CANTON, N.Y. — The expectation for a St. Lawrence-Clarkson playoff series is high-intensity, high-passion hockey, and that’s exactly what the two teams delivered in the first game of their best-of-three ECAC quarterfinal series Friday night at Appleton Arena.
A packed rink and a North Country rivalry provided the perfect backdrop for the game, which needed more than 60 minutes to complete.
Ultimately, the homestanding Saints won 3-2 in overtime.
It was Brian Ward’s goal, the overtime hero against No. 1 Quinnipiac earlier this season, that delivered the victory and blew the roof off of Appleton. Clarkson defenders took away all his options on a three-on-two rush, so he shot the puck, beating Greg Lewis short side high for the win.
“Drew [Smolcynski] made a nice pass to me in the neutral zone,” said Ward. “Their d-man took the pass and another d-man backchecking, so I tried to get the goalie moving to the side a little bit so I could beat him short side and luckily, it worked.
“It was a hard-fought battle. It was a high intensity playoff game and the rivalry on top of it. It was good to take the first win [and] I think that took the wind out of their sails a bit.”
“Brian had so much time there, I thought he’d gotten below the goal line,” added Saints coach Greg Carvel. “It was a really good goal. Clarkson took away the back door, so that was all he had.”
Ward played the hero, but it was Alex Dahl who scored the first goal of the game for the Saints with a tip-in on an intentionally-wide Nolan Gluchowski shot just 4:57 into the game.
Perry D’Arrisso responded for the Golden Knights with a wrist shot from the right faceoff circle while Kyle Hayton was screened to knot the game at one about 10 minutes later.
A mid-period power play for SLU seemed to be a good opportunity for the Saints to take the lead again, but in a twist of irony, it’s expiration afforded Clarkson the chance to take their first lead of the game. Nic Pierog was in the box for slashing, but when he was released, Kelly Summers found him in the neutral zone with a stretch pass, springing him on a breakaway. He came in on Hayton, deked the backhand and roofed it for the lead.
The Saints evened the score in the third with goal by Jacob Pritchard. A scrum in front of the net resulted in his eighth goal of the season. The goal was reviewed, but upheld.
Both teams had chances late, including Pritchard, but ultimately, the teams needed overtime to settle the score.
Ward’s goal marked only the second loss all year for Clarkson when leading after two periods, but captain Paul Geiger wasn’t worried about the loss in that regard.
“It’s tough, but that’s sports; one team has to win,” said Geiger. “I don’t know if anything was different tonight. They picked it up in the third and made some adjustments. We made a few mistakes and they scored. That’s a hockey game.”
Clarkson coach Casey Jones was likewise unperturbed about the OT loss, especially after winning two last weekend to sweep Princeton.
“We’ll be here to compete tomorrow night,” said Jones. “It’s going to be a long series, but it’s unfortunate to lose the first one. It’s a tough pill to swallow though, making a mistake in OT and having it wind up in the back of the net.”
“We’re two really good teams,” said Carvel. “I like the way we played the third, Clarkson was better in the second. I was comfortable with the way we were playing going into overtime. It’s a huge win. It could have gone either way and I’m glad it went ours.”