CANTON – Princeton head coach Bob Prier, who spent 10 seasons as an assistant under St. Lawrence head coach Joe Marsh, made his first trip back to Appleton Arena knowing what to expect on Saturday.
He knew the Saints had won three straight, scored 13 goals in that stretch and killed 13 consecutive penalties. He knew their power play was dangerous and that the Saints had climbed from out last place in the conference into seventh.
And still he couldn’t stop them as the Saints skated away with their fourth straight ECAC Hockey win with a 4-1 triumph over the Tigers in front of 1,350 fans.
Only Colgate, Union, Cornell and Yale have won four straight ECAC games this season.
“That’s the best team that we’ve faced this year,” Prier said. “We don’t have any excuses whatsoever. They outplayed us in every single facet of the game. That’s as bad as we’ve been dominated all year.”
For months St. Lawrence co-captains Jacob Drewiske and Kyle Flanagan as well as associate head coach Mike Hurlbut said this day would come. Drewiske especially predicted St. Lawrence (12-15-3 overall, 8-9-1 ECAC) would be a difficult team as the playoffs approached.
But the Saints could hardly score, much less be that pesky team. Two weeks ago, SLU had not won in eight conference games and just suffered back-to-back shutouts for the first time in eight seasons.
Now, they’re in position to push for a playoff bye, which was all but unimaginable to anyone outside St. Lawrence’s locker room.
“Since school started back up I don’t think anyone has felt this good,” SLU forward Greg Carey said. “Everyone’s excited.”
Carey started St. Lawrence’s scoring against Princeton (7-12-6, 5-10-3) with a power-play goal at 12 minutes, 46 seconds of the first, and the Saints took a 1-0 lead to the first-period intermission.
After Princeton’s Marc Hagel tied it, Carey fed Kyle Flanagan on another power play to put the Saints back up by one.
“That’s one of the most dominant power plays we’ve faced all year,” Prier said. “
In the third, which has been catastrophic for the Saints this season, they gave Princeton an opportunity to tie it. Justin Baker earned a five-minute major and game misconduct for head-butting that gave the Tigers and extended power play.
The Saints already killed four penalties against Princeton to that point. On Friday, the Saints killed all 10 it took against Quinnipiac.
“I think we got some momentum last night with the kills,” Hurlbut said. “Again, the penalty kill was really good for us.”
After killing off the first two minutes of the major, Princeton’s Marc Hagel took a tripping minor, and Kyle Essery scored just 31 seconds later to put the Saints up, 3-1.
“We needed something to push back against them,” Essery said. “I think that goal was huge.”
Patrick Doherty added St. Lawrence’s fourth goal at 17:29 of the third. St. Lawrence has scored 17 goals over its four-game win streak. The Saints scored only 12 goals during their eight-game conference winless stretch.
The Saints outshot the Tigers, 35-28, and have now killed 19 consecutive penalties. SLU’s penalty kill percentage improved from 77.5 percent before the weekend to 80 percent after Princeton.
Before the game, the Friends of St. Lawrence Hockey presented Prier with a plaque acknowledging his contributions to the program as a player and later a coach. Prier is a graduated from St. Lawrence in 1999 after a four-year career in which he accumulated 116 career points.
“It’s just an incredible group of great hockey people,” Prier said. “It was unexpected and I’m absolutely honored and humbled by that type of recognition.”