(Photo by Bill Allen/NJ SportAction)
HOME COOKING: Princeton University forward Kevin Westgarth, right, handles the puck in recent action. Last Friday, Westgarth exploded for a career-high five points as Princeton topped No. 6 Clarkson to clinch home ice in the upcoