Resurgent Princeton Powers Through ECAC Playoff Round
The Princeton Men’s Hockey Team clinched a winning season by dominating the Brown Bears to close out a first round sweep in the ECAC Playoffs. After defeating the visiting foes from Providence 8-2 on Friday night, the Tigers unleashed a 7-1 thrashing Saturday night at Hobey Baker Rink. The games took on added significantly for the program and for members of the team as the Tigers continued their advancement in year four of Head Coach Ron Fogarty’s time at their helm. Princeton is now 15-12-4, putting their record high above the 4-23-3 mark set in ’14-15
Aside from the offensive successes, the team played a solid defensive game to hold Brown off . Steady goalkeeper Ryan Ferland nearly shut out the Bears with a 27 save performance and the defense overall kept their opponent’s from being much of a threat. This defensive play also fed right back into the attack for the Princeton transition game.
“They played well, they played smart,” Fogarty said. I love how our defense is playing right now. It stems from our forwards getting back as well too. We play better when our forwards are back helping out the D, giving the defensemen a lot of options to bring the puck out quicker.”
“I think defense is playing the top hockey we’ve played all year,” senior defenseman Joe Grabowski said. He went on to note a “Gradual upward progression trend in our play. We’ve done a lot of close support down low, helping the work out. One of the things we always say on the back end, is we build out from the D corps. I think just the way we’ve been playing has been really solid, really consistent. As long as we keep it up, and the forwards keep supporting us really well, we have a real shot at moving forward here.”
The seven tallies came from seven different tigers as Jackson Cressey, Ryan Kuffner, Derek Topatigh, Luke Keenan, Alex Riche, Max Veronneau, and Matt Nelson all put it the puck in the netting.
For Veronneau, his 100th career point came with the assist to Kuffner’s breakaway goal.
“I saw Ryan going. I honestly didn’t know there was no other Brown guy there so I was pretty fortunate for that one. But I saw Kuff, and I was hoping that he’d get it,” Veronneau, a junior, said.
Kuffner, also a junior, tied the school record for goals with his 28th tally and has 48 points on the season. Veronneau has fifty, and the pair are used to working with each other from junior hockey before sharing the rink at Princeton.
“It makes playing hockey that much easier. Just cause you know where he is all the time. Just playing for six years now makes it so much easier,” Veronneau said.
Fogarty noted that he “Had two players that had over 40 points at Bowling Green, and I didn’t think I’d see it again on a team, but to have those two keys feed off each other very well, and they’ve had the luxury of playing together for a long time.”
The pair have been a major part of the team’s resurgence in the past few years as Coach Ron Fogarty has had four years to build the program into where he wants it to be. Another critical set of pieces are the senior class who have been there throughout Fogarty’s tenure. In a symbolic moment, with senior Ben Halford in net replacing, starter Ryan Ferland, and with an all senior power play on the ice, the Tigers picked up yet another goal off the stick of Nelson.
“That was intentional,” Fogarty said. “Get [Halford] in goal, and get all the seniors out there for the last shift for Baker. They’ve been a key component, a catalyst of turning the program around. They came in for two years learning systems and grinding through the second year, a lot of losses by one goal, and staying with it, but being positive along the way, so it was great to see the seniors get rewarded with that goal at the end.”
Senior Eric Robinson has seen where the program is now from where it started: “It’s definitely been a steady progression,” Robinson said. “I think it was obviously a bit of a shaky start, but that is expected with a whole new coaching staff coming in. We’re freshman, we’re trying to learn what they want, and the older guys are trying to learn. So I think as we’ve grown with the coaching staff…we’ve been able to teach the younger guys and share what to expect, and how to be prepared, and I think it’s shown in the result as they’ve improved each year.”
Last year a much improved Princeton squad played Colgate to three games before taking the series, only to fall at the hands of Union in the second round of the ECAC playoffs. This season, the rise continued. The seniors were able to be on hand to experience the results of their hard work.
“You look at each year and try to progress. By winning two games this weekend, we’ve guaranteed a winning season,” Fogarty said. “It’s the ninth winning season since 1962, so 55 years in ECAC hockey, we’ve got a ninth winning season. That’s just one of the notches for the belt for the senior class to be part of a team that’s won. But by any means we’re not done. To be where we’re at as a winning season by our fourth year. It’s not on me it’s on the players. You need the players that want to buy in and work hard everyday and be committed to the process and here we are right now.”
Princeton for their efforts will now travel to #2 seeded Union for the ECAC Quarterfinals next weekend in a rematch from last year.
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