Entering this weekend's matches against Rensselaer and Union, the men's hockey team had already clinched a spot in the Eastern College Athletic Conference playoff tournament. But that was the only thing they had clinched.
With help from other teams, the Tigers (13-9-7 overall, 7-9-6 ECAC) could have finished as high as fourth, which would have brought next weekend's first-round three-game series to Baker Rink for the first time ever.
At the other end of the spectrum, two losses could have dropped them to tenth place, which would have entailed a trip to New Haven, Conn., to face first-place Yale.
Hit the road
Just like it has been doing all year, however, Princeton split. A 4-2 loss to RPI Friday and a 3-3 tie with Union Saturday has left the Tigers splitting the difference: the seventh seed. Princeton will travel to face fourth-seeded Brown this Friday in Providence, R.I. At stake is a berth in the play-in game to the ECAC Final Four in Lake Placid, N.Y.
"But if we're going to go anywhere in the playoffs, we have to win on the road. It might as well be right now," junior left wing Jason Given said.
Despite losing the weekend's opening contest, the Tigers still possessed an opportunity to spend this weekend in their dorm rooms and at Baker instead of on an orange Suburban bus and in northeastern hotel rooms entering their match with Union.
Princeton came out against the Skating Dutchmen (6-22-4, 4-15-3) like a team ready to take control of its own destiny. Early scores by junior center Brian Horst and Given gave the Tigers a two-goal advantage at the midway point of the second period.
Then, as it has done so many times this season, Princeton began to blow its lead. Union's Jeff Sproat beat senior goaltender Erasmo Saltarelli, even though Sproat had been clearly ahead of the puck crossing the Tiger blueline. The missed offsides call halved the Princeton lead.
Nine minutes, 36 seconds into the third period, Sproat again blasted one past Saltarelli to knot the score at a pair apiece. With only 3:18 left in regulation, Skating Dutchman Dave Smith capped off his team's comeback with a power-play goal. Saltarelli – who turned away 37 shots on the evening – attempted to clear the zone along the boards, but instead, the puck caromed off the Zamboni door to Smith for the score.
Salvage the wreckage
But after losing this lead, for one of the few times all year, Princeton answered. With Union a man down, junior center Jeff Halpern took a feed from senior right wing Robbie Sinclair and put it past Skating Dutchman goaltender Trevor Koenig to even up the game.
The previous night, neither Princeton nor RPI (17-11-4, 11-7-4) seemed to be able to control the game. The referee, however, did. At one point the Engineers had an 8-1 advantage in penalties, and it appeared to the Tigers that the officiating was biased against them.
Finally, head coach Don Cahoon decided that he had enough.
After Engineer Eric Healey scored to give RPI a 2-0 lead, Cahoon threw all of the spare sticks from the bench onto the ice. The outburst earned him a game misconduct, leaving assistant coaches Len Quesnelle '88 and Mark Dennehy to direct Princeton for the remainder of the contest.
"The (refereeing) was ridiculous," senior right wing Casson Masters said. "The guy took total control of the game.
"Everyone was getting frustrated," he continued, "and finally (Cahoon) just snapped. I don't disagree with what he did."
Masters and sophomore center Benoit Morin scored the two Tiger goals.