Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXIII, No. 34
 
Wednesday, August 26, 2009
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TREASURE ISLAND: Brett Westgarth races up the ice during his career with the Princeton University men’s ice hockey team. Westgarth, a 2007 Princeton alum who scored 24 points in 114 games during his college career, signed a one-year deal with the New York Islanders this summer. The 6’2, 215-pound defenseman will be heading to the team’s training camp next month at Saskatoon, Saskatchewan looking to battle his way into the NHL.

Former PU Hockey Star Westgarth Joins Islanders, Aims to Be on Ground Floor of Rebuilding Process

Bill Alden

The once-mighty New York Islanders hit the rock bottom of the National Hockey League this past winter.

The proud franchise, which won four straight Stanley Cups in the 1980s, had an NHL-worst 61 points last season, going 26-47-9.

While many players may view joining the Islanders as a dead end, former Princeton University men’s hockey star Brett Westgarth jumped at the chance to sign on with the moribund team this summer.

“They called my agent on the first day of free agency and it seemed like a great opportunity,” said Westgarth, a 2007 Princeton alum who signed a one-year deal with the Islanders in early July and will head to training camp in September.

“They have picked up John Tavares in the draft; I saw him in the junior worlds and he is something else. You kind of get the sense that they are finding their way. They will get better as the years go on and I would like to be part of helping them.”

Westgarth has been getting better and better in the pro ranks since he made his debut with the Syracuse Crunch of the AHL in 2007.

“It was exciting to take it up to the next level,” said the 6’2, 215-pound defenseman from Amherstburg, Ontario who registered 24 points in 114 games during his Princeton career.

“I was amazed at the subtle differences between the college players and the pros. The puck moves faster and the skill level is so high. If you have a lapse, they will take advantage.”

In his second season in the pros, Westgarth found a way to take advantage even though he started the season by moving down a notch on the hockey ladder as he joined the Flint Generals of the IHL.

“It was a good confidence builder,” said Westgarth, who had 12 points in 27 games with the Generals.

“I got better with the puck. It also made me appreciate the higher league. The perks go up as you move up. The higher you are, the better they treat you and I realize that.”

Midway through the season, Westgarth made it back to the AHL, joining the Iowa Stars where he had five points in 37 games.

This past winter, Westgarth made another stop in the AHL, playing the whole season with the Worcester Sharks.

A major bonus for Westgarth in joining the Sharks was the chance to be reunited with former Princeton teammate and fellow blue-liner Mike Moore.

“Mike and I were defense partners most of the year; it was a lot of fun to play with someone I knew from college,” said Westgarth.

“He is a warrior on the ice and it was fun to see him lay out people. It led to me getting into fights as someone would come after us and I would have to step in.”

Westgarth and Moore set a joint goal to battle the top lines in the league on a nightly basis.

“The focus my whole life in hockey has been on being in the top pair and shutting down the other team’s top line,” asserted Westgarth, who amassed nine points and 137 penalty minutes in 77 games with the Sharks.

“If you do it, you are really helping your team. We did a good job. We were plus players. I am no offensive dynamo so that means we did a good job of keeping the puck out of the net.”

As a special plus this winter, Westgarth was able he make it across the state to see his younger brother and former Princeton teammate, Kevin, play for the Los Angeles Kings against the Boston Bruins.

“It was exciting, he was in his third or fourth game and he was playing in Boston,” said Westgarth.

“We are an hour away from Boston so I went out there. It was great to see him on the ice against those players. He’s a big boy but Zdeno Chara [the Bruins star defenseman] towered over him.”

Westgarth is putting in some big-time work this summer as he gets ready for the season ahead.

“I am working out in Milwaukee,” said Westgarth. “I am working on my skating. I am working with Dave Cruickshank, a former Olympic speed skater so he is using some speed skating techniques to help me get faster. I am also doing weight training and hitting the bag to keep combative.”

While Westgarth acknowledges that he may ultimately start the season with Islanders’ AHL affiliate in Bridgeport, Conn., he is looking to make a big impression at the NHL club’s training camp.

“I have to play good shut-down defense,” maintained Westgarth, outlining his approach for the camp which starts on September 12 in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan.

“I need to throw my body around and be tough in front of the net and have a good combative attitude. If I have a real good camp and make a good impression, even if I don’t get called up, things can happen in hockey. There are going to be injuries and they will want to call me up.”

And after paying his dues on the way up the hockey ladder, Westgarth will be ready to answer the call.

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