Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Know Your Enemy: Princeton

This week's Know Your Enemy is probably the most enigmatic in the entire conference when it comes to RPI. Princeton hasn't lost in Troy since the 2006-07 season, extending the unbeaten streak to six (although dropping a winning streak) with a 2-2 tie this past season. The game in New Jersey then featured utter domination by the Engineers for the final 40 minutes - and a 4-1 Tigers win (thanks in part to a pair of empty-netters). Whatever they do against RPI, they continue to do it right.

Princeton
Nickname: Tigers
Location: Princeton, NJ
Founded: 1746
Conference: ECAC (Ivy League)
National Championships: 0
Last NCAA Appearance: 2009
Last Frozen Four: None
Coach: Bob Prier (3rd season)
2012-13 Record: 10-16-5 (8-10-4 ECAC, 7th place)
Series: RPI leads, 63-32-10
First Game: January 18, 1952 (Troy, NY)
Last RPI win: February 5, 2011 (Princeton, NJ)
Last PU win: January 12, 2013 (Princeton, NJ)

2013-14 games: December 7, 2013 (Troy, NY); January 10, 2014 (Princeton, NJ)

Key players: F Andrew Ammon, sr.; F Jack Berger, sr.; G Sean Bonar, sr.; F Andrew Calof, sr.; D Jeremy Goodwin, sr.; D Alec Rush, sr.; D Aaron Ave, jr.; F Aaron Kesselman, jr.; D Tom Kroshus, jr.; F Tyler Maugeri, jr.; F Mike Ambrosia, so.; F Kyle Rankin, so.; F Michael Zajac, so.; D Tommy Davis, fr.; F Ben Foster, fr.

Key losses: D Michael Sdao, G Mike Condon, D Eric Meland, F Rob Kleebaum, F Will MacDonald

Previous KYE installments:
Princeton was essentially the anti-RPI last season. They got out of the gate very well in league play and racked up some notable wins early on to position themselves near the front of the league table. A dreadful February which saw the Tigers go 2-6-0 in league play (the two wins completing a season sweep at Colgate and Cornell) almost saw them fall into the bottom four. They were saved by two skin-of-your-teeth performances on the last weekend of the season, tying Dartmouth and then scoring late in overtime to beat Harvard, but still went out quietly at home against a resurgent Cornell in two games.

That represents a boost in performance over Bob Prier's first season at Hobey's home, but the problems that have plagued the team on both sides of the puck have yet to dissipate. About the only element of Princeton's game that was worth writing home about was the penalty kill, 10th best in the nation at 85.5%. The power play wasn't horrendous, but overall scoring was at just 2.32 goals per game, just outside the nation's bottom 10, while the defense closed in on three goals allowed per game, also not stellar.

What little offense Princeton had does at least return, and that consists largely of Calof, Maugeri, and Ammon, not surprisingly linemates for much of the season. Calof is a bonafide star capable of scoring from just about anywhere and can make plays just as well as he scores goals (he was 8th in the nation in scoring last year, and was 4th among returning players), but his supporting cast just isn't there. Berger had a solid sophomore outing, but his junior year last season was rough - the Tigers will need him to be more of a factor if they are going to improve on last year's results.

On defense, dropping the starting goaltender and two seniors isn't easy, but Bonar has plenty of game experience and should easily pick the role up again - he split time with Condon in each of his first three seasons. Four starting juniors and seniors along the blue line can't hurt, but again, we're talking about returning players from a defense that struggled for large parts of the season last year. They have much to prove.

All things being equal, Princeton should go into its games with RPI as the underdog this season, but as mentioned above, all things somehow are not equal when it comes to this matchup, at least across the last several seasons. The focus will be on Calof - who, it should be pointed out, is good enough to put up 14 goals and 24 assists during a season where all teams focused on shutting him down - and if RPI's defense can contain him, they should find themselves in a very good position.

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