Princeton's Regional Run Cut Short by Louisville
Riding a 5-game win streak and a CSCHC Championship, Princeton rolled into Dale City Virginia for its first ACHA Regional appearance in team history. Their opponent: the Louisville Cardinals, also seeking their sixth straight win after a dominant performance in the TSCHL playoffs, knocking off top-seeded Ohio University in the final to take the title. Two league champions with one spot in the second round up for grabs.
Louisville set the tone early, using the Olympic-size ice to its advantage. The Louisville offense put on a passing clinic, confidently gaining the offensive zone and pressuring the Tiger defense. Turk was busy early, making a flurry of saves on more than one occasion. The Tigers countered with some prime offensive chances of their own, but were unable to break through. Shortly after the midway mark, Louisville set up in the offensive zone and worked the puck around to the top of the circle. The forward offered an errant shot, but it was blocked in front of the net and shoved over the goal line. Just under three minutes later, Louisville entered the Tiger zone on a fast break. A scramble in front left the point unguarded. The puck found its way to the defenseman who blasted a slapper through traffic into the net. Louisville held its 2-0 lead as the period came to a close.
The Tigers shook off their bus legs as they entered the second period. Louisville pressed on with the same offensive fervor, but the Tiger defense was up to the task. Mac Hugin captained the back line with relentless pressure. Hannah Sorkin was a wall, turning aside countless odd-man opportunities. Ryan Gizzie and Dennis Guo were ferocious in front of the net to allow Turk to track pucks and make an eventual 18 saves in the period. On the offensive side, the Tigers sticks started to come alive. Unable to convert on several great rebound chances, it looked like the score might remain locked after two. But at the 14 minute mark, Drew Bennett entered the zone on a pass from Guo. He used the defenseman as a screen and caught the goalie off guard with a low shot through the five hole. The Tigers carried the momentum into the locker room, facing a familiar 1-goal deficit going into the third period.
Princeton's momentum was aided by an early Cardinal cross-checking penalty. The Tigers went to work on the powerplay. Ben Sorkin took his usual position at the half wall. He fed the puck to Dennis Guo at the top of the blue line. He took a low shot that appeared to be going wide. But Patrick Hompe was in the perfect position, and made an incredible play to tip it through the goaltender's legs, erasing the deficit to knot the game at 2. The Tiger looked possessed; they swarmed the Louisville zone and peppered the goaltender. Princeton got a prime chance to seize the lead when a Louisville defenseman was called for a hooking penalty. Several chances ensued on the power play; early on, Hompe took a one-timer from the slot that the Cardinal goaltender managed to get a blocker on. Just as the penalty came to a close, Louisville won the puck in the Tiger zone. Turk picked up a shot late from in tight and was unable to control the rebound. The Louisville forward got to the puck and flipped it over Turk's glove into the net. Reminiscent of the TCNJ championship game, the Tigers were dealt a devastating momentum shift. But another Cardinal penalty gave them a chance at a tie. One minute into the powerplay, Bennett collected a pass from Guo as he entered the zone. His initial shot was turned aside, but he found the rebound and banked it off the goalie's skate to tie it up at 3. The teams lined up at the center dot with 7:30 to decide their fates. Tiger forwards Peter Kuenne, Matt Kelly, and Alex Vukasin were tenacious in their puck pursuit. Momentum shifted back and forth as the teams traded odd man rushes. With 5 minutes remaining, the Tigers took their first penalty of the game to put Louisville up a man. The Tiger PK locked down the opposition for most of the man advantage. Mac Hugin and Antoine Crepin-Heroux sacrificed the body to keep the puck away from the net. As the powerplay came to a close, a shot from outside got blocked in front. Just as Turk got back to his feet, the Louisville forward slapped it under his pad for the 4-3 lead. The Tigers had 4 minutes for a tying goal, but this time they couldn't find the comeback magic that had carried them to Virginia. As the clock wound down, Louisville gained control and sent the puck into an empty net, punching their ticket to play Penn State in the second round.
It was a tough way to go out, but the loss took nothing away from Princeton's incredible season. Posting a 15-7-1 record, the 2015-2016 Tigers went farther than any club hockey team before them. The CSCHC title was the team's first league championship since 2004-2005. As they look ahead to next year, they are excited to get back to work in their quest to get to the ACHA national tournament. Signing off until next season, your webmaster and hisorian, #30.