Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXIII, No. 13
 
Wednesday, April 1, 2009
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COMING UP SHORT: Princeton University men’s hockey senior captain Brandan Kushniruk heads up the ice in recent action. Last Saturday, Kushniruk scored a shorthanded goal in the third period to give Princeton a 4-2 lead over Minnesota Duluth in the opening round of the NCAA tournament. The Tigers couldn’t hold the lead, surrendering two goals in the last 40 seconds of regulation on the way to a 5-4 overtime loss to the Bulldogs in Minneapolis, Minn.

On the Verge of First-Ever NCAA Tourney Win, PU Men’s Hockey Falls in Heartbreaking Fashion

Bill Alden

Last Friday turned into a night for upsets in the NCAA Division I men’s hockey tournament.

In the East regional, fourth-seeded Air Force stunned No. 1 Michigan while No. 3 Vermont upended No. 2 Yale. The West regional started with No. 4 Miami of Ohio toppling No. 1 Denver University.

In the nightcap of the West regional at Mariucci Rink in Minneapolis, Minn., third-seeded Princeton University looked to follow suit and win its first-ever NCAA game as it faced No. 2 Minnesota-Duluth.

After having seen his team take some lumps in losing 5-1 to North Dakota in the 2008 NCAA tourney, Tiger head coach Guy Gadowsky believed his team was ready to take care of business against the Bulldogs.

“Last year we were just excited to see what it was about, this year we felt we belonged,” said Gadowsky, whose team was ranked 10th nationally coming into the NCAAs.

“I thought we much more business-like; we were there for a purpose not a field trip.”

As the clock headed to 10:30 p.m., it looked like Princeton was about to join the upset party. Displaying its speed and savvy, the Tigers took a 4-2 lead into the last minute of the third period.

But after Minnesota-Duluth pulled goalie Alex Stalock and then Princeton defenseman Matt Godlewski was whistled for a high-sticking penalty at the 18:55 mark, things turned very upsetting for the Tigers.

With the Bulldogs on a 6-on-4 advantage, they cashed in with 40 seconds left on a goal by Jack Connolly.

Then after Princeton goalie Zane Kalemba chose to send the puck behind the net rather than freeze it for a faceoff, Evan Oberg took the puck and banged it in the net with 0.8 seconds left.

After having squandered a late two-goal lead in a double-overtime loss to Cornell a week earlier in the ECAC Hockey semifinals, the Tigers weren’t about to fold.

“I think this team is always ready to battle adversity,” asserted Gadowsky. “This team always comes through mental challenges.”

But the gritty Tigers couldn’t overcome this challenge as the Bulldogs went on a power play at 13:23 of overtime and then scored the game winner 16 seconds later as Mike Connolly scored on the doorstep.

Princeton goalie Kalemba, whose ability to control his emotions has helped him become one of the top netminders in the nation, made no effort to hide his feelings after the loss, standing frozen in the crease with his head buried in his hands.

The rest of the Tigers filed into their dressing room, their faces blank with shock.

Afterward, Gadowsky was at a loss for words as he met with his players.

“We were all stunned that that really happened,” recalled Gadowsky, whose team ended with a 22-12-1 record. “I didn’t know what to say.”

In reflecting on the fateful final minute of regulation, Gadowsky had trouble unraveling the stunning series of events.

“It started with a bit of a phantom call behind the net,” maintained Gadowsky.

“No one cheered after the call, no one saw anything. Momentum in this game is a funny thing. They get a 6-on-4 and get one. I can’t explain what happened. It is one of those things that is still hard to believe right now. We know how hard it is to get there and you want to take advantage of your opportunities.”

For most of the evening, Princeton took advantage of its chances. After falling behind 1-0 eight minutes into the game, the Tigers responded with a goal by senior star Brett Wilson to knot the contest at 1-1 with 5:04 left in the period.

Carrying the play for most of the second period, Princeton cashed in twice. The Tigers took a 2-1 lead on a goal by Derrick Pallis 1:42 into the period. A second goal by Wilson gave Princeton a 3-1 advantage with 11:50 remaining in the period. The Bulldogs did cut the lead to 3-2 with a goal by Brady Lamb 29 seconds later.

Midway through the third period, Princeton regained the momentum as senior captain Brandan Kushniruk scored on a shorthanded goal to give the Tigers a 4-2 lead.

That lead, however, didn’t hold up as Kushniruk and classmates Lee Jubinville and Wilson ended their stellar careers in heartbreaking fashion.

“I think that when they committed to Princeton, the program had won a total of eight games in their previous two seasons,” said Gadowsky in reflecting on the impact of his trio of seniors.

“To a man, they set out to change things. They didn’t want to be part of the status quo. They had so many accomplishments as individuals and as a group. They won 43 games in their last two years.”

Each of the seniors brought something different and special to the table.

“Lee Jubinville is one of the best two-way players in the league,” said Gadowsky of the assistant captain who was the ECACH and Ivy League Player of the year as a junior.

“He is a great defensive player and the fact that he scored so much last year just shows the offensive skills he has. With Willie, the bigger the game is, the more competitive he is. It was fitting that Kush got the short-handed goal against Duluth; it was a hard-working goal. He has won everywhere and everything; he helped us learn how to win.”

In reflecting on the season as a whole, Gadowsky focused on his team’s habit of winning.

“What I am most proud of is that we made it to the tournament with an at-large bid,” said Gadowsky, noting that dramatic victories over Cornell and Yale were two major highlights of a winter which saw Princeton set a program record for single-season wins for a second straight year after going 21-14 in 2007-08.

“Last year, the only way for us to make it was to win the ECAC. I am proud that we did that but making it as an at-large shows what the team did the whole season. We did well against non-conference teams, beating teams like Northeastern, Minnesota State, and Nebraska-Omaha.”

In Gadowsky’s view, the bitter memory of the loss to Minnesota-Duluth should fuel the returning players to play even better in the future.

“I hope this will motivate them and that they channel frustration into motivation,” said Gadowsky, who will welcome back such stars as Kalemba, Godlewski, Dan Bartlett, Jody Pederson, Mark Magnowski, Brad Schroeder, and Cam MacIntyre.

“I admire them for their intelligence and quality, they are such good people and hard workers. They figure out new ways to keep impressing.”

And while things ended on an upsetting note, the Tigers certainly impressed a lot of people this winter.

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