Wacky Weekend: Tigers Get 'Em By the Tail
by Joseph Edwards/CHN Writer
The entire weekend looked to be a big prank, one that could only be orchestrated by Ivy League scholars.
From the looks of it, Princeton set everything up with its first 21 games; a 13-2 run to open the season, with victories over Quinnipiac, Northeastern and Minnesota State. Just when the rest of the country thought they were bordering on unbeatable, three straight January losses showed the Tigers weren't immune to fatigue and injuries.
"Before exams, we were kind of banged-up, not really as sharp and focused as we were early on in the season," junior goalie Zane Kalemba said. "We got to have a break, and get some guys healthy."
Rested and rejuvenated, Princeton dropped a disappointing matchup at Yale, its fourth-straight conference loss, but bounced back to take two points at Brown with a 5-1 win. There were big questions as to whether the Tigers were the same contenders as early on in the season, and the questioning of their legitimacy set the table for last weekend.
The first feeling that someone was messing around came in the Tigers' match-up at Colgate. After jumping out in front, 2-0, Princeton saw its lead evaporate into a 2-2 tie early in the third period.
"We had a little bit of a letdown in the third period, we didn't come out as strong," Kalemba said. "We wanted to come out and get the next one, and that didn't happen. But you never worry, you can't dwell on losing the lead. If we had come out of that game with just one point, we would have been a little disappointed."
Not content to let the Raiders take away a much-needed conference point, sophomore defenseman Cam Ritchie gave the Tigers the last laugh, tallying his first goal of the season with 42 seconds left in overtime.
Things appeared in Princeton's favor as it prepared to do battle at Cornell, though first, it would have to get there — something it quickly became clear might not happen. The team stayed in Hamilton overnight with the intent to head to Ithaca the next day.
"Twenty-to-thirty minutes outside Hamilton, a hose or something came loose in the engine," Kalemba said. "It just overheated."
A replacement bus was called, the problem fixed, and the game time pushed back from 7 p.m. to 8:30. While the players used the time to relax and re-focus, it was widely recognized that the bus breakdown was not all fun and games.
"We were lucky because it was a warm day out — if it was the day before, it would have been different," Tigers coach guy Gadowsky said. "It wasn't a positive thing for anybody. Having the game time moved back had the same effect on both teams. Once we got there everything moved pretty fast for us."
The jokes just kept on rolling. Not only did they arrive late and rush through their pregame routine, but they were set to face a well-rested Big Red, who had dealt Princeton a 1-0 defeat earlier in the season.
With a literal set of 'bus legs,' Princeton escaped the first period with the score tied at zero, despite being outshot 15-6.
"They took it to us pretty good, but we got some good goaltending and were able to squeeze out of that period," Gadowsky said.
The Tigers weren't so lucky in the second, as Cornell's Blake Gallagher scored on the man advantage to take the driver's seat. As the clock wound down in the second, and then in the third, it appeared history would repeat itself. But Princeton had spent the past day and a half proving, it could never be counted out.
Gadowsky pulled Kalemba for an extra attacker, and with 0:36 left on the clock, Dan Bartlett put the Tigers on the board. While conventional thought is to build on the momentum, Princeton instead used it immediately. Just 18 seconds later, Taylor Fedun took advantage of a fallen Cornell defender and put the puck behind Big Red goalie Ben Scrivens to take the lead, which the Tigers took to the standings.
"We were pretty pumped to score two at the end of the game," Kalemba said. "In the locker room, we were feeling good about it. I mean, one or two bounces the other way and we could have gone without a point over the weekend."
"We feel doubly good about it, it was an eight-point swing for us," Gadowsky agreed.
With the win, the Tigers are nipping at the heels of the Big Red in more ways than one; they sit one point behind second place Cornell in a tight ECAC race, while nationally, Princeton sits two spots behind in the Pairwise at eighth, and three back in the polls at ninth overall. While the wins, points, and postseason implications are the most immediate concerns, the players and coaches will take with them the experience, and the biggest laughs.
"It was pretty incredible to be a part of — it caught everybody off gaurd, even our coaches," Gadowsky added. "Just to fight back in that building. Lynah is a great place to play, we were just happy to get there. It almost seems like the prank was played on us. I wish we had the ability to script something like that, it was really cool to be a part of."