After splitting last weekend’s games at home, men’s ice hockey (12–17–0 overall, 8–14–0 ECAC) were looking to clinch home ice for the first round of playoffs by getting at least one win. The challenge? Taking down Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI) Engineers (14–19–1, 9–13–0) on Friday or the Union Dutchmen (14–18–2, 8–13–1) on Saturday. Unfortunately, the Tigers suffered two tough defeats, first unable to come back in the third period against the Engineers and losing 6–4, then being overpowered by Union 3–1 on Saturday night.
Princeton’s prospects are trending downward as they enter the postseason playing on the road this upcoming weekend. The Tigers now face the new single-game elimination first-round playoff structure back in Schenectady, N.Y. against Union, on Saturday, March 4.
Starting their weekend at the Houston Field House in Troy, N.Y., the Friday game was initially promising for Princeton. Junior forward Ian Murphy cashed in on a trip penalty by RPI to score his first goal of the night during the Princeton power-play. Directly entering the line from the bench, Murphy completed a snapshot goal from a dynamic pass assist by first-year forward David Jacobs.
RPI forward Jakob Lee quickly answered with a goal of his own 18 seconds later, tying the game at 1–1. The game then saw alternating penalties from both teams, until RPI defenseman Jack Agnew was charged with a hooking penalty with 8:52 left in the first period.
This penalty allowed Murphy the opportunity to score his second goal of the night and take the lead for Princeton with a penalty shot, but his attempt was blocked, changing the dynamic of the following 40 minutes of the game in favor of the Engineers.
Despite generating offensive play potential, the first period ended with the Tigers down 4–1. The three goals were netted by RPI forwards Austin Heidemann, John Evans, and Ryan Mahshie, making for a very rough start for senior netminder Aidan Porter.
Porter became the starting goalie after the injury of sophomore keeper Ethan Pearson earlier this season against St. Lawrence (17–17–0, 12–10–0). Porter made many key stops, but he was ultimately unable to prevent RPI from netting a litany of goals. The second period of play left the Tigers down by five, entering the third period with a score of 6–1.
In the first 14 minutes of the third, there was high-penalty play and no score from either side. With 6:11 left in game time, Murphy’s second goal of the night, where he skated an RPI turnover into his 12th goal of the season, changed the momentum.
Princeton’s energy was then reignited, and the Tigers were playing like they had when they defeated the Engineers at home 6–5 earlier in the season. Murphy, with an assist from senior forward Spencer Kersten, finished off his hat trick, bringing the Tigers closer to a comeback. Then, with an empty net, the game concluded with a fourth goal for Princeton when first-year forward Jayden Sison one-timed a successful shot in the last 15 seconds.
“I think our biggest strength all year has been our team speed, which, when we use it in a smart way, can really put the other team on their heels,” junior forward Nick Seitz told The Daily Princetonian. “I think as long as we can make sure to be really detailed and win battles in our D zone, our team’s speed can take over the game.”
The Tiger’s third-period performance was the strongest thus far for them on Friday, as they outshot RPI 22 shots to two, but it was not enough to secure the win.
This loss led into Saturday night’s game hosted by Union at Messa Rink, where the team was still in pursuit of a win to secure hosting privileges for round one of postseason play.
When the Tigers took the ice on Saturday, their dominant offensive performance from the previous night, which included a cumulative 42 shots on net compared to the Engineers’ mere 20, was not continued against the Dutchmen. They were being outplayed from the beginning, with Union forwards Josh Nixon, Chris Theodore, and Liam Robertson each landing one past Porter before the third period began.
Down 3–0, Princeton got a goal of their own when junior defenseman Mike Kennedy scored his first goal of the season from a tight angle, decreasing the game deficit to 3–1 with 14:19 left in the third.
Saturday’s match ended with the Tigers’ 3–1 loss and a record of defeat in eight of their last 10 games entering the postseason.
The team now looks to rebound from these upsets as they approach their rematch against Union this Saturday, Mar. 4. The new single-elimination structure for first-round playoff games within the Eastern College Athletic Conference (ECAC) means that the Tigers will potentially face the final game of their season, needing a win in order to advance to the three-game series quarterfinals.
“Our goal has been to win the ECAC championship all year, so it’s really important to get that started this weekend,“ Seitz said. “Playoffs is always a really exciting time, and this game means a lot to our team. I think the pace and intensity of the game will be really high because of the stakes of a one-game playoff series.”
Ava Seigel is a contributor to the Sports section at the ‘Prince.’ Please direct any corrections requests to corrections[at]dailyprincetonian.com.