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Princeton celebrates their win over Union following Topatigh’s game winning goal in overtime.

By Go Princeton Tigers

Last season, a showdown in the ECAC quarterfinals saw the Tigers (3–0–1 ECAC Hockey, 3–1–1 overall) down their conference foe Union (3–3–0, 7–3–1) as part of a miraculous run to the ECAC tournament title. Looking to extract revenge against Princeton, the No. 12 Dutchmen were turned away once again by the Tigers after junior defenseman Derek Topatigh scored in overtime to give Princeton a 4–3 win.

Facing two ECAC foes at Hobey Baker Rink this past weekend, the Tigers won both to remain unbeaten in ECAC play. Princeton won handily on Saturday night, defeating RPI (3–3–0, 6–3–0) 4–1 after jumping out to a three-goal lead in the first period. However, the marquis matchup occurred Friday night in front of a sold-out crowd as Princeton looked to extend its winning streak against Union to three. Prior to this past postseason’s pair of wins, the Tigers had only won once against the Dutchmen in the previous 19 meetings.

Princeton defeated Union last year by playing scrappy defense and making the most of moments when it had the upper hand. It continued that trend to start Friday’s game, when senior forward Alex Riche converted a Princeton power play goal just two minutes into the game. From there however, Union would dominate possession and shots on goal for the remainder of the period. Aside from a shot by senior captain Max Veronneau that went just wide of the net and an odd-man rush at the end of the period that resulted in no shots on goal, the Tigers could not find a way to sustain possession against the big, physical Dutchman defense. On the flip side, Union set up numerous plays at the Princeton end and converted twice on rebounds coughed up by sophomore goalie Ryan Ferland. At the end of the first, Princeton had tallied only five shots on goal compared to Union’s 15 and trailed 2–1.

Rallying in the second period, the Tigers scored just 57 seconds into the next frame after senior forward Ryan Kuffner executed a perfect dangle to give him a wide-open goal. The goal was Kuffner’s fifth of the season, and after a two-goal performance on Saturday, the captain leads the team with seven goals in just five games. Tied at two apiece, Union looked poised to retake the lead after back-to-back Princeton penalties gave the Dutchmen a five-on-three opportunity for nearly 90 seconds. However, the Tiger defense stood tall and only gave up one shot on goal, which was stopped by Ferland. It was the second great save in the period for Ferland, who earlier turned away a beautiful shot by Union to keep the score knotted at 2–2. With multiple defensive stops and very few offensive chances, it looked as if the next team to convert would win the game.

However, defense gave way to offense in the third period, as what was once a gritty, slow-paced game turned into a face-paced contest between two teams looking to flex their offensive muscles. For the first time in the game, Princeton seemed to be putting continuous pressure on Union. Riche had an early opportunity to give Princeton the lead, but his wrist shot was saved by Union without a rebound. With 11:48 left, both teams received two-minute minors; Princeton was called for hooking, while the Union victim was also sent to the penalty box for embellishment. The four-on-four opportunity gave the teams much more room to play, which the home team took full advantage of. Junior forward Jackson Cressey launched a wrist shot towards goal and freshman teammate Christian O’Neill redirected it past the Union goalie to give the Tigers a 3–2 lead. For O’Neill, it was his first career goal as a Tiger, and could not have come at a better time. Just a few minutes later, a shot trickled through the Union crease, but Princeton could not get a stick on what would have been an easy fourth goal. Nonetheless, the Tigers were suddenly having their way with the Dutchman defense and looked poised to win the game in the third.

However, that plan was be foiled with under five minutes to play. Having played incredible defense throughout the period, the Tigers finally faced sustained pressure, and the congestion down low allowed Union to sneak a goal by Ferland, who never even saw it. Once again tied, Princeton had one last push with a flurry of offensive shots just as the final horn sounded; Union’s defense kept the Tigers at bay. Treated with an instant regular season classic, the fans were gifted with free hockey in the form of overtime.

Princeton won overtime from the get-go, thanks to immense pressure on Union from the opening face-off. After stealing the puck away, Topatigh wound up from the blue line and fired a snipe past the Union goalie to end the game and send the Tigers storming onto the ice. For the first time since 2008, the Tigers had beaten Union in the regular season. Ferland — who had been incredible in the playoff run last season — stopped 33 shots in the Princeton victory and was one of the big reasons why the Tigers remain unbeaten in ECAC play.

The win over Union, coupled with the win over RPI, gives the Tigers an early season lead in the ECAC standings. Princeton is currently two games clear of second-place Dartmouth in the loss column and as of the latest NCAA Coaches Poll, has climbed to No. 15 in the nation. Union, meanwhile, fell to fourth in the ECAC, behind RPI who already beat twice them this season. In the poll however, Union stood pat at No. 12.

For the Tigers, the game signals that they can contend with anyone in the ECAC and looked poised for a high seed in the postseason tournament. With the current third-best offense and fifth-best defense in the 12-team league, Princeton has so far passed both early season tests by tying Harvard (1–2–2, 1–2–2) and besting Union. The win also makes that second match against Union in February and a potential rematch in the ECAC tournament all the more riveting.

Up next for the Tigers is a weekend road trip, where they will take on Colgate (0–1–1, 2–6–1) on Friday and Cornell (2–0–0, 4–2–0) on Saturday. Colgate has lost three in a row, while Cornell has rattled off four straight wins. For Princeton, the showdown with Cornell pits the ECAC preseason No. 1 and No. 2 teams against each other and will prove to be another crucial early season test.

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