Before yesterday's game against Dartmouth, men's hockey head coach Don Cahoon figured that three or four goals would be enough for his team to claim a victory. In the final period, the Tigers seemed determined to prove him wrong.
After a scoring outburst in the second period put Princeton up, 4-0, the Tigers flirted with disaster by allowing the Big Green to cut the lead in half with 10 minutes to go in the game. Only solid play by sophomore goaltender Dave Stathos and a late empty-net goal allowed Princeton to hold on to the 5-2 victory at Baker Rink.
"I was very pleased with maybe the first 35 minutes," Cahoon said. "We came out to play. Then everyone went into cruise control.
"The issue was mid-game mentality; all of a sudden you stop doing the things you were doing to get to that four-goal lead. You're not going to win big games shifting gears to that extreme."
Princeton (9-12-3 overall, 7-7-3 Eastern College Athletic Conference) played nearly flawless hockey for the first two periods, grabbing the big lead halfway into the second period.
With a 1-0 lead coming out of the first stanza, the Tigers netted three goals in a span of two minutes, 16 seconds to put the game out of reach for Dartmouth (8-12-4, 7-7-3).
Sophomore left wing Josh Roberts began the flurry of scoring activity 6:31 into the second period. After taking the puck down the right side of the ice, freshman center Scott Prime hit Roberts with a crisp pass directly in front of the goal. The left wing then put in a high wrist shot from point-blank range to give the Tigers a 2-0 lead.
Princeton seemed to catch Dartmouth off guard only 1:48 later on another counter down the right side. Senior left wing Brad Meredith threaded the needle through a crowd in front of the net with a pass from high on the right side. The puck found junior center Shane Campbell, who was streaking toward the goal. The junior easily deflected the puck into the open net.
Senior right wing Benoit Morin closed out the Tiger scoring for the period with his sixth goal of the season. Morin fielded a pass behind the defense on the left side for a quick two-on-one. The right wing faked a pass across the mouth of the goal but took the shot himself, beating Big Green goalie Nick Boucher over his left shoulder. After Morin's wrist shot passed Boucher to the upper corner, the goalie was replaced by Eric Almon for the rest of the game.
Possibly not expecting to get so many goals against the usually stingy Dartmouth defense, Princeton seemed to get lackadaisical after the fourth goal.
"We knew they were going to come at us and play hard," Cahoon said. "You need to play hard for each goal. There's a difference between playing to win and playing not to lose."
Dartmouth began to battle back in the third, starting 4:07 into the period. Right wing Peter Mahler stretched around a Princeton defender to pull in a pass from defenseman Ryan Burkhart. Mahler found himself in a breakaway, but under high pressure from the pursuing Tiger defense. The wing faked right and Stathos bit, leaving an open net. Mahler then pulled the puck back left and put in the easy goal.
The Big Green would score once more, but Stathos stayed strong in the net, making save after save — stopping 34 in the game.
..."Stathos played great," Cahoon said. "He was sharp all night long."
The game was highly combative, as the referees were routinely forced to break up post-whistle scuffles. Dartmouth checked Stathos early in the game, setting the tone but also motivating the goalie to turn in his stellar performance.
"Early in the game, if I get hit, it just fires me up," Stathos said. "I love that."
Princeton now moves into a fourth-place tie in the ECAC with Dartmouth and Cornell. The Tigers face Harvard and Brown next weekend in two important matches.
"With the new standings [which are determined by winning percentage instead of points], every game is huge," Campbell said. "Every game, you're either moving up or you're moving down."