The men's hockey team finished 1997 with a bang and started off the new year in similar fashion.
Princeton upset Boston University, the No. 1 team in the country, 3-2, Dec. 30 in its first game home after a eight-day trip to Europe.
The win gave the Tigers a perfect 6-0-1 record against teams outside their league, but there was no rest for Princeton as it faced two Eastern College Athletic Conference opponents Jan. 2-3.
Despite playing three games in five days, the Tigers managed to capture five of six points on the week. They have a four-game unbeaten streak dating back to a 4-3 overtime win Dec. 12 against Massachusetts and are tied for fourth in the ECAC.
Princeton (9-3-4 overall, 3-3-3 ECAC) used its mid-December trip to Austria and the Slovak Republic to gel as a team. It won two of three exhibition games and got a taste of the European style of hockey – bigger rinks, more skating and less hitting.
The Tigers have also learned to step up their play in the third period and used it to their advantage as they entered the last stanza tied or in a deficit in their last four games.
"There's a quiet confidence on the team this year," senior goalie Erasmo Saltarelli said. "We go into the third period fighting. We know it's the third period and we're like, 'Let's do it.' "
The strategy worked well for the Tigers against BU. After the Terriers evened the score at two in the second period, neither team could score until, with less than four minutes left in regulation, junior defenseman Steven Shirreffs broke out of his zone and headed down ice. He unleashed a shot just inside the blue line that went through BU goalie Tom Noble's legs for the game-winner. It was Shirreffs' first collegiate goal.
Princeton played with an all-out effort for two periods, but the Terriers kept in stride. The Tigers' up-and-down ice skating style counteracted BU's slower, hard-hitting offense.
'Best effort all year'
"We deserved to win the game," senior right wing Robbie Sinclair said. "It was our best effort all year. We had the edge. We played really hard."
After the game against the Terriers, the most dangerous thing Princeton had to face Friday night against Union was a post-win letdown. The Skating Dutchmen had only three wins going into the game, but they made the game anything but easy for the Tigers.
Hard-working and physical, Union racked up five penalties in the first period and gave Princeton five power-play chances in the game. The Tigers generated chances, but Union goaltender Trevor Koenig made save after save.
The teams went into the third tied at one, but at the four minute, 32 second mark, senior center Matt Brush sent a slap shot from the point past Koenig for the game-winner. Junior center Jeff Halpern scored into an empty net for the final 3-1 difference.
Out of gas
Saturday night's contest was even more physical than the previous game, and Princeton ran out of energy, settling for a 2-2 tie with Rensselaer.
The Engineers scored just 36 seconds into the game when Eric Healey headed the rush down ice. Saltarelli came out of the crease to meet Healey, but Healey quickly passed to Matt Garver, who flipped the puck into an empty net.
Rensselaer increased its lead to 2-0 before sophomore right wing Benoit Morin scored on the power play at 12:08 of the first. The score remained 2-1 for the Engineers before Halpern evened it up early in the third period.
Both teams had played three games in the week and looked like they were dragging. Neither mustered any good chances in overtime.
Saltarelli had a solid week in net for the Tigers. He made 30 saves against BU, 21 against Union and 14 against Rensselaer.