POTSDAM The Clarkson University mens hockey team will have captain Ben Sexton back tonight as the Golden Knights face Princeton in the first game of a best-of-three ECAC Hockey first-round playoff series at Cheel Arena.
Clarkson will face the Tigers at 7 tonight. Game two is scheduled to start at 7:30 p.m. Saturday and game three, if needed, will begin at 7 p.m. Sunday.
Sexton has missed the past seven games for Clarkson (18-14-4 overall) after being hurt on a hit against the boards in a game at Princeton on Feb. 8. Clarkson went 1-3-2 in his absence, losing the first three games but closing the season with a 1-0-2 record, including a 1-1 tie last Saturday against Quinnipiac, which lost to Yale in last seasons NCAA title game.
Any time you are out you really realize how much you miss the game and how much you really love it, Sexton said. I would have liked to have been out there (last) weekend, but that was not my decision, it was the doctors, but Ill be ready this weekend.
Sexton, a senior from Kanata, Ontario, has had injury troubles throughout his career at Clarkson, but had not been hurt this season until the game at Princeton.
He has missed 49 of Clarksons 147 games in his career (33 percent) with injuries, including a leg injury his freshman season that caused him to miss 22 straight games.
I wasnt too worried about (the Princeton injury), Sexton said. I thought Id rebound well from it. Its unfortunate that I had to miss that time, but I thought our guys did a really nice job, especially last weekend coming down the stretch.
Sexton was leading Clarkson in scoring when the injury occurred and now is second on the squad with six goals and 17 assists.
The area where he was also missed was in faceoffs. Clarkson has ranked among the top teams in the nation all season, winning 54.5 percent, and Sexton has gone 371-244, winning 60.3 percent of his draws.
Were excited about the fact that were starting to get some guys back, Clarkson coach Casey Jones said. With Ben out, it put Jarrett Burton back at center position for a while. We are trying to load up a couple lines and we missed (Sextons) impact at the center position. He wins faceoffs. Hes done a lot for us there with his movement. It put Matt Zarbo in more of a role at center with Ben out. Guys took advantage of opportunities that will give us more depth heading into the playoffs.
Though hes been healthy this season, sophomore forward Jeff DiNallo missed the last eight games of the season last year and will take part in his first playoff games this weekend.
College hockey playoffs are fun from what I watched last year, so its good to be a part of it this year, DiNallo said.
Because Sexton was out, and Clarkson had no assistant captains, the team had to pick players to wear the A on their jersey.
Burton, a senior, was one player chosen and the other was sophomore defenseman Paul Geiger, who could be next in line to be team captain next season.
A LOOK AT PRINCETON
The Tigers (5-24) were here last weekend and dropped two games, falling 3-1 to Clarkson on Friday and then losing 5-0 on Saturday at St. Lawrence University.
Princeton struggled with injuries this season and has had a rough time. The Tigers allow 4.03 goals-per game, have scored the first goal in a game just four times and have led after the opening period only one time this season.
I thought Clarkson played a heck of a game in their rink and they kept the puck incredibly safe, Princeton coach Bob Prier said.
BUSY WEEKEND AT CHEEL
There will have already been two games played at Cheel Arena on Saturday by the time Clarksons men take the ice for game two against Princeton.
The womens team is hosting the ECAC Hockey championship weekend and will meet Quinnipiac at 1 p.m., followed by a 4 p.m. game featuring Cornell against Harvard. The mens game is scheduled for 7:30 p.m., assuming no games go to long overtime periods.
Sportswriter Cap Carey covers Clarkson University hockey for the Times. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org