panowyk at the 19:31 mark in the second. Princeton responded early in the third, snatching the lead with two goals of its own, the first from sophomore forward David Hallisey and the second from a blast from freshman forward Jeremy Germain. Princeton would ultimately fail to maintain its single goal lead through regulation, as Colgate evened the score with under eight minutes remaining. The score remained deadlocked at 2-2 until the 6:55 mark of the sudden-death overtime, at which point Colgate’s Jake Kulevich slipped in the game-winning goal. Princeton, outshot Colgate 31-18 in a stellar performance not reflected by the scoreboard.
Thus, Princeton entered game two with the knowledge that it needed to win the next two engagements. Despite the dire circumstances, Princeton came out of the gates slowly on Saturday, conceding two unanswered goals in the first period. With its season teetering on the brink, Princeton fought back to tie the score with goals from freshman forward Jackson Cressey and sophomore forward Ryan Kuffner, only to allow Colgate to regain a 3-2 lead on a power play goal, just minutes later. Throughout the rest of the second (and nearly the entire third) period, Princeton’s attempts to even the score came up empty. Finally, with senior goalie Colton Phinney pulled for an extra skater, sophomore defenseman Josh Teves fired a frantic shot from just inside the blue line, and junior forward Eric Robinson tipped in the rebound to tie the game. As the celebration commenced, the clock read only one second. Princeton entered the OT period supported by a boisterous home crowd and facing a stunned and demoralized opponent, but it took nearly 17 minutes to secure the win on a shot from sophomore forward Max Veronneau.
Playing for the third consecutive night on Sunday, Princeton entered the deciding game forced to contend not only with Colgate, but with exhaustion as well. The team would ultimately emerge victorious over both. Despite conceding the first goal to Colgate seven minutes into the game, the Tigers battled back. Freshman defenseman Derek Topatigh scored his second goal of the season to tie the score on a power play, and Kuffner scored a skillful backhand goal to give the Orange and Black a 2-1 lead that it did not relinquish. Even as the Princeton offense stalled, its defense, led by Phinney, who blocked 35 of 36 shots, refused to concede another goal. After Colgate’s last-ditch effort fell short, Princeton celebrated its playoffs series victory in front of the Baker Rink crowd.
Princeton’s season continues next weekend with its second-round playoff series against Union College, which earned a first-round bye in the playoffs by finishing second in the conference. Union, which has defeated Princeton twice this season, will present a tough opponent. Anyone familiar with this Princeton team knows, however, that it would be unwise to count them out.