Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Know Your Enemy: Princeton

The Quinnipiac/Princeton weekend, for the last few years, has become a study in contrasts. It cannot have been easy for the Tigers to face a team on Saturday nights that had just had to up their games to take on one of the very best teams in the nation - not when Princeton has been among the worst. The results kind of bear this out - the Tigers have won only two games on Saturday night of a regular league weekend in the last three years (Clarkson and Yale last year), but honestly, things have just been downright bad in New Jersey for a while now and it's hard to ascribe that futility to Quinnipiac's impact alone. Fortunately, things may be starting to turn in the other direction - slowly.

Princeton
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 (3rd season)
2015-16 Record: 5-23-3 (3-16-3 ECAC, 12th place)
Series: RPI leads, 67-33-11
First Game: January 18, 1952 (Troy, NY)
Last RPI win: February 20, 2016 (Troy, NY)
Last PU win: January 10, 2014 (Princeton, NJ)

2016-17 games: December 3, 2016 (Princeton, NJ); February 17, 2017 (Troy, NY)

Key players: D Tommy Davis, sr.; F Ben Foster, sr.; G Colton Phinney, sr.; D Quin Pompi, sr.; F Ryan Siiro, sr.; F Garrett Skrbich, sr.; D Joe Grabowski, jr.; F David Hallisey, jr.; D Matt Nelson, jr.; F Eric Robinson, jr.; F Ryan Kuffner, so.; F Alex Riche, so.; D Josh Teves, so.; F Max VĂ©ronneau, so.; F Jackson Cressey, fr.; D Derek Topatigh, fr.

Key losses: F Kyle Rankin, F Mike Ambrosia

Previous KYE installments:
In seven seasons at D-III Adrian, a program that Ron Fogarty started from the ground up, the Bulldogs lost a grand total of 23 times under the tutelage of their first head coach. In two seasons at Princeton, Fogarty has lost 23 times... in both seasons. That's against a grand total of 9 wins across those two campaigns. Things couldn't get more starkly different for the man behind the wheel at Baker Rink.

Princeton has been in the absolute basement of the ECAC for the last three seasons, finishing 8 points behind 11th place in 2014 (twice their point total), and 7 points behind 11th in 2015 (on a total of 6 points). 2016 saw an improvement of sorts, as the Tigers finished just 3 points behind 11th place Brown (on 9 total points), but that's pretty thin.

There is certainly room for hope that this year will be better - perhaps only marginally better, but better nonetheless. Rankin and Ambrosia combined for just 5 goals and 13 assists last year (6th and 7th on the team in scoring, respectively), so their contributions won't be that difficult to replace. Realistically, there's nowhere to go but up, and the lack of "losses" for the Tigers only reinforces that idea.

And there's no doubt that Fogarty's recruits are showing some promise. Kuffner became both the first freshman to lead Princeton in scoring and the first Tiger frosh to post a 20-point season since Andrew Calof did both in 2011. VĂ©ronneau's 11 goals were the most by a Princeton freshman since Brett Wilson in 2006. The two freshmen paced what little offense the Tigers were able to put up, followed by sophomores Robinson and Hallisey. This quartet is doing good things at a relatively young experience level, and if they can show more growth in the next season, that only improves Princeton's upward mobility.

This year, there's no one coming in that stands out as a sure thing injection into a team that still has a lot of gaps to fill, but Cressey at least qualifies as a player who's coming in off a very strong season, scoring well over a point per game with Coquitlam of the BCHL as the captain of the Express. Topatigh was also captain of his team in the OJHL, where he led Orangeville as a puck-moving defenseman. Notably, Fogarty's son Jordan also joins the program this year, giving the ECAC two sons playing for their fathers (Harvard's Ryan Donato being the other).

The Tigers' ace in the hole is Phinney, a player that would probably be earning far wider plaudits had he not been playing on the worst team in the league and being compared to guys like Alex Lyon, Kyle Hayton, Jason Kasdorf, and Michael Garteig at the same time. He's been Princeton's MVP practically since his arrival, and his numbers have only improved from year to year. 2.86 and .924 may look plain and average for most strong netminders, but on this team those are fairly impressive, especially the save percentage. He faces a ton of shots and manages to keep a lot of them out - 2,450 saves in three seasons. By way of comparison, Kasdorf made only 2,290 at RPI and had a career save percentage of .920 - below the mark Phinney had last year. That's a bit of an apples to oranges comparison, but it's at least illustrative that Phinney is better than he's usually given credit for.

It's hard to see Princeton making vast improvements over what they had last year to the tune of being super competitive in the ECAC this year, but they pieces are certainly in place to at least continue the progression. If Phinney can get any semblance of defensive capacity in front of him, he might be enough to push the Tigers toward a position where they could fight to nab one of the last home playoff spots in the first round, but it'll be a battle for sure. Princeton might be improving, but they're still not quite at the league average just yet. But Ron Fogarty does at least seem to have things moving in the right direction and this could be an entirely different conversation in a year, maybe two.

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