By David F. Pendrys
PRINCETON, NJ – The Princeton Tigers men’s hockey team had run out of time and had one second left. In a third period trailing by one, their star goaltender Colton Phinney was on the bench, their net was empty, and their offense had been repelled from the Colgate Raiders zone. The scratches for the day had all stood in the press box watching down as the team reformed noting the missed chances of the last minute of regulation with concern. But then a diving Eric Robinson put a rebound past Colgate’s well regarded Charlie Finn to tie it up sending the Hobey Baker crowd into wild cheers.
With overtime looming on Saturday night, the danger was still great. Princeton had just lost the day before to an OT goal putting them in a must win situation in the ECAC tournament. They themselves had thwarted Clarkson very recently in the regular season with an overtime game winner. Anything could happen. The pace of the overtime period (which is a full twenty minutes in tournament play) was mainly in Princeton’s advantage but Colgate did get their chances, nonetheless the Tigers were trying everything to get it past Finn and he stood tall as did Phinney. Eventually though Max Veronneau lined up a diagonal shot across the net and into the top of it to stun Finn and tie the series. A night later the Tigers would capture the playoff win after years of rebuilding. The team which has had 6 win, 4 win, and 5 win seasons in the past three has found themselves with 15 so far in this campaign.
In game 2, Colgate gained the advantage early as Derek Freeman put the puck past Phinney from right in front in the first. Princeton had given up a lot of these types of chances during the series. Later in the period Jared Cockrell got it into the net for a 2-0 lead.
In the second Jackson Cressey got Princeton on the board after the Tigers stole the puck close to the net and Max Becker fed it over to Cressey on the other side of the net.
Later in the period Ryan Kuffner was fed a long pass and broke in on the net, but Finn stopped him. Max Veronneau however collected the puck and got it to Kuffner again out front who stick handled and defeated the keeper to tie it.
A Princeton penalty proved costly minutes later as Freeman got a great feed and scored it to take the lead. The 3-2 lead would remain until 19:59 of the third. Josh Teves teed up the shot from the point. Kuffner tried to knock it into the net, but a diving Robinson pushed it past Finn for the tying goal. Then later Veronneau ended it.
When asked how the team approached an opposing goalie doing well Veronneau responded postgame. “Just keep on shooting, and pray one of them goes in. Sometimes they’re not always pretty. Eventually a goalie is going to make a mistake. He’s not perfect either.”
Obviously that is what worked in the end.
“We’ve been preparing for three years,” Princeton Coach Ron Fogarty responded when asked how his team prepared for the pressure of an elimination game. “When you have four wins, every game is important, five wins, every game is important, 14 wins, every game is important. When you’re changing a team around your next game is the most important game. It is the process, it’s the development, it’s getting better so your next game, where we’re at as a program, is the most important game all the time.”
On the defensive side, Veronneau said the he hoped the team could be better defensively so Phinney didn’t have to “make those miraculous saves all the time. It’s just a confidence booster knowing he’s back there and he will bail you out when you make a little mistake so it’s always nice. It gives us a little more leeway in the offensive zone to take a little more chances.”
In the deciding game Sunday night, Jake Kulevich would put Colgate up early in the first, though Princeton’s Derek Topatigh responded with a power play goal to tie it. The deciding goal would come from Kuffner after Matt Nelson got the puck to Veronneau and in a fast moving maneuver he fed it to the streaking teammate who got it past Finn. Princeton was able to hold off the Union attack and close out the series to advance. Phinney had flummoxed the visiting Colgate fans by making save after save during some pressure filled onslaughts as the Raiders tried to get back in it.
An elated Fogarty was enjoying the moment and when asked by a reporter about playing Union next week he asked half jokingly for the press to let him enjoy this before he had to worry about the high powered scorers of the Dutchmen.
A player who was noticeable in the effort was Josh Teves on defense, either working to thwart the Colgate attack or setting up the offense from the point he was a major force in the game behind the prolific forwards.
“Tevs has done a great job as a Sophomore,” Fogarty said. “The Sophomore class has done great throughout. He kinda gets left out and just quietly goes about his job. He can take control of a game.” Though Fogarty also noted that “I think he was a little nervous at the end there. He was making some uncharacteristic plays.”
Phinney who admitted he had struggled earlier in the season after surgery previously has been there for the past three years where he backstopped some struggling teams and kept the Tigers in many games. He seemed appreciative of the moment. Fogarty with him in the room had earlier told the press scrum of how well he thought Phinney’s performance had gone.
When asked what he learned over the series the Senior responded:
“Never really give up. Kind of the same thing happened to us last year with Clarkson. I think we were up two-nothing and then lost, then they were up two-nothing and then we came back. No matter what happens in the first period, it’s a third period game, just keep battling.”
Earlier in the season Fogarty had noted how the team was growing and putting things together as the Sophomores flourished and the Freshman came into their own. The Princeton offense has become far more lethal this season. Phinney who struggled still did plenty to keep the team going and certainly in the series kept the Raiders out of the net when they felt they deserved to be in there. Princeton did give up a lot of opportunities where the Raiders were open in front and Phinney saved the day on those. For Colgate, Charlie Finn did an admirable job as well denying some major attempts from the Princeton offense and some Raider forwards were dangerous throughout.
On to Union, Princeton goes.
Saturday images (larger versions at the Facebook gallery).
Sunday images (larger versions at the Facebook gallery).
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