For the second consecutive week, the men’s hockey team (1-4-1, 1-3-0 Eastern College Athletic Conference) will travel north to upstate New York for back-to-back ECAC battles. On Friday at 7 p.m., the Tigers face off against St. Lawrence University (7-4-1, 3-1-0 ECAC) in Canton before taking on Clarkson University (3-5-4, 1-1-2 ECAC) in Potsdam the following night.
After an encouraging start to the year for the young Princeton team, the Tigers have dropped three straight contests by a combined score of 14-3. In the deep and competitive ECAC, there are no easy games, and the grind will continue for the Orange and Black as they take on two more talented squads.
St. Lawrence received votes in both national polls this week, boasting a high-powered offense that is averaging 3.58 goals per game, good for No. 6 in the nation. Goalie Kyle Hayton features a .934 save percentage, tied for No. 12 in the country. The Tigers should be wary of their opponents’ skill on the power play, as the Saints have converted an impressive 10 of 44 chances (22.73%) thus far on the young season.
The Saints’ prowess on the power play is especially notable as the Tigers have struggled to stay out of the penalty box, conceding an average of seven penalties per contest. First-year head coach Ron Fogarty acknowledged his team’s difficulty in this area and stated that the key to remedying this issue is “by moving our feet. Our guys have to continue to move our feet. Not chase, but continue to cut people off. Once you start chasing and stop moving your feet, then you get the hooking [and] holding penalties.”
For returning players on this year’s squad, Clarkson is a familiar opponent and one that the Tigers would especially love to beat. The Golden Knights and Tigers battled five times last year, including a best-of-three playoff series in the first round of the ECAC playoffs. Clarkson was victorious in both regular season matchups, and though the Tigers won the playoff opener, the Golden Knights ended the Tigers’ season by rallying for two consecutive wins. Senior assistant captain Aaron Ave mentioned that the veteran players have not forgotten last year’s battles, saying “The returning guys have that [on] the back of our minds, so we’d like to get a little revenge on them.”
Ave’s play has been one of the bright spots for this Princeton team so far this season, both on the score sheet and off of it. His two goals and three points led the team, and his leadership is especially notable since his two fellow co-captains have both missed significant time due to injury. In fact the Tigers team has been impacted by several key injuries already. In addition to Captain Tyler Maugeri ’15 and assistant captain Mike Ambrosia ’16, Kyle Rankin ’16, Tom Kroshus ’15 and Kevin Liss ’16 also sat out last weekend’s contests with various ailments.
Fogarty lamented these injuries, but also looked at them as an opportunity for some of the nine freshmen on the roster.
“We have five guys out right now that would be playing in impact situations, so it’s forced putting freshmen into multiple impact situations...quicker than most college teams do,” he said.“But, in turn, the positive from that is those players are getting a lot of ice time, learning multiple systems immediately which will help us out down the road.”
Fogarty also mentioned some specific positives from last weekend’s play, saying, “Our forecheck has been good. Our last three games we’ve actually sustained more pressure in the offensive zone than we did [in] our first three games. So that’s moving in the right direction.”
In terms of the team’s mentality and morale, Ave credits his new coach for helping maintain a healthy environment on the ice and in the locker room, despite the team’s struggles. “[Coach Fogarty] has played a big part in just trying to stay positive and giving a positive outlook for us going forward,” said the defenseman. “[They] hasn’t been the results we’ve been hoping for right off the bat, but we’re getting better at our systems and we just have to work on continuing to get better and perfecting those so we eliminate some of the mistakes that we’ve made that have led to goals.”
Despite the final scores of the last three contests, the Tigers have shown signs of promise through the beginning of their longschedule. A goal for the Tigers this weekend will be “to make sure we have an even high-keel for all 60 minutes,” in the words of their head coach. If the Tigers can manage to convert more of their scoring chances while eliminating some penalties and lapses in team defense, they will be competitive this weekend, despite the strong challenges posed by St. Lawrence and Clarkson. If not, their merciless ECAC foes will be unforgiving.