ANN ARBOR, Mich. – In the week leading up to the men's hockey team's contest against No. 3 Michigan Friday night, numerous factors why Princeton (18-11-7) could not win were raised: the amazing play of Wolverine goalie Marty Turco, the high-powered Michigan offense, the rabid Michigan fans at Yost Ice Arena.
But in the end none of this mattered and the only thing that would defeat the sixth-seeded Tigers was themselves.
In many ways the loss was a fitting finish to the season that wouldn't end. In contrast to Princeton's amazing run in the Eastern College Athletic Conference tournament, Friday's game was more reminiscent of the Tigers' regular season in which they finished seventh in the league.
Princeton could not control the flow of Friday's game, and failed to establish itself offensively – the Tigers only had 21 shots – resulting in a 2-1 Michigan victory.
But don't give the Wolverines (32-11-1) too much credit. Michi-gan, which dominated the Central Collegiate Hockey Association before losing to Ohio State in the CCHA tournament last weekend, played a sloppy game and cobbled together what was a rather unimpressive victory. "(Princeton) doesn't give you much," Michigan head coach Red Berenson said. "Princeton just kept hanging on. It was a tough game. One team needed a break and we got it on a fluke goal."
Tied 1-1 after two periods, the Wolverines' go-ahead goal came just 41 seconds into the third period. Michigan center Mark Kosick merely knocked the puck towards the Princeton goal. Senior goaltender Erasmo Saltarelli went to grab the bouncing puck, but could not get a hold of it. Somehow the puck rattled off Saltarelli's pads and into the net, much to the surprise of the crowd, and especially Kosick.
"Luckiest goal I ever scored," Kosick said.
"I'm still in shock," Saltarelli said. "I don't know what happened. I just wasn't able to get something on it like I usually do."
One minutes, eight seconds later the Wolverines appeared to have taken a commanding 3-1 lead when Michigan left wing Matt Herr guided the puck into the net amidst a scramble of Princeton players. His goal, however, was called off because Wolverine center Bobby Hayes was in the crease.
After the brief flurry of Michigan offense to start the third, the game descended into a back-and-forth, dump-and-run style of play in which neither team could gain the advantage.
For example, on one power play, the Tigers did not have a single shot on goal, allowed two Michigan breakaways, and the Wolverines actually played keep-away with the puck for 25 seconds. The Tigers had two solid shots on goal in the last minute of play after going on a power play with 1:20 remaining, but Turco was able to turn away both shots.
Turco, despite his amazing performance in the regular season, struggled under pressure in the rare moments when Princeton was able to control the puck in the Michigan zone.
When the Tigers worked the puck in close, Turco seemed disoriented, jerking from side to side, attempting to maintain a view of the puck. Princeton's only goal came when Turco was caught looking the wrong way in the second period.
Light the lamp
With Turco eyeing the action, senior right wing Casson Masters and two Wolverine defenders were battling on the boards behind the net. Somehow Masters was able to pop the puck loose and out to junior center Jeff Halpern, who was left unmarked between the faceoff circles. Halpern blasted a slap shot off the crossbar and into the net before Turco was able to turn and face the shot. Halpern's goal tied the game at one.
Michigan had tallied the first goal of the game midway through the second on the power play after a poor line exchange resulted in a Princeton penalty for too many men of the ice.
Strangely reminiscent of the three Clarkson power-play goals last weekend in the ECAC championship game, the Wolverines set up a two-man screen in front of the net and effectively shielded Saltarelli. Michigan defenseman Chris Fox took a long slow shot from just inside the blueline that Saltarelli didn't see until it was too late.
"I lost sight of the puck on the power play," Saltarelli said. "I was moving right, locking for a one-timer, and didn't see the shot until it was two feet in front of me."
Although Berenson denied basing the shot off of Clarkson's power play, the similarity was striking.
"I can't tell you it was orchestrated," Berenson said. "(Princeton) didn't seem to challenge at the point. I kept telling (my players) to try a wrist shot."
Except for his one error, Saltarelli was magnificent in goal, turning away 29 shots, including several breakaways and powerful slap shots.
"I told (Saltarelli) after the game that he has nothing to hang his head about," Turco said. "The two goals he let in weren't his fault."
This was a game Princeton could have won, but the playoff streak had to come to a stop somewhere. In contrast to predictions, though, it wasn't the Michigan offense that dominated the game, it wasn't a raucous Yost crowd – it was actually silent through most of the game, perhaps due to the uninspiring play of both teams ??nor was it Turco who beat the Tigers. It was a Princeton team that just couldn't get it done down the stretch that gave up the game.