To its players’ minds, the men’s ice hockey (8–16–3 overall, 6–12–2 ECAC) season so far has been a disappointing one. Second to last in the ECAC standings, the team had suffered a series of humiliating losses — not least of all its Feb. 1, 3–2 loss to last-place St. Lawrence (4–26–2, 2–16–2).
But against St. Lawrence again on Saturday night, the team made a change. Playing the last home game of their careers, senior left wing Ryan Kuffner, senior center Alex Riche, and senior right wing Max Véronneau joined forces to earn seven points. They propelled Princeton to a 5–3 victory.
The Tigers lost the first face-off of the game, but that didn’t deter them. Thirty-eight seconds into the first, an assist from Riche set Véronneau up for a howitzer from the right faceoff spot.
“It was a great start,” Véronneau said. “I just kind of got lucky; the puck was rolling and it was a tough one for the goalie to save.”
Ten minutes later, St. Lawrence’s Dylan Woolf got two minutes for hooking. In its only power play goal of the game, Princeton capitalized. Kuffner, currently ranked No. 6 in the nation for scoring, put the biscuit in the basket. Junior center Jackson Cressey and Véronneau — who has made 22 assists, a team record — assisted, bringing the score to 2–0 for the Tigers.
But as the clock wound down, sophomore defenseman Matthew Thom got a two-minute penalty of his own. St. Lawrence would start the second on a power play. It seemed unlikely that the Saints would pull off the conversion. But with just eight seconds remaining in Thom’s penalty, St. Lawrence’s forward Keenan Suthers made it happen on a breakaway.
With 5:03 left in the second, Kuffner scored off of a faceoff win from Cressey — logging his 20th goal of the season in the process. But only a minute later, a penalty on sophomore right wing Jake Paganelli gave St. Lawrence a five-on-four opportunity. The Tigers could not kill the power play; a slap-shot from defenseman Bo Hanson narrowed Princeton’s lead to one.
Then, two minutes later, Cressey redirected a missed shot from Thom. And just 36 seconds after that, Riche scored with assists from Kuffner and sophomore Mark Paolini.
“The Riche goal was really indicative of what the line can do when they’re heavy on the puck,” head coach Ron Fogarty said.
St. Lawrence netted a shot early in the third. But despite Princeton’s nine shots on goal and two power-play opportunities, the Tigers couldn’t score.
“We started playing soft on the puck,” Fogarty said. “That gave them life. We just have to stay heavy on the puck, and it creates a lot more opportunities when we play that way.”
The game was over in terms of points. All that was left was for the team’s six seniors — Spencer Kryczka, Josh Teves, Austin Shaw, Kuffner, Riche, and Véronneau — to enjoy their last 20 minutes on home ice.
“The fans have been spoiled for four years with Max, Alex, Ryan, Josh, Spencer, and Austin,” Fogarty said. “It was a great way to go out, with a win and to have the ice to themselves.”
In a particularly poignant moment, Fogarty put goalie Shaw on the ice for the last 43 seconds of the game. Since his first year, Shaw largely gone without competitive ice time.
“I was waiting, and I asked him if he wanted to go on,” Fogarty said. “I didn’t want to embarrass him. With 43 seconds left, some goalies would say ‘why?’ But he wanted to be out there with his classmates.”
Next weekend, on the road, Princeton will play its last two games of the season: against Yale (13–11–3, 11–8–1) on Friday and against Brown (11–11–5, 8–7–5) on Saturday.
Like every team in the league, Princeton is guaranteed a spot in the ECAC playoffs. Last year, Princeton finished seventh in the regular season — and then won the conference tournament. This year, the team is hoping to replicate that success.
“We’re going to keep building off this and hopefully get two more wins next weekend,” Véronneau said. “We know last year [in the tournament] we made it really far. It would be sad to go home early this year. Hopefully we can keep on going and make another run at it.”