In the final series before their final period break, men’s hockey (2-14-1 overall, 1-10-0 Eastern Conference Athletic Conference) was unable to break a conference-play loss streak stretching back to its home-opening 2-1 victory over Cornell. Friday evening pitted Princeton against reigning NCAA Tournament champion Union College (11-8-2, 4-5-1 ECAC). The contest resulted in a 5-2 win for the visitors, with five goals scored in an exciting final period. Saturday night’s contest yielded the same result. Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (7-16-1, 5-6-0 ECAC) built up an untouchable 3-0 lead in the first period. The Engineers, who earned a 5-2 final decision, added two more goals to match from Princeton senior defenseman Tom Kroshus.
One period in, the score against Union was 0-0. The Tigers had outshot the visitors 8-10, an impressive mark for a team outshot 626-418 in 17 games. A barrage from the Dutchmen, who tested sophomore keeper Colton Phinney 13 times in the second period, resulted in goal at the 6:23 mark. Union tallied three unanswered scores over the next 20 minutes, including the second shorthanded goal Princeton has allowed this season.
Despite facing an unassailable lead, the Tigers hung on and produced an admirable late stretch of play. Princeton’s first goal on Friday, scored by freshman winger Ryan Berlin 8:40 into the third period, broke what had been a 259-minute scoreless streak — discounting a 4-3 win over the Russian Red stars. The rookie, scoring his second goal of the season, engaged in a scrum in front of the goal and redirected a distance shot from senior defenseman Aaron Ave.
Berlin’s mark came on a delayed holding call against Union’s JC Brassard. The Dutchmen managed to repel Princeton’s power play and send the puck deep into their opponents’ zone with just 15 seconds remaining in the penalty. The five Orange and Black skaters regrouped and advanced the puck into the right corner of Union’s zone, drawing the man-down defenders. Senior winger Tucker Brockett stood at the opposite point and eagerly received a pass which he fired just inside the far post.
The Tigers likewise fall far behind in the following evening’s contest. Facing a 3-0 deficit the Engineers had quickly established, Princeton struggled to beat RPI’s Jason Kasdorf. Despite facing 26 shots through 39 minutes, the visiting keeper held Princeton off the scoreboard.
Kroshus found the net for the first time this season, scoring twice about eight minutes apart. His first tally at the 19:18 mark on assists from sophomore center Ben Foster and junior winger Mike Ambrosia. The officials originally denied Kroshus’ attempt, which ricocheted off the back of the net and into Kasdorf’s glove. Subsequent review made the score 4-1.
At the 7:09 mark in the final period, Kroshus fired an pass from junior center Jonathan Liau through a screen set by Kyle Rankin, also a junior center. The resulting score was Princeton's last. RPI would score once more on an empty net to secure a 5-2 win.
Injuries continue to plague Princeton. It was reported that senior center and captain Tyler Maugeri will not play again this season. Niel Doef, a recruit for the Class of 2020 and currently a forward on the Smith Falls Bears, suffered a devastating spinal cord injury last month. Princeton skaters have donned “ND” decals on their helmets in solidarity with the injured prospect.
The following should help console fans in light of a consistently trying season: last year, Union held the third seed heading into the year-end tournament. On the way to a championship matchup with top-ranked University of Minnesota, representatives from the West Region, the Dutchmen outscored their opponents 16-7. A victory over the Golden Gophers earned the underdogs their first ever national title. In fact, this NCAA championship was the first the school had ever won.
Currently, Union sits at 7thplace in the ECAC, tied with Yale (national champions in 2013). The Dutchmen occupy the theoretical 21stspot in the U.S. College Hockey Online poll, having received the most votes of any team outside the official top 20.
If there’s anything this story shows, it’s that the fortunes of collegiate hockey teams are highly variable. Head coach Ron Fogarty must trust in that principle, because he fashioned it into reality. When he arrived at Adrian College, the team had not competed in a game of NCAA ice hockey. The team’s final record that year was 26-3, with 20 of those wins coming in a consecutive streak which lasted until the schedule’s conclusion. Controversially left off out of the Division III tournament their first two seasons, the Bulldogs were national runners up in 2011.
Princeton boasts one of college hockey’s most storied programs (at least one of its best rinks). A reversal of this bad fortune is inevitable and likely to happen sooner rather than later. Statisticians call it the law of averages. Reversion to the mean certainly manifests that principle in some sense. However, in a sense perhaps more meaningful to a program or franchise, a team will bounce back from a because of a sense of pride in what they do and a desire to do it better. “Make Hobey proud,” as the banner hung over the ice best articulates.
After a two week finals break, the Tigers return to action with 11 games left in their regular season schedule. Following their season finale at Harvard on Feb. 28, they turn to the ECAC postseason, which, fortunately for Princeton, features all twelve teams.