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Men’s hockey downs Union in first round of ECAC playoffs

The Tigers celebrate following their win over Union.
Courtesy of @PrincetonHockey/Instagram.

In the midst of a brutal losing streak, which saw the Princeton men’s ice hockey (13–17–0 overall, 8–14–0 ECAC) drop eight of their last ten contests, ninth-seeded Tigers took the ice against eighth-seeded Union College (14–19–2, 8–13–1) in a single-elimination first-round matchup. In a raucous environment away at Messa Rink, the Tigers managed to secure a back-and-forth 6–4 victory and lived to see another weekend. 

“I texted coach [Mitch] Henderson [’98] after the men’s basketball victory versus Penn to congratulate him on their comeback win and Ivy Championship,” Princeton head coach Ron Fogarty told The Daily Princetonian. “I mentioned that it was the best resilient and gritty game that I have seen, in any sport, for a long time. Shortly thereafter, I saw a duplication of that effort, as our team displayed grittiness and resiliency, in an hostile environment, with a game full of emotion and momentum changes.” 


The team couldn’t have asked for a better start to quiet the crowd at Messa Rink. After a successful penalty kill just three minutes into the game, it was junior forward Ian Murphy who opened the scoring in New York. Tipping a shot from sophomore defenseman David Ma, Murphy’s goal was his 14th of the season and his first career playoff goal.

Murphy’s goal sparked momentum, as the Tigers dominated the next seven minutes. In that time, junior forward Joe Berg forced a turnover behind the Union net, and found sophomore forward Jack Cronin for the easy finish. Cronin’s goal put the Tigers ahead 2–0 and, more importantly, took the crowd out of the game early. 

However, the Union Dutchmen answered the Tigers with an opportunistic goal of their own. A transition play for Union, which featured a behind-the-back drop pass from forward Caden Villegas and a one-timed finish from forward Josh Nixon, left the score 2–1 to close the first period. 

The second period was, by all accounts, a period of not-so-great goaltending and tons of offense from both teams. A total of four goals were scored in the period, with two apiece for each side. First off, catching Union gassed at the end of a long shift, Princeton’s offense connected as senior captain and defenseman Pito Walton scored his seventh goal of the season, courtesy of a smooth assist from Murphy. Not even a minute later, Murphy scored his second of the night with 14 minutes left in the period, giving the Tigers a three-score edge.

But when Tigers junior forward Mackenzie Merriman was called for an interference minor, Union capitalized on the power play. Quickly, Villegas deposited a cross-ice pass for a goal. Then, with a Union goal coming off of a turnover from Princeton senior goalie Aidan Porter, the Tigers lead was quickly whittled to one. Heading into the final period, the score was 4–3, Princeton.

Nine minutes into the third period, a Dutchmen power play led to yet another goal off the stick of Josh Nixon, with this shot tying the score at four-all. At this point in the game, seemingly out of sorts after blowing a three-goal lead in a hostile atmosphere, Princeton got called for a two-minute minor penalty for having too many players on the ice. But the Tigers survived the power play and, in the process, flipped the momentum once more.


The last four minutes of the game were dominated by Princeton senior forward Spencer Kersten. On an end-to-end effort from his own defensive zone, Kersten skated up the left side with speed and found space in the offensive zone. Skating to the goal line, Kersten flipped a backhander above the shoulder of the Union netminder for the lead. Kersten’s goal put the Tigers ahead for good, and he also added another point on the scoreboard a few minutes later for some extra insurance. 

“Spencer is a terrific, offensive-minded player who hasn’t had the offensive season he envisioned,” Fogarty said. “To his credit, he has embraced the face-off dot and has become a more defensive forward, all for the betterment of the team. He has been playing very well down the stretch, and the team is thrilled that he picked up the game winning goal.”

With the first round victory, Princeton earned the right to play a best-of-three quarter final series against nationally-ranked No. 5 Harvard (21–6–2, 18–4–0 ECAC), who are also the top seed in the Eastern College Athletic Conference (ECAC) tournament. It is another tall task for the Tigers, but it is a task Fogarty and his team look forward to.

“We were up 2–1 in the third in Cambridge to start the year, and had a 3–0 lead during Hobey 100 [Weekend]. We know that we can play with the No. 5 team in the nation.” 

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Cole Keller is an associate editor for the Sports section at the ‘Prince.’

Ava Seigel is a contributor to the Sports section at the ‘Prince.’

Please direct any corrections requests to corrections[at] 

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