(Photo by Bill Allen/NJ SportAction)
HOME GROWN: Princeton University freshman goalie Zane Kalemba turns aside a shot in recent action. Kalemba, a Saddle Brook, N.J. native, has emerged as a star for the Tigers, helping them go 4-1-1 since he was installed as the starter. Kalemba has posted a 2.55 goals against average in his debut season. The Tigers, now 5-7-2 overall and 4-5-1 in ECAC Hockey League play, will next be in action when they host Nebraska-Omaha on December 29 and Minnesota State the next day.
Zane Kalemba is a native of nearby Saddle Brook but he has come a long way to become the starting goalie for the Princeton University men's ice hockey team.
After helping Bergen Catholic to the N.J. state high school championship as a freshman, Kalemba headed to New England to play at The Hotchkiss School.
Kalemba thrived at Hotchkiss, earning all-league recognition as a senior. From Connecticut, he headed to Kearney, Neb. in 2004 to play for the Tri-City Storm of the U.S. Hockey League.
He then moved to the USHL franchise in Green Bay, Wis. before culminating his junior career last winter in Manitoba, Canada playing with the Flin Flon Bombers of the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League.
But as Kalemba was making his way through the juniors, he had his mind on playing for Princeton. "I made a visit to Princeton in the summer of 2004," recalled Kalemba. "I liked the program, the coaches, and the players. I thought going there could be great for my career and I thought I could help the program."
Kalemba arrived at Princeton this September and he has proven to be a big help, becoming the starter after Princeton started the 2006-07 campaign with a 1-6-1 record.
Since Kalemba has taken over between the pipes, the Tigers have gone 4-1-1 and he has posted an overall 2.55 goals against average in the process.
The 5'11, 175-pound Kalemba has enjoyed the challenge of adjusting to college hockey. "I think the speed of the game is the biggest difference; the game is a lot quicker," said Kalemba, whose first college action came at his boyhood rink in West Orange as Princeton took on Bentley in its season opener. "I'm getting used to the defensemen; communicating with them and knowing where they are going to be."
It's no suprise that Kalemba has quickly developed a comfort level on the ice for the Tigers, considering that he has been playing goalie since he was in nursery school.
"I started playing hockey when I was two. My brother [Zac] played hockey and I followed him," recalled Kalemba, whose brother went on to be a star forward for American International College.
"I have been a goalie since I was four. My brother was the shooter and I tried to stop his shots. I started playing youth hockey when I was five; I always enjoyed being in the spotlight. I liked it from the start; if anyone can control a game, it is the goalie."
Kalemba's move to Hotchkiss helped him gain control on and off the ice. "It was helpful to me; I learned to play against older players," said Kalemba. "Off the ice it was a great school. It definitely helped prepare me for Princeton. I learned to balance schoolwork and get work done during the week before playing games on the weekend."
Playing in the juniors hardened him mentally. "The biggest jump was going from Hotchkiss to the USHL and playing against the best players in the country," asserted Kalemba. "You had to learn how to travel on 15-hour bus rides and then get out and play. The mental aspect was tough; you have to be very focused. If you take a shift off, it's going to cost you."
Kalemba is known around the Princeton team for his unflappable nature, a trait he has developed over the years. "I've learned that you're going to let goals in and you can't dwell on that," said Kalemba. "You have to focus on the next shot. When you're winning, you can't get too high and when you're losing you can't get too low."
That mentality served Kalemba well as he and his teammates endured a 0-4-1 start this season.
"We were playing well, we just weren't putting a whole game together," said Kalemba, who was installed as the starter for Princeton's trip to Dartmouth and Harvard in late November and helped the Tigers to a tie with the Big Green and a win over the Crimson.
"I think our first win over Clarkson carried into the Dartmouth/Harvard weekend. We finally started to put things together; learning what to do to win. We know now that no matter what the score is, we can't let up."
As Princeton has climbed to sixth place in the ECAC Hockey League standings with a 4-5-1 conference mark, Kalemba is confident in the team's ability to do even more damage the rest of this season and beyond.
"Three or four years ago, the program was really struggling," said Kalemba, who will be back in action when the Tigers host Nebraska-Omaha on December 29 and Minnesota State a day later.
"We're doing a lot better, not just in posting wins but in goals for and against, power plays, and number of shots. I came here to help put the program on the map. We know what the 1998-99 team did and we want to get back to that position. I want to win the ECAC before I leave."
If Kalemba can build on his hot start, he could help the Tigers go a long way.
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