Under new leadership, Tigers look to rebound from disappointing season| Nov 13, 2014
The men’s hockey team that will defend Baker Rink this winter has changed dramatically from the one that dropped 10 of 12 home games in last year’s disappointing 6-26 (4-18 Eastern College Athletic Conference) campaign. Evidence of this new-look Tiger squad is abundant. There are nine freshmen on the roster, and several have already become key contributors. Through four games this season, four players have already scored their first collegiate goals. Then, of course, there is the man behind the Tigers bench: first-year head coach Ron Fogarty.
Fogarty enters his new job possessing hockey experience in spades. After serving as team captain during his senior year at fellow ECAC member Colgate University in 1994-95, he left the program as its 20thleading point scorer. He briefly played professional hockey in the Central Hockey League before serving as an assistant coach at Colgate, Clarkson University and Bowling Green State University. Most notably, the Sarnia, Ontario native gained national attention by building the Adrian College Division III hockey program quite literally from the ground up.
Without a rink — much less a team — before Fogarty’s arrival, the small southeast Michigan school compiled a 167-23-10 record in Fogarty’s seven seasons as head coach. Fogarty and his players racked up the accolades, namely six conference regular season titles, five postseason titles, four trips to the NCAA tournament and three conference Coach of the Year awards. Suddenly, out of the blue, Adrian was a national powerhouse in Division III hockey, largely thanks to the man who now leads the Tigers.
Hired in June, Fogarty was faced with the challenge of inheriting an entirely new team. However, both he and his players have emphasized the ease of the process so far. Senior assistant captain Aaron Ave attested that “it’s been a pretty smooth transition,” while senior team captain Tyler Maugeri emphasized that “the team has handled it great.” Asked about the task of learning Fogarty’s approach, Ave responded, “He has emphasized supporting each other all over the ice, making plays and not being afraid to try things.” Maugeri added, “We’re definitely still learning … It’s always a learning process, and we’re always trying to get better. At the same time, I think the guys are starting to grasp the systems well.”
Ahead of the Tigers (1-2-1, 1-1-0 ECAC) this season is a league full of talented, deep squads with postseason pedigree. Boasting the last two NCAA Division I National Champions in Union College (2014) and Yale (2013), the ECAC, along with Hockey East, is one of the two most competitive conferences in the nation. There is little room for error, and every weekend poses a unique challenge. However, Fogarty and his captains have stressed that they are not preoccupied with any team other than the one that wears the Princeton shield on its chest. Ave, with three ECAC seasons under his belt, stated that the key to success in conference play would be “not looking too much into who we’re playing, but going out there and worrying about ourselves and playing as best we can as a team.”
Over one weekend of conference play, the Tigers have already shown both their raw potential and their weaknesses. In a 2-1 thrilling victory over Ivy rival Cornell, last year’s Ivy League champion and the 18th-ranked team in the national preseason poll, Princeton demonstrated its ability to beat even the most talented of opponents. Playing sound hockey when it mattered most and buoyed from some strong individual performances, including that of sophomore goaltender Colton Phinney (40 saves), the home side established itself as a team not to be taken lightly. In the following night’s 5-1 drubbing at the hands of then fourth-ranked Colgate, the Tigers showed that they still have much to work on, committing 13 penalties and failing to consistently test Colgate’s defense.
Based on the Tigers’ play through four games, there are a few key areas in which the team must improve in order to compete at the level necessary to compete in the ECAC. The offense must get more shots on net, as the team has struggled to consistently test opposing goalies so far, resulting in only five goals through four games. Staying out of the penalty box will also be vital, as the Tigers found themselves killing a lot of penalties last weekend, hampering their attack and putting additional pressure on their goaltender. Better team defense will also be a goal, as several odd man rushes and turnovers in the defensive zone have contributed to several opposing goals already this year.
Though youth is important to this year’s team, the Tigers have several upperclassman veterans who will play crucial roles this winter. In addition to Maugeri and Ave, junior assistant captain Mike Ambrosia will lead the Tigers. Fogarty has praised this trio of leaders, as well as the rest of the upperclassmen on the team, for their leadership of the underclassmen and their help in facilitating the team’s transition to its new coach. The Tigers also return their leading goaltender from last year in Phinney, as well as junior Jonathan Liau, sophomore Ryan Siiro and senior Tucker Brockett, three of their five leading point scorers from last season. Maugeri also noted that forwards senior Ben Foster and junior Kyle Rankin are poised to have breakout campaigns this winter.
This Princeton squad has neither the look nor the feel of a team that was picked to finish dead last in the ECAC Preseason Coaches Poll. With seasoned veterans taking on leadership roles and several freshmen bringing a spark to the team, the Tigers and their coach are excited about the upcoming year. While replicating the immediate success that he enjoyed at Adrian will be a tall task for Fogarty, it seems as though he has the Tigers on the right track. Before the start of the season, the skipper stressed, “It’s a process. Everything is a process. 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.”
While they may not yet be championship contenders, this Tiger side looks like one that could surprise many around the league and improve upon last year’s disappointing performance. With away games at current ECAC leader Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (4-6-0, 3-1-0 ECAC) and defending national champion Union (5-4-1, 0-3-1 ECAC) on tap for this weekend, the Tigers have a difficult road ahead, but Fogarty and his men seem ready for the challenge.