Men's hockey moves on to ECAC Quarterfinals after OT wins

by Sam Stockton | 3/7/16 7:37pm

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Men's hockey will play Yale in the ECAC Quarterfinals.

Sunday night against Colgate University, men’s hockey head coach Bob Gaudet ’81 knew the game would come down to someone making a crucial play. Tim O’Brien ’16 made that play. In double overtime of game three of the best-of-three series against Colgate, O’Brien took a pass from linemate John Ernsting ’19 and proceeded to rifle a shot past Colgate goaltender Charlie Fin.The 4-3 win punched the Big Green’s ticket to an ECAC quarterfinals match-up with Yale University in New Haven. Finn had recently been named the ECAC’s Goalie of the Week after allowing just one goal in two games.

The Big Green won games one and three, 3-2 and 4-3 respectively, of the best-of-three series with Colgate in overtime despite a number of crucial absences. Stalwart defenseman Ryan Bullock ’16 did not play at all due to a lower body injury that put him in a walking boot, and Corey Kalk ’18, who had scored five goals in his previous three games and was recently named ECAC Player of the Week, was held out due to what Gaudet called a “coach’s decision” and a “violation of team rules.” Then, in the series opener on Friday night, Jack Barre ’16 went down early in the first period and missed the remainder of the series with an upper body injury. Barre, the Big Green’s leading scorer, was recently named first-team All-Ivy League. Gaudet does not expect either Barre or Bullock to return for the quarterfinals series with Yale. As for Kalk, Gaudet was indecisive, but acknowledged the potential benefit of returning another forward to his lineup.

“It’ll be my decision, and he’s a good kid,” Gaudet said. “I just have to sit down with the staff and a couple people. It would be nice to have another body.”

After battling through a frustrating and injury-riddled season, captain Brad Schierhorn ’16 led the way in game one for the Big Green. After just two goals all season, the Alaska native tallied a hat trick in the series opener.

“He was huge for us tonight,” Gaudet said. “He drove the net. That line [with Troy Crema ’17 and Nick Bligh ’16] played really well. He has been injured all year, and he’s kept on playing, so we don’t say much about it. He’s trying to help in any way, but for a stretch there, he couldn’t shoot the puck. It wasn’t gonna come off his stick; it’s a good sign that he’s feeling better. I was so pleased for him. He’s a passionate guy, and he took us on his back tonight.”

Schierhorn seems to live for the first round of the ECAC playoffs. At the conclusion of game one, he had registered seven goals and two assists in nine career first round games, though he was unable to identify the cause of that success.

“It’s not like I’m changing my game or anything — pucks are just finding my stick at the right time,” he said.

Schierhorn opened the scoring in the game’s first period with assists coming from Bligh and Crema. After a pair of Colgate goals put the Big Green down one entering the third, Schierhorn beat Finn for the second time with Crema and Bligh assisting once again. The captain completed the hat trick when a Connor Yau ’19 shot deflected straight to him, and he rifled it into a wide-open net, prompting a few hats to be thrown to the ice, along with Bullock’s walking boot.

“I saw Horn right before we went for overtime, and I told him if he gets the hat trick winner, I’m throwing my boot on the ice,” Bullock said.

Schierhorn emphasized the importance of a simple approach to his success on the game.

“I was just moving my feet, trying to keep it simple and just do the little things right,” Schierhorn said. “The first two goals, I was just going to the net hard. The last one was just a shot that found my stick. We weren’t making any fancy plays.”

In the series opener, a trend of after-the-whistle shoving and jostling emerged that would last throughout much of the series. Seemingly after every whistle, members of the two teams would find themselves engaged in some sort of altercation.

“Every time we play these guys, it’s always a battle,” Schierhorn said. “Stuff goes on after the whistle. If that happens, we’ll play that game and try not to get too chippy.”

James Kruger ’16 started in net for the Big Green, making 20 saves and earning the win on Friday.

In a game that was reminiscent of the series opener, the Big Green took an early lead in game two on Saturday but trailed going into the final period, with the night ending in a 5-3 loss. On the team’s lone power play of the night, Brett Patterson ’16 redirected a puck to cut the deficit to one, and Alex Jasiek ’19 tied it minutes later. However, before the Big Green could reclaim the lead, Yau was sent to the box for interference on a questionable call. Yau tugged at an oncoming Colgate forward, who appeared to embellish the effects of Yau’s play and fell to the ice. While Gaudet did not blame the officials, he observed the difficulty of dealing with the inconsistency of different officiating crews.

“Last night there were embellishment calls, and tonight there weren’t,” he said. “We were one-for-one on the power play, and only had one all night long. It’s a funny game that way where the other guys get the game winner on a power play, and we only get one all night. The thing about college hockey at this time is that you have to adjust to totally different officiating from one night to the next. It’s two different guys, and they’ll see the game differently. It is what it is; they do a good job.”

