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With thermometers dropping and daylight fading, winter is in the air and with it the return of men’s hockey to Baker Rink. The Tigers (0-1-1) will play host to Eastern College Athletic Conference foes Cornell (0-1-1) and Colgate University (6-2-0) on Friday and Saturday nights at 7 p.m., initiating conference competition for the 2014-15 season.

The hockey squad opened play last weekend, competing in the Liberty Hockey Invitational against Yale and Merrimack College. In their season opener, the Tigers played to a 2-2 stalemate against a Yale team just a season removed from a national championship. Junior co-captain Mike Ambrosia called the performance a “great team effort,” with the Tigers playing strong hockey and taking a 2-1 lead into the third period. The Tigers did not fare as well in their second game of the weekend, losing 6-1 to a seasoned Merrimack side that had already competed in six games.

This weekend’s matchups will provide another stern test for the Tigers as they attempt to improve upon last year’s disappointing 6-26 campaign (4-18 in ECAC play). Ivy foe Cornell, which started the year ranked No.18 in the nation, possesses size and physicality. Asked to describe the challenge posed by the team, head coach Ron Fogarty replied, “[They have] big strong forwards, and they like to work the puck down low.” Fogarty stressed that his team will need to prevent Cornell from causing traffic in front of the net and to constrain the Big Red’s shots to the outsides of the ice.

Colgate, Fogarty’s alma mater, will arrive at Baker Rink with nine games under its belt, boasting national pedigree as the No.4 ranked team in the country. The Raiders are the consensus-pick to win the ECAC in the preseason coaches and media polls. Fogarty called Colgate “an excellent team,” saying that his squad will have to play to its best ability to compete.

The Orange and Black will have to play sound, smart hockey in order to enjoy success this weekend. Fogarty is optimistic, saying, “We believe with our strategy and our game plan we have an opportunity to win.” The skipper stressed improving the “quality of the mistake” committed by his team. “We don’t want to give that mistake up right in front of our net, [but] rather make [it] occur in the offensive zone,” he noted. Ambrosia, sidelined this weekend by a lower-body injury, stressed that his team needs to focus internally and play within Fogarty’s system. “We want to focus on ourselves,” he said. “We have systems that we want to make sure that we nail down. We have to shoot the puck a lot, create traffic [and] get guys in front of the net. I think that’s how you score goals, especially against a team like Cornell.”

In his first year at the helm of the hockey program, Fogarty is passionate about attracting crowds to Baker Rink this winter and is starting the home season by targeting two of Princeton students’ passions: free gear and free food. Friday’s home opener will be a “whiteout,” with students receiving free white Princeton hockey T-shirts to wear as they support the home side. There will also be free pizza for students after the second intermission. “We want the balcony to be loud and to drown out the Cornell band,” the head coach said with a smile.

While their classmates enjoy free food and new apparel, the men’s hockey team will embark on the difficult journey that is the ECAC schedule, excited that hockey season is upon us once again.

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