It is the most individualized position in the game of hockey. In a sport that emphasizes intricate passing and multiple players running systems as a single unit, the goalie stands alone as the final line of defense.
Senior Erasmo Saltarelli has filled this role for the Tigers. While he stands alone in front of the net, Saltarelli maintains a team focus.
"He is the most critical person on the ice," head coach Don Cahoon says.
But Saltarelli concentrates on how he can best help out his teammates on the ice.
"I want to be there everyday helping the team win," Saltarelli says, "knowing I have a say in every game. I want the team to look back and be confident in me."
Princeton (12-8-5 overall, 6-8-4 Eastern College Athletic Conference) will need confidence in Saltarelli as it enters the final four-game stretch before the ECAC playoffs.
The results of this weekend's contests against Vermont and Dartmouth and next weekend's against Rensselaer and Union will determine whether the Tigers, who have been struggling in the lower half of the ECAC standings all year, will win a spot in the tournament.
"He knows that a team is only as good as its goaltending," Cahoon says. "He needs to be consistent, to make saves at critical times."
Saltarelli has been having a relatively solid season, although he has dropped off a bit since last year, settling in the middle of the ECAC goaltender statistics. Starting 23 of 25 games, the senior has earned a .897 save percentage and a 2.91 goals-against average. But to Saltarelli, personal performance is secondary to his primary goal of reaching the ECAC finals in Lake Placid, N.Y.
"Numbers-wise I may have dropped off a bit but my main focus is to help us get to Lake Placid," Saltarelli says. "In the past I may have been concerned, but this year I am concentrating on our team winning."
"He's really concerned about doing well in the playoffs," sophomore backup goalie Craig Bradley says. "That's his top priority."
In trying to help the Tigers realize their ECAC dreams, Saltarelli executes a very aggressive approach to goaltending, stepping up on forwards and coming out far from the net. These stops are usually converted to long passes to junior left wing Scott Bertoli, who is waiting behind the blue line, sparking an offensive play.
"It gives us a chance to score and it makes the other team think," Saltarelli says. "It helps our defense because they don't have to take as many hits."
Both on and off the ice Saltarelli provides leadership for the underclassmen on the team, integrating them into the team dynamics and making sure that their adjustment to college hockey is as smooth as possible.
"He's really great with the younger guys," Bradley says. "He's helped us all adjust."- Graduation will not bring an end to Saltarelli's hockey career, as the Quebec native plans to explore options in leagues in Europe and North America. But he has placed all future plans on hold until after the ECAC tournament.
Saltarelli displays the confidence in his teammates that he would like to instill in them.
"This is the most well-balanced, most talented team that we've had in my four years, even if our numbers don't show it," Saltarelli says. "Anything less than getting there (the ECAC finals) and winning it will be a disappointment."