With all the excitement focused on men's basketball, and with a dismal record in the second half of its season, the men's hockey team has fallen into relative obscurity. This weekend, however, these Tigers are out to prove that the basketball team is not the only Princeton team in the playoffs deserving campus attention.
Tonight, men's hockey (13-9-7 overall, 7-9-6 Eastern College Athletic Conference) travels up to Providence, R.I., to face Brown in the first round of the ECAC playoffs.
Brown appears to be peaking at just the right time, while Princeton has seemed to just slowly fade away. After an excellent 9-3-3 start before Christmas break, the Tigers faltered and finished seventh in the league. The Bears, on the other hand, finished fourth after going unbeaten in 12 of their last 15 games after opening the season with a 2-7-0 mark.
The Tigers' season seemed to take a turn for the worse after the Bears dominated them, 4-1, Feb. 14 at Baker Rink.
"We've been out-of-sync since the Brown game," head coach Don Cahoon said. "That game was the start of a difficult time for us, especially health-wise after the Harvard game (Feb. 13)."
The story of Princeton hockey recently has been a tale of injuries, as the Tigers lost junior defenseman Mike Acosta and senior right wing Casson Masters in mid-February, and players have continued to fall in almost every game.
But don't count the Tigers out so easily.
"We've got no excuses, no regrets on the injuries," Cahoon said. "We've gone out of our way to get people on the mend by limiting game and practice time. That may have cost us in a few games, but we're as healthy now as we've been in a month."
Princeton is indeed back in shape, as Cahoon expects everyone to be ready and healthy – if a little "dinged up" – for this weekend's action. The return of Acosta and a healthy sophomore Darren Yopyk should shore up the beleaguered defensive corp and provide a psychological boost for the Tigers.
If Princeton is to triumph this weekend, it must beat Brown goalie Scott Stirling, who has been amazing since he took over full time in January. But the Tigers' best offensive line of junior left wing Scott Bertoli, junior center Jeff Halpern and Masters was recently reunited and could challenge Stirling.
Especially dangerous is the power-play unit, when the line is joined by sophomore wing Benoit Morin and junior defenseman Steve Shirreffs, who is second in the ECAC in defensive scoring. Currently third in the league in penalty minutes, Princeton must also contain its aggressiveness against the barely penalized Brown team.
The first round of the ECAC playoffs is a three-point series, with games tonight and Saturday, and Sunday if necessary. The winner of the series then advances to the second round of the playoffs in Lake Placid, N.Y., where it is seeded according to league record. The two lowest seeded teams – Princeton will likely be one if it wins – play in the second round preliminary game Thursday night to reach the semifinals.