March 8, 2023

Showing Resilience by Topping Union in ECAH Playoff, PU Men’s Hockey Heading to Harvard for Quarters Series

COMING THROUGH: Princeton University men’s hockey player Spencer Kersten, left, controls the puck in a game this season. Last Saturday, Kersten scored the final two goals for ninth-seeded Princeton as it defeated eighth-seeded Union 6-4 in an ECAC Hockey one-game first round playoff contest. The Tigers, now 13-17 overall, will be playing in a best-of-three ECACH quarterfinal series at second-seeded Harvard (21-6-2) starting on March 10. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

By Bill Alden

Unable to get its offense going, the Princeton University men’s hockey fell 3-1 at Union College in its regular season finale on February 25.

Last Saturday, Princeton got another shot at Union in Schenectady, N.Y., as the teams met in an ECAC Hockey one-game first round playoff contest and the Tigers were clicking from the start.

Princeton jumped out to a 2-0 first period lead on goals by Ian Murphy and Jack Cronin.

“Through the year, we have played well with a lead and held it,” said Princeton head coach Ron Fogarty. “We have struggled down the stretch to come back from a goal or two deficit but not because of a lack of trying. The two goals were good.”

Ninth-seeded Princeton extended its lead over the eighth-seeded Dutchmen to 4-1 early in the second period as Pito Walton and Murphy found the back of the net, but Fogarty knew things were far from over.

“There was still a lot of game left,” said Fogarty. “As a coach, you are always preparing for what-ifs and what-is. It was definitely an eventful game.”

Spurred by a raucous home crowd of 2,119 at Messa Rink, Union battled back to knot the game at 4-4. Senior captain Spencer Kersten, though, saved the day for Princeton, tallying two goals in the last 4:03 of the game as the Tigers prevailed 6-4.

Princeton, who improved to 13-17 overall, will now play a best-of-three ECACH quarterfinal series at second-seeded Harvard (21-6-2) starting on March 10.

“It is where our culture is and how we handle adversity,” said Fogarty, reflecting on the grit his players showed in overcoming the Dutchmen. “The penalty kill was big. Getting that too many men penalty in killed off (midway through the third period) helped the momentum change because they had two special team goals and a short-handed goal.”

Fogarty was thrilled to see Kersten come through. “Spencer is a gifted, talented offensive player, he has shown in the past that he can score,” said Fogarty of Kersten, who had 10 points this season on four goals and six assists. “It is not the season that he has wanted on the offense stat sheet. He has evolved into a defensive guy, he is a stalwart back there. He has been really good on the face-off dot for us this year and he took a lot of key face-offs against Union. He has always been capable of scoring. For him to unleash those two, I was really happy for him. I know our team was really happy too.”

The play of senior goalie Aidan Porter, who made 31 saves, also made Fogarty happy.

“He was solid,” said Fogarty of Porter, who was the backup for most of the season but has assumed starting duties with Ethan Person sidelined by injury. “In the first period, he made two point blank saves on d-zone breakdowns and gave us every opportunity to win.”

Cashing in on the playoff opportunity was important for the Tiger program.

“It is a big win for our young group, seeing a lot of hard work, dedication, and resiliency paying off in a one-game, winner-take-all situation,” said Fogarty. “It is great for the five seniors in the group (Walton, Kersten, Porter, Liam Gorman, and Matt Hayami) to be rewarded for a lot of work. The five seniors did a great job on Saturday.”

The Tigers are bringing confidence into the quarterfinal match-up with the high-powered Crimson.

“Harvard is a team that we have a third period lead in both games; our guys believe we can get the job done,” said Fogarty, whose team led the Crimson 2-1 in the third period of the season opener on October 29 before falling 4-2 and then built a 3-0 third period lead in a rematch with Harvard on January 6 before losing 4-3 in overtime.

“We have to slow down their top two lines and just keep them to the outside and even then they are very talented and crafty. They are No. 6 in the country for a reason. They are heavily loaded offensively. They have a Hobey Baker candidate up front with [Sean] Farrell, they have [Matthew] Coronato, [Joe] Miller, and [Alex] Laferriere. It keeps going and going. They have six NHL draft picks on the defense. They have all of the glitz and glamour. We just have to play a strong team game. It is just to make sure that they have to go 200 feet to get pucks in deep and limit our turnovers.”

In coming through against Union, Princeton displayed strong character as it stayed in the present.

“The game at Union was in a hostile environment, it was a great crowd for Union,” said Fogarty. “There was a lot of adversity in the game. We get out to a lead and then lose a three-goal lead and battle back. We only had one power play, they had more special team opportunities; they capitalized on two power plays and a short-handed goal. There was a lot of momentum swings and our guys did a great job of just being in the right mental framework of focusing on what the task is at hand. It is not worrying about the score, it is the next shift.”