Monday, March 6, 2017

Quite A Weekend

TigerBlog was going to devote today to a recap of Friday's tripleheader of men's lacrosse, men's basketball and men's hockey.

That was the plan. It's just that a lot has happened since Friday.

He will say that there haven't been too many days for Princeton Athletics quite like last Friday. There was, among other events, the men's lacrosse game at 3 (Princeton defeated Johns Hopkins 18-7), the men's basketball game at 5 (Princeton defeated Harvard 73-69 to clinch the outright Ivy title) and the men's hockey game at 7 (Princeton lost to Colgate 3-2 in overtime in Game 1 of the ECAC opening round playoff series).

TigerBlog was going to write all about the day, how he got to Class of 1952 Stadium around 1 and didn't leave the rink until around 10. It would have been good stuff. Trust him.

He will say that he wonders how many Princeton fans - not athletic department staff - went to all three games. Oh, and speaking of athletic department staff, this weekend was a pretty challenging one, with the sheer number of events alone. Kudos to all of TB's colleagues, from event management, the ticket office, the grounds crew, the equipment staff - everyone.

Anyway, he'll talk about men's lacrosse tomorrow, since the Tigers play their fifth straight home game to start the season tomorrow, when they host Quinnipiac at 7. That's tomorrow's subject.

And there will be a lot of time later in the week for basketball, what with both the men's and women's teams headed to the first Ivy League tournament this weekend at the Palestra.

TB will say that whatever happens for the men's basketball team from here out, it's not easy to go 14-0 in the Ivy League, which is what the 2016-17 Princeton Tigers did. It's only happened 14 times in all now, six times by Princeton teams and not by anyone since Cornell did so nine years ago.

Also, Princeton did what well-coached teams do. It got better as the year went along.

But as TB said, there'll be plenty of time for that later.

As for today, he's not going to start with the Friday tripleheader, unless he already did, in which case, he'll now move along to something else.

Like wrestling.

While all that activity was going on on campus, the wrestling team was at the EIWA championships at Bucknell. The event was, among other things, the qualifier for the NCAA tournament.

Princeton will be sending at least six wrestlers to St. Louis for the championships, and maybe a seventh, if last year's All-America, Brett Harner, gets an at-large bid tomorrow.

Princeton had two EIWA champions - freshman Matthew Kolodzik and senior Jordan Laster - and four others - Pat D'Arcy, Mike D'Angelo, Jonathan Schleifer and Ray O'Donnell earned automatic bids to St. Louis.

If TigerBlog is correct, this is the highest number of wrestlers Princeton has ever sent to the NCAA championships. As a team, Princeton finished third at the EIWA meet.

TigerBlog doesn't know much about wrestling. He knows that the wrestling office is next to his office and that they sometimes play their music a little loudly. He also knows that Princeton has built something very special in the sport.

He was particularly struck by the quote from head coach Chris Ayres, who had this to say: "I was saying the other day that there were years we were done after Day 1."

And now? Two champs, and six or seven advancing.

Then there's hockey.

If you weren't at Hobey Baker Rink the last two weekends, you missed some really dramatic stuff. Two straight home weekends of ECAC hockey playoffs, first the women, and then the men. Both series went the distance, while the other six first round series between the men and women were both sweeps.

Of the six games at Baker Rink the last two weekends, three went to overtime. Of the other three, one was a two-goal game and two were one-goal game. At no point during any of those six games, which totaled more than 500 minutes with the overtimes, did any team have better than a two-goal lead.

Included in that was Game 2 Saturday night, which is one of the very best Princeton athletic events TigerBlog has ever seen. Yes, he knows how many games that's taking into account. Yes, he's not prone to hyberbole. This was a great game, start to finish. 

It certainly had all the makings of a classic. An elimination game, after Princeton lost Friday. An early deficit, when Colgate led 2-0 at the end of the first. A big comeback, tying it at 2-2, followed by another deficit, two minutes later, midway through the second, and then what seemed to be a frustrating look at a clock that wound down and down - almost to zero - without the equalizer.

Except it came, with one second left in the third period, on an amazing goal from Eric Robinson, who dove across the ice to just beat the clock. It was as shocking a play as TB has seen in a long time.

All that was left was the overtime, which Princeton took on a goal from Max Veronneau. And that set up last night's deciding game. 

It was a game befitting a winner-take-all playoff game. It wasn't quite the epic that the one Saturday night was, but it was thrilling. Princeton fell behind six minutes in, but goalie Colton Phinney wiped Colgate out from there. Derek Topatigh tied in the first period, and Ryan Kuffner scored with 6:43 left in the second.

Phinney turned aside 35 shots, including all 15 in the third period, to make the lead stand up. Final score: Princeton 2-1. For the game and for the series.

As a result, Princeton won its first playoff series since 2009. Next up is a quarterfinal series at Union, who beat Princeton 7-3 and 4-2 during the regular season.

Do those games matter now? Nope. Princeton is dripping with confidence, the kind that comes from winning the kinds of games Princeton has been doing the last three months. It was that experience and that confidence that pushed Princeton back from the brink this weekend, and it has a team that was picked to finish last in the 12-team league very much alive in Round 2.

Princeton hockey has a young nucleus to go with its senior goalie. The team has, as TB has said all winter, gone from the last in Division I to win a game to one that nobody wants to mess with right now.

It's been a remarkable turnaround. This season, and in this series.

Actually, "remarkable" is a good word for the entire weekend, so remarkable that it messed up TigerBlog's original plan for today. In a really good way.

1 comment:

gogringo said...

My dog's name is Phinney