CANTON – The heavyweight blow that ultimately ended St. Lawrence’s season did not come from a Dartmouth player in Game 2 of its ECAC Tournament first-round series on Saturday at Appleton Arena.
It game from a referee, who, amid a barrage of boos from the 1,368 fans, signaled a goal good that gave Dartmouth a two-goal edge late in the second period.
The Big Green went on to win 4-1 to advance to the ECAC quarterfinals for the second straight year.
The goal in question, scored by Doug Jones, came with SLU goalie Matt Weninger on his side after being knocked down at 15 minutes, 2 seconds of the second period.
Weninger, irate at Bob Ritchie’s call, threw off his helmet to argue. He felt Eric Robinson, who was credited with the assist, had entered the crease and knocked him down without being touched by a defenseman. The officials reviewed it and the goal stood.
“It was textbook goalie interference and textbook in the crease, and I don’t get it,” Weninger said. “Maybe it cost us the game, maybe it didn’t. But in a game that close when you’re missing calls leading directly to goals it makes it difficult to overcome.”
The goal gave Dartmouth (13-14-4 overall) a 3-1 lead and took away what momentum had been gained from Greg Carey’s goal early in the period.
“Apparently it was our own player that knocked (Weninger) down,” associate head coach Mike Hurlbut said. “I don’t know; they had a hard time explaining it. They just wanted to make sure, and we had no idea what was going on.”
That call, coupled with Dartmouth goalie Jody O’Neill’s sensational 39-save performance, ended any chance for St. Lawrence (14-19-3).
“It was pretty big because in that second period they had us hemmed in for a lot of the period,” Jones said of his score. “As far as I know (Robinson) was pushed into the net. (Weninger) didn’t really have an opportunity to make a save on it.”
Even if Weninger had saved it, St. Lawrence’s offense couldn’t figure out O’Neill. He made 16 saves in the second period alone and helped Dartmouth kill four penalties. The Big Green came into the series averaging just 75 percent on the penalty kill, but killed all 10 penalties it took in the two games.
“Our goaltender was fabulous,” Gaudet said. “I thought (St. Lawrence) played an excellent game and I thought they deserved a better fate tonight.”
Dartmouth pounced on the Saints early with two goals – one each from Andy Simpson and Matt Lindblad – in the opening 10 minutes.
Carey’s goal to make it 2-1 gave the Saints some life. Kyle Flanagan earned his 100th career point with an assist on the score.
“It’s tough knowing and feeling that we were the better team both nights,” Flanagan said. “It’s an awful feeling because of how far this team has come as a group. There’s no one word to describe it.”
Indeed, statistically the Saints dominated every category except the one that determines the winner. They outshot Dartmouth 39-22 on Saturday and 33-26 on Friday. Both nights, the Saints had more power-play opportunities, won more draws and had more zone time.
But it was O’Neill’s steady play, making 69 saves in the two games, that kept SLU from winning.
“I’m really happy to get the nod this weekend,” O’Neill said. “We were really clicking this weekend. It was fun to play.”
Nick Walsh sealed the win with an empty-net goal inside the final minute. Dartmouth will have to wait until Sunday’s games conclude to find out which of the four schools that earned a first-round bye it will face in the quarterfinals next weekend.
St. Lawrence enters its second straight off-season without making it to the ECAC championship weekend.
“We couldn’t have played any better,” Hurlbut said. “We did all we could do tonight, we just couldn’t score.”