The story this weekend was not the men's hockey team, but rather the team it was facing.
Princeton's opponent wasn't Clarkson. Or Vermont. Or another traditional hockey powerhouse.
It was Yale
The Elis, who finished near the bottom of the Eastern College Athletic Conference a season ago – 10th out of 12 teams – have surprised the league and currently sit atop the ECAC standings at the halfway point of the season.
Princeton met the Elis Saturday in New Haven, Conn., and the Tigers, who have made the ECAC semifinals twice in the last three years, were in the unaccustomed position of playing the underdog.
In a hard-hitting battle, Princeton (10-5-4 overall, 4-5-3 ECAC) lost to Yale, 3-2, after taking a two-goal lead in the first period.
With the loss, the Tigers dropped to seventh place in the league. Yale improved to 10-2-0 in the league and solidified its lead over second-place Colgate – the Red Raiders lost to Cornell Saturday – with only a month of the regular season left.
But at the start of the night, it was the Tigers who took control of the game. Senior right wing Robbie Sinclair took a cross-ice pass from junior left wing Jason Given and fired a shot past Yale goalie Alex Westlund to give Princeton a 1-0 lead nine minutes, one second into the game.
With less than five minutes left in the first period, Yale forward Jeff Hamilton was sent to the penalty box for roughing, granting Princeton one of its eight power plays of the evening. On that power play, junior defenseman Steven Shirreffs, who scored his first collegiate goal just last month, scored off a feed from junior center Jeff Halpern to add to the Tiger advantage. With the assist, Halpern extended his point-scoring streak to 11 games.
But just 29 seconds later the Elis retaliated when last week's ECAC Honor Roll selection Matt Cummings found the back of the net.
Yale continued its resurgence in the second period when forward Mark Sproule scored just 18 seconds into the stanza.
Yale's Ben Stafford produced what turned out to be the game-winning goal halfway through the second period. The Elis held Princeton scoreless in the final two periods to seal the victory.
There was a lot of action going on besides the scoring. Each team was charged with 21 penalties in the game, and 62 minutes of penalty time were assessed in the first period alone.
Senior goalie Erasmo Saltarelli stopped 27 shots for the Tigers. Westlund also made 27 saves for Yale, but the Elis outshot Princeton, 30-29, and made their extra shot count.
Saturday's game was the first that Princeton had played since Jan. 10, and the time off showed as its play deteriorated later in the game.
Princeton will face Colgate and Cornell, Nos. 2 and 3 in the ECAC, respectively, Friday and Saturday at Baker Rink.