Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Know Your Enemy: Princeton

The relative highs of the Guy Gadowsky era may as well be a distant memory at this point for Princeton. Now two helmsmen removed from one of the best coaches the Tigers have ever had in their long and frequently dismal history, Princeton is turning to an ECAC alum who worked magic in Division III by creating a varsity program from scratch and turning it immediately into a national powerhouse. While Princeton's 114-year hockey history certainly isn't scratch, the foundation of what Ron Fogarty is inheriting in New Jersey is almost as close to bare-bones as you can get.

Nickname: Tigers
Location: Princeton, NJ
Founded: 1746
Conference: ECAC (Ivy League)
National Championships: 0
Last NCAA Appearance: 2009
Last Frozen Four: None
Coach: Ron Fogarty (1st season)
2013-14 Record: 6-26-0 (4-18-0 ECAC, 12th place)
Series: RPI leads, 64-33-10
First Game: January 18, 1952 (Troy, NY)
Last RPI win: December 7, 2013 (Troy, NY)
Last PU win: January 10, 2014 (Princeton, NJ)

2014-15 games: November 14, 2014 (Troy, NY); January 10, 2015 (Princeton, NJ)

Key players: D Aaron Ave, sr.; F Tucker Brockett, sr.; F Aaron Kesselman, sr.; D Tom Kroshus, sr.; F Tyler Maugeri, sr.; F Mike Ambrosia, jr.; F Jonathan Liau, jr.; F Kyle Rankin, jr.; F Ben Foster, so.; G Colton Phinney, so.; D Quin Pompi, so.; F Ryan Siiro, so.; F Max Becker, fr.; F Ryan Berlin, fr.

Key losses: F Andrew Calof, F Andrew Ammon, F Jack Berger, G Sean Bonar, D Jeremy Goodwin, D Alec Rush

Previous KYE installments:
It's really quite difficult for a last-place team that managed just 8 league points to get worse, but it does appear on paper as though Princeton is doing just that. The departure of Calof, who managed the Herculean task of scoring better than a point per game in his career over the last four seasons, as well as Ammon, who was the only player on the team last season to score more than six goals (he had 11) is a tough hit for a team that's already reeling. Maugeri is Princeton's top returning goal scorer with all of five goals last year, and Liau is the top returning point getter with a whopping 13 points. (Don't laugh, RPI returns only two players that reached that lofty mark last season.)

Nationally last year, only Alabama-Huntsville was more inept at putting the puck in the net than Princeton. With just 60 goals in 32 games, the Tigers weren't even denting the twine twice a game, let alone the three that most teams need to find success. Defense was almost as dismal, with Princeton leading only American International, Army, and UAH, allowing almost four goals per game. The penalty kill was the third-worst in the nation, ahead of only St. Lawrence and poor UAH (who, if you missed last year and haven't figured it out by now, had an epically bad season - 2-35-1).

That leads to exactly what it looks like - a lot of blowouts. Princeton emerged victorious six times last year, none of them by more than a goal. 10 times the Tigers gave up five or more goals in a game. They won just twice in the rink that Hobey built: once in overtime against equally dismal Dartmouth, and once in January against an RPI team that Princeton inexplicably continues to find ways to beat (although their long unbeaten streak in Troy finally came to an end last season).

So there's no offense. There's no defense. The penalty kill doesn't exist. The power play was at least mediocre which makes it a bright spot on this team, and if nothing else Princeton does return its top two power play goal scorers from last year in Siiro (4) and Maugeri (3). Other than that, it's hard to see exactly what there is to get excited about with the Tigers. They aren't bringing in any especially sought after recruits to supplant their losses - in fact, there really hasn't been a marquee-level recruit in Princeton since Calof.

The one potential game changer is Fogarty. We've all seen before that a tactical change behind the bench can result in a team becoming more than the sum of its parts in the right situation, and Fogarty's found nothing but success as a head coach. The program he assembled at Adrian went from zero to national championship contender pretty much overnight. In seven seasons at the small school in eastern Michigan, Fogarty put up a total record of 167-23-10. The Bulldogs played in four NCAA tournaments, including the 2011 national championship game, and finished first in their league six times (they were second last year with a 14-1-3 NCHA record).

Time will tell if Ron Fogarty will be the erstwhile Gordon Bombay of the ECAC, turning a rag-tag team into real contenders, but beyond whatever magic he can muster, the mighty Tigers, on paper, appear set for another year in the doldrums of the league.

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