The circumstances are staggeringly different. The game is the same.
When new head coach Ron Fogarty and his Princeton Tigers hockey team face off against Yale in the Liberty Hockey Invitational on Oct. 31, he will become a new part of the team’s illustrious 114-year history, one that is inescapable at Princeton. The home rink, Baker Rink, shares its name with the trophy awarded annually to the best player in college hockey, in honor of Hobey Baker, a member of Princeton's Class of 1914. The campus that Fogarty has already started to explore brims with history, tradition and a constant desire for success. These high standards and prestigious past might overwhelm some, but after Fogarty’s last job, he will gladly welcome another challenge.
In 2006, Adrian College, located in the city of Adrian in southeastern Michigan, lacked an ice rink, not to mention uniforms, a team or a league in which to compete. Enter Fogarty, tasked not only with recruiting players and running practice but also building a program from the bottom up, starting with constructing a rink and designing uniforms. A season later, the NCAA Division III team had amassed a 26-3 record while competing in the Midwest College Hockey Association. In two more years, they became national runners-up, losing a tightly contested national championship to perennial power St. Norbert College. Upon Fogarty’s departure after seven seasons, the Adrian Bulldogs had compiled a 167-23-10 record, earning their coach the best win percentage in NCAA hockey over that span. He departed the program after obtaining six MCHA regular season titles, five postseason titles, four trips to the NCAA tournament and three MCHA Coach of the Year awards, among other records. Moreover, Adrian’s success was not limited to the ice, as the team accumulated a GPA over 3.0 in each and every year of Fogarty’s tenure. Most impressive, the coach had transformed a community that lacked hockey into one that embraced it, a school that had no team into a national powerhouse.
The gaudy numbers laid out above are not misprints — Adrian’s rise was immediate and meteoric. Yet Fogarty’s hockey career was striking even before his time with the Bulldogs. A native of Sarnia, Ontario, Fogarty played his collegiate hockey at Colgate University, a fellow member of the Eastern College Athletic Conference. A four-year contributor for the squad from 1991-95, he tallied 141 points, good for 20thall-time for the Red Raiders. After a brief stint of professional hockey for the Memphis Riverkings of the Central Hockey League, he returned to Colgate as an assistant coach for three seasons. He would go on to work as an assistant coach at two more Division I programs, Bowling Green State University and Clarkson University, before arriving at Adrian. This prior Division I experience and success, much of it within the ECAC, should prove invaluable as Fogarty takes over a Princeton team that routinely competes with many of the nation’s premier programs.
For many coaches, leading a team that had recently stumbled to a 6-26 record — as the Tigers did last season — would be daunting, but not for Fogarty. “We have six more wins [than we had at Adrian],” he quipped. Though he joked about his previous challenges and successes, his disposition turned serious at the mention of rebuilding.
“It’s a process. Everything is a process,” Fogarty said. “You just can’t wish for something to be successful. It takes time. The players have to believe in the concepts within the system and the coaching staff has to believe in the players’ execution. Once both parties come together, then we’ll start to win.” Despite his assurance that returning the program to its former glory would be difficult, he did not shy away from the possibility of duplicating the speedy success he enjoyed at Adrian. “You can win immediately,” he said, “because the players want to, and they’re very focused in their mission.”
Junior co-captain Mike Ambrosia seconded this point.“[The league] is really up for grabs,” Ambrosia said. “If we just focus and come together as a team, we’re going to do well right off the bat.”
Fogarty comes into his new position with a plan — one that seems to transcend traditional hockey rhetoric. He stressed ownership of the program by the players as one of the most important aspects of achieving so much success at Adrian and will demand that his team at Princeton do the same. “It’s [the players’] program,” he repeated. Ambrosia also backed this sentiment, stating that “every guy to a man in the locker room is a leader, [and] they’ve probably been leaders on their past teams. I think we have a bunch of guys who want to take ownership [of the program].”
Fogarty also prioritized intangibles over raw talent in the recruitment process, saying he wants to “recruit leaders and great people. Then they’re going to care a lot for the program, for the tradition. They may not be the best players, but they’ll form the best team.”
While Fogarty will demand that his players take ownership of their program, he hopes that the community will do so as well.
“We want to be one with Princeton University, with the community and with the fans. We’re going to be accessible,” he stressed. He already has plans to bring students out to Baker Rink this winter, planning a whiteout for the home opener against Cornell, as well as free pizza during the second intermission of games at the home rink.
Fogarty hopes that these ideas, and additional ideas surely to come, will help the Princeton community, especially its students, fully embrace its hockey team. This is especially important in the prestigious ECAC — home to the last two national champions — where parity is the rule and home ice support is crucial. Speaking from over 10 years of ECAC experience, he said, “The biggest thing that’s been consistent is the parity of the league. Anybody can win on any given night. You have to remain poised for the [full] 60-65 minutes.”
He has moved from Division III to Division I, from the MCHA to the ECAC, from Michigan to New Jersey. Yet Fogarty remains unfazed, with unmistakable determination in his eyes as he embarks on his mission to replicate his success on a different scale, enthusiastic at the very prospect of doing so. While acknowledging the differences between his new job and his old one, he affirmed, “At Adrian and Princeton, the nets are still 4x6 [feet], you use a puck and it’s [played] on ice. The game is the same. There’s no difference in that.”
When those nets are fixed onto their hinges and the familiar sounds of skates on ice and sticks on pucks echo through Baker Rink this winter, the men’s team will play for a coach resolved in his mission to restore the program to title contention. Under Fogarty, the Tigers seem poised for success.