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Men's hockey to take on Union, RPI in try for home ice in playoffs

Well, the men's hockey team is finally in the playoffs. But as for whom and where it is playing, only this weekend will decide.

Despite a sub-.500 league performance, Princeton (7-8-5 Eastern College Athletic Conference, 13-8-5 overall) has clinched a playoff berth in the first round of next week's ECAC playoffs. Now the question is whom the Tigers must face and whether they can gain home-ice advantage.

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Currently tied with Cornell for sixth place in the league, Princeton is just two points behind Brown and Colgate, which are tied for fourth place. A solid performance this weekend could vault the Tigers as high as fourth – to assure home ice Princeton must finish in the top five.

"We'd feel a lot better if we were holding fourth position right now," head coach Don Cahoon said. "As it is, we could play well this weekend and still not get home ice. I'm more concerned about playing well than (home ice)."

End of the line

In their last regular season weekend, the Tigers will be on the road in upstate New York against Rensselaer tonight and Union tomorrow. Based on their meetings early this season, both games should be extremely physical – a difficult challenge for the injury-prone Tigers.

Union, although dead last in the ECAC and statistically eliminated from the playoffs, is still a serious threat to Princeton. Last weekend, the Skating Dutchmen played their best hockey of the season – they did not give up a single goal – in solid wins over Colgate, 6-0, and Cornell, 1-0.

"They've got a great goalie," junior left wing Scott Bertoli said. "They're definitely not a team to be overlooked."

RPI currently leads the ECAC in goalscoring, primarily due to the efforts of its top line of Eric Healey, Alain St. Hilaire and Matt Garver. All three rank among the top five scorers in the league. The Tigers, however, have been effective in containing RPI – Princeton only allowed two goals in a Jan. 3 tie at Baker Rink.

Land of opportunity

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"RPI has got a lot of offensive talent," Bertoli said. "They're an opportunistic team if you give them a chance, especially in man-up situations. But if we can make them play defensively, we can take their game away from them."

The Tigers' plan for controlling RPI centers around matching RPI's top line with the reunited line of Bertoli, junior center Jeff Halpern and senior right wing Casson Masters. Masters returned to action last weekend but did not see much action with his usual line. Expect that to change this weekend.

With several key players returning from injury, Princeton should finally have some of the depth it has lacked in the past few weekends. Besides Masters, senior center Matt Brush is back and will see time, despite practicing only sporadically.

On the mend

The defensive corps, however, is still suffering from injuries to freshman Peter Zavodny and sophomore Darren Yopyk. Yopyk will play, but Zavodny is unlikely to return before the playoffs.

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No matter what happens this weekend, the Tigers do not seem too concerned about the upcoming playoffs or even home-ice advantage.

"Sure, we'd like to have home ice," senior goalie Erasmo Saltarelli said, "but we don't mind playing on the road – if anything, we enjoy it."

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