Thursday, September 10, 2015

Know Your Enemy: Princeton

It probably didn't take Ron Fogarty long to realize that Princeton wasn't exactly going to be the same as Adrian, the Division III school he'd come from, the program he'd built from the ground up that never had problems scoring wins. His first year at Old Nassau probably wasn't an awful lot of fun - 4-win seasons typically don't provide a whole lot of cheer. His second season doesn't seem to be shaking up to be a whole lot better, but on the bright side, it honestly can't get much worse.

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 (2nd season)
2014-15 Record: 4-23-3 (2-18-2 ECAC, 12th place)
Series: RPI leads, 66-33-10
First Game: January 18, 1952 (Troy, NY)
Last RPI win: January 10, 2015 (Princeton, NJ)
Last PU win: January 10, 2014 (Princeton, NJ)

2015-16 games: January 7, 2016 (Princeton, NJ); February 20, 2016 (Troy, NY)

Key players: F Mike Ambrosia, sr.; F Jonathan Liau, sr.; F Kyle Rankin, sr.; F Michael Zajac, sr.; D Tommy Davis, jr.; F Ben Foster, jr.; G Colton Phinney, jr.; D Quin Pompi, jr.; F Ryan Siiro, jr.; D Joe Grabowski, so.; D Matt Nelson, so.; F Eric Robinson, so.; F Ryan Kuffner, fr.; F Alex Riche, fr.; D Josh Teves, fr.; F Max Veronneau, fr.

Key losses: F Tucker Brockett, D Aaron Ave, D Tom Kroshus, F Aaron Kesselman

Previous KYE installments:
If it wasn't for RPI and Union starting out the ECAC schedule against each other the previous weekend, Princeton could have been in first place for a night. They actually won their league opener, at home against Cornell on November 7th, making them 1-0-0 in the league right out of the gate. Their next league point wouldn't come until January 31st in a road draw with Brown. The Tigers lost 12 league games in a row between those contests.

For all the bellyaching we did about the Engineers and their struggles to score three goals in a game, Princeton reached that lofty tally only three times all year, and finished the season without reaching three in each of their last 12 games, scoring just 13 goals in that stretch. They were shut out an incredible nine times. No team that could score at least twice against the Tigers failed to skate away without at least a tie.

Much as with cellar-mates Brown, pretty much nothing worked for Princeton last season. The offense as you might imagine was dead last in the nation at 1.30 per game, the fourth worst scoring season in the nation by any team over the last decade. They scored just 39 goals on the season, 60 fewer than they gave up. They do bring back the top three scorers - the only three to reach double digits in points - with Liau, Foster, and Rankin, but honestly, the entire team needs some kind of spark offensively, because there's almost nothing there at all.

Defense for Princeton is all about their goaltender. Phinney's numbers weren't anything close to what you'd consider elite, but without him things could have been a whole lot worse than they ended up being. A lack of support pretty much forced him to have to stand on his head at all times, and often if not for his play, losses could have become complete blowouts quickly.

And that's more or less it. The Tigers had expected to be bringing in a game-changer on offense this season with the planned addition of forward Neil Doef. Unfortunately, back in December, Doef was checked awkwardly into the boards during an all-star competition and was paralyzed from the waist down. He'll be at Princeton next year as a student, just not in the capacity anyone had hoped. In his stead, the Tigers will hope to get at least some injection of life from Kuffner, Riche, and Veronneau.

Even if Princeton does manage to produce better results than they did last season, it's going to be a chore for Phinney to keep pucks out of the net with the number he's likely to see again this year, and there's still no obvious answer as to where the goal scoring is going to come from. Those better results probably aren't going to include a rise even up out of the bottom four, to say nothing of challenging the very elite of the league.

From the RPI perspective, it's kind of a bummer that the Engineers don't see the Tigers until after the new year. After all, a team that struggled as much as Princeton did is usually at least good for gaining some early confidence. By January, both teams should know exactly where they stand. That's not to say that RPI probably shouldn't be favored to sweep the series with Princeton for the second year in a row, which believe it or not would be the first time that has happened since the mid-1980s.

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