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Heading into the weekend, the Princeton Tigers were favored in their first-round matchup against the Brown Bears. It took only two days for the Tigers to confirm that prediction, thoroughly dominating the road team and making it look easy.

What is perhaps the scariest for the other Eastern College Athletic Conference teams is head coach Ron Fogarty’s assertion: “I think our team can play better.”

In a best of three series against the 10th place team in the ECAC, the No. 7 Tigers needed only two games to vanquish Brown and cruise into the ECAC quarterfinals. The Orange and Black outscored their opponent 15–3 over the two game set and avenged an early season 3–0 home loss to the Bears. Brown came into the game with the worst offense and third worst defense in the ECAC; the Tigers were able to exploit both in their back-to-back wins, taking comfortable leads and putting the games out of reach well before the final horn sounded in either game.

The series opened Friday night, and by the end of the game the Tigers had made both individual and team history. As a team, they posted the highest offensive output in school playoff history, besting the six-goal effort set by the 1999 Tiger team. Junior left winger Ryan Kuffner hit a career milestone with his 100th career point as a Tiger; he added two goals and two assists to the Tiger onslaught, including a redirect goal early in the first period to put the Tigers up 2–0. Brown was able to respond, however, and tied the game at two early in the second with a power play goal. The Tigers — fourth in the nation on the power play — made sure that the game would tilt back in their favor. The power play unit turned in one of its best performances of the year with a four-goal night on Friday as Princeton rattled off six unanswered goals to take game one.

In game two, the Tigers and Bears played a tightly contested defensive battle for the first period; it wasn’t until the final minute of the period that Princeton broke the tie, with sophomore Jackson Cressey taking the feed from freshman Reid Yochim and finding the back of the net. Heading into the second period, two Tigers would make history on the next goal; Kuffner would score his 28th goal, tying the single season record set by NHL player and Tiger alum Jeff Halpern ’99. On the same goal, Kuffner’s linemate — junior Max Véronneau — tallied an assist for his 100th career point. The duo have been complementing each other for the past three seasons — six if you count years not at Princeton — and they got the thrill of reaching career milestones at nearly the exact same time. Commenting on the feat, Fogarty noted, “It’s pretty special…. They feed off each other really well. They’ve had the luxury of playing together for a long time, in junior hockey and now in college, so they know each other’s tendencies.”

Up 2–0 early in the second, the Tigers smelled blood and went in for the gut punch by dominating the second half. Owning nearly 70 percent of the puck possession during the period, Princeton added to its 2–0 lead with three more goals and iced the game before it even had a chance to get into the third period. The Bears’ final nail in the coffin came in the last minute of play in period two: Junior Alex Riche became the third and final member of the all-junior line of Kuffner, Véronneau, and Riche to add a goal in the game after finally punching in the rebounded attempt from Veronneau. Up 5–0 heading into the final period, the Tigers had the game well in hand, and could celebrate their senior class in their final game at Baker Rink in the final period. 

“They’ve been a catalyst in turning the program around,“ explained Fogarty about the senior class. “For two years they learned the systems and grinded [sic] through a lot of one-goal losses and stuck with it and stayed positive, so it was great to see them be rewarded there at the end.”

With no game on Sunday, March 4, the Tigers had to wait and see who their opponent would be in the ECAC Quarterfinals. After Dartmouth and Colgate took care of business in their game three matchups, Princeton is slated to play Union this weekend in upstate New York. The Tigers will be looking to exorcise some demons against the Dutchmen, who not only swept the season series against the Tigers this year, but ended the Tigers’ season last year in the ECAC Quarterfinals with a one-goal overtime win. However, after watching these games, perhaps the Dutchmen are feeling just a bit more nervous about the impending series.

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