Patterson, who for the second night in a row found himself in the middle of several confrontations with Colgate players after the whistle, addressed the importance of toeing the line between passion and foolhardiness.

“You have to ride the threshold,” Patterson said. “We played this team twice late in the year, so there was already some animosity going into this weekend before it even started. Clearly, we’re not used to playing teams Friday, Saturday, so things carry over. Now, with a third game, you want to keep that passion up, that edge — you want to keep that hatred up towards the other team, but you’ve got to keep your emotions in check. You’ve got to stay focused on the goal, and that’s clearly winning.”

After the game two loss, Gaudet pointed out that he expects a team like Colgate, which places high priority on its hockey program, to put a competitive team on the ice.

“They’re a great team, as they should be,” he said. “That’s a school that’s not that dissimilar from Dartmouth College in terms of their academic credentials, but they have 18 full scholarships. They should be pretty good. At Colgate University, that’s the highest level team they have, and our kids are fighting them tooth and nail. We know what we have — we’ve got the team that can win the series. We just have to play really hard against a really good team.”

Despite making 24 saves, Kruger took the loss in net. In game three of the series, Kruger was replaced by Charles Grant ’16, with Gaudet citing a reluctance to use one goaltender three days in a row as the cause for the switch. The double overtime epic on Sunday was the perfect end to highly competitive series between the two teams.

“There was a lot of emotion involved early in the series in a borderline way,” Gaudet said. “There was a lot yapping. Today, there was a mutual respect. Our kids, their kids, everyone battled really hard. No one deserved to lose that game.”

Throughout the game, the Big Green showed tremendous resilience in responding quickly to a Colgate team that refused to fade. Tylor Spink opened the scoring for the Raiders just 3:35 into the game, but Carl Hesler ’18 was able to tie the game just over five minutes later on a beautiful set-up by linemate Grant Opperman ’17.

After a scoreless second period, Colgate appeared to take control of the game when Tim Harrison beat Grant to give the Raiders a 2-1 lead. Not only did the Big Green surrender a goal, but Tim Shoup ’18 was assessed a penalty for cross-checking. However, just 17 seconds later, O’Brien fed Josh Hartley ’17, who rocketed a shot past Finn to tie the game on a short-handed goal.

Again, the Raiders appeared poised to steal away the series when Derek Freeman found the back of the net, but 59 seconds later Bligh buried a shot to tie the game once again. After four goals in just under four minutes of play, both teams failed to score on several chances until O’Brien lifted a puck past Finn in double overtime. Gaudet explained the complex emotions that go into such a back-and-forth game.

“It’s nerve-wracking, but honestly, you’re prepared for both outcomes,” he said. “We want to win, we want to give everything that we have to win, but we know that the game is a bounce of the puck.”

As the game wore on, the Big Green’s depth began to show more than ever. For most of the two overtimes, the Raiders relied on the same nine forwards and four defensemen, while the Big Green utilized their entire contingent of skaters. The line of Ernsting, O’Brien and Jasiek made some of the team’s biggest plays. The “JOE” line as Gaudet called it served as the team’s fourth line for the series’ first two games and third for the rubber match.

“Obie is kind of the glue on whatever line he plays on, being an older guy and just so reliable. He can play on any line we have. The plan was to get a veteran presence with those two young guys,” Gaudet said.

Beyond their contributions on the score sheet, Jasiek made perhaps the biggest play of the series when he dove to make a sprawling shot block with Kruger down and out in overtime of the series opener.

With Colgate in the rearview mirror, the Big Green now turns to its quarterfinals match-up with Yale. The team has been swept out of the quarters in each of the last four seasons. In program history, the Big Green are just 1-15 all-time when on the road in the ECAC Quarterfinals.

History aside, the impending match-up with Yale will be a difficult one for the Big Green. The Bulldogs swept the team in the regular season and earned the second seed in the ECAC tournament, posting a 14-5-3 ECAC record. Overall, the Bulldogs have only lost six games all season long. This time around, Dartmouth will be without Bullock, Barre, and possibly Kalk.

“They’re very quick, they’re really well-coached, they have an outstanding goalie, and [Rob] O’Gara is a great defensive player,” Gaudet said. “Our kids will answer the bell.”

Patterson emphasized that despite the notable absences the Big Green remains confident.

“It’s never easy when you lose Jack Barre and Ryan Bullock, two very influential seniors,” he said. “Guys have been stepping up, stepping into their spots. They’re in the locker room, and they’re our biggest fans. We need them too, even when they’re hurt. We’ve got to fill that void. [Kalk and Barre] are dynamic goal-scorers. Barre is a play-maker, kind of a deception guy. Clearly he’s our leading goal-scorer, and Kalk has that deadly shot, but we’ve got a lot of kids on this team who can score. We’ve got a lot of faith in the guys we have on the ice.”

The daunting showdown with Yale is no cause for despair for the undermanned Big Green. As overtime hero O’Brien said, “The best part about the playoffs is that it’s really anybody’s game.”