Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXIII, No. 11
 
Wednesday, March 18, 2009
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RETURN TRIP: Princeton University men’s hockey senior forward Brett Wilson fires the puck in a game earlier this season. Last Sunday, Wilson chipped in a goal and an assist as the Tigers beat Union 3-1 in the decisive third game of the ECACH quarterfinal series between the teams. Princeton will look to win its second straight ECACH title as it heads up to Albany, N.Y. this weekend for the league’s Final Four. Third-seeded Princeton, now 22-10 overall, will face second-seeded Cornell (20-8-4) Friday one semifinal with the winner advancing to the title game Saturday against either Yale or St. Lawrence.

With Wilson Jump-Starting PU Men’s Hockey, Tigers Book Return Trip to ECACH Final Four

Bill Alden

It would have been understandable if Brett Wilson and his fellow seniors on the Princeton University men’s hockey team didn’t sleep too well last Saturday night.

Earlier in the evening, Princeton had squandered an opportunity to close out visiting Union in a best-of-three ECAC Hockey quarterfinal series, committing some sloppy errors on the way to a 5-2 loss.

But while Wilson, together with classmates Lee Jubinville and Brandan Kushniruk, faced the possibility of ending their stellar careers Sunday, they weren’t fazed by the situation.

“We were a little bit down right after the game; we knew that we didn’t have a very good effort and we wanted to close it out there,” said Wilson.

“We three seniors were hoping that that last night was going to be our last game here but tonight we knew for sure that it was going to be the last game. We wanted to go out with a win like the seniors did last year.”

With Princeton’s recent record of success in Game 3 situations at Baker Rink, perhaps the third-seeded Tigers had the No. 8 Dutchmen just where they wanted them.

In 2007, Princeton topped Brown 4-3 in the third game of an ECACH opening round series and last year the Tigers blanked Yale 4-0 in Game 3 of the ECACH quarterfinals.

“My last three years here we have had a home playoff series and we went to the third game,” said Wilson, who helped the Tigers win the ECACH Championship last season at the Times Union Center in Albany, N.Y. “We worked all year to get home ice for a game like this; it was huge for us.”

Wilson didn’t waste any time coming up huge in the decisive Game 3, swatting home a rebound generated by a Jubinville shot to put Princeton ahead just 56 seconds into the contest.

Some 72 seconds later, Princeton doubled its lead as the sizzling Dan Bartlett found the back of the net for his fourth goal of the series.

Just over four minutes later, Wilson and Jubinville were at it again, linking up on a short-handed situation as Jubinville cashed in a Wilson feed to give the Tigers a 3-0 lead.

With Princeton junior goalie and ECAC Player of the Year Zane Kalemba showing his customary coolness under fire, the early strikes held up as Princeton won 3-1 before 1,050 at Baker Rink.

Princeton, now 22-10 overall, will face second-seeded Cornell (20-8-4) Friday night in Albany in one semifinal. The victor of that clash will face the survivor of the semifinal between top-seeded Yale and No. 4 St. Lawrence in the title game Saturday night.

In Wilson’s view, the quick start in Game 3 was critical. “It has been a little downfall for us; we have been letting teams get out to early leads,” said Wilson, a 6’0, 185-pound native of Calgary, Alberta. “To get three in the first 10 minutes tonight is obviously huge.”

As for his early goal, it came down to Wilson being in the right place at the right time.

“I just tried to feed the puck in there to Lee, he has such good speed,” recalled Wilson, who now has a team-high 25 points on the season and 104 in his career.

“He got the defenseman turned around and he was able to get two quick shots off. Luckily the ref was right behind the net and so he could see it sitting right behind the goalie and didn’t blow it down. I was just able to beat their guy to the puck, it was nice to get that first one.”

Things didn’t go so nicely for Princeton in the second period as Union outshot the Tigers 18-7 and scored with 6:10 left in the frame.

“They definitely outplayed us in the second, getting 18 shots,” said Wilson.

“We knew if we were giving up those opportunities, it wasn’t going to be a good one in the third so we definitely wanted to tighten up. I think we did a good job of keeping them to the outside. I don’t think they got too many quality opportunities over the last 10 minutes so it was a good adjustment.”

Princeton head coach Guy Gadowsky wasn’t surprised with the quality play he got from his trio of seniors in Sunday’s do-or-die game.

“I can’t overstate what they mean to this program everyday,” said Gadowsky, whose team opened the series by beating Union 3-2 last Friday.

“If you look at tonight, all three of them were excellent. I tell you what, those three guys are competitors.”

The Tigers needed to bring plenty of competitive fire in order to subdue a gritty Union team.

“We faced an incredibly tough hockey team, they have a lot of character on that team,” said Gadowsky.

“They are a very physical, tough hockey team, they outworked us yesterday. Tonight the guys made a decision that we have to push back a little bit and I think we did. I thought we played a good physical game ourselves.”

The return of bruising junior forward Cam MacIntyre helped beef things up for the Tigers.

“You can see how much he means to our lineup,” said Gadowsky referring to the 6’1, 215-pound MacIntyre, who didn’t play in the first two games of the series due to a lingering upper body injury. “He is a big strong horse and he brings out a lot of confidence for us.”

The superb play of goalie Kalemba certainly gives Princeton a huge boost of confidence.

“I don’t look at the individual stats too long but at least at the end of the season, Zane had the best numbers in the nation,” said Gadowsky of the junior netminder who has a goals against average of 1.69 and a .936 save percentage and was also named the ECAC Goaltender of the Year and the Ivy League Player of the Year.

“If you have a goaltender that is arguably the best in the nation, that’s a huge advantage.”

The play of junior forward Bartlett also gave Princeton a key advantage in the Union series.

“He’s just a highlight reel,” asserted Gadowsky of Bartlett who now has 23 points on the season, second most on the Tigers.

“One thing he doesn’t get enough credit for is that he is one competitive SOB. He scores the sweetest goals but in terms of being competitive, he is anything but sweet.”

In making a return trip to Albany, Princeton knows it is going to have to compete hard in order to earn a second straight ECAC title.

The Tigers are currently ranked eighth in the USCHO.com national poll while Cornell is ninth, Yale is seventh, and St. Lawrence is 14th.

“You are going to see the four teams that proved over the course of the season that they deserve to be there,” said Gadowsky. “I think it’s going to be everything that everybody expects.”

Wilson, for his part, is expecting a battle with Cornell on Friday night. “They have got a big, strong physical team and we are going to go in and just try to play our speed game,” said Wilson, noting that the teams split in the regular season with Cornell winning 1-0 in November and Princeton rallying for a 2-1 win over the Big Red in February.

“Zane has been huge all year, we are going to need a big game out of him; they have some players that can really shoot the puck.”

Getting back to Albany is something that Wilson and his classmates have been shooting for all season.

“It’s an amazing feeling; it was definitely something we wanted to repeat,” said Wilson.

“We didn’t want to let the guys down going in as seniors. We wanted to get back there; it is going to be exciting. It’s going to take two really strong games to defend the title.”

If the Tigers can pull that off, Wilson and his teammates will likely be too excited to sleep Saturday night.

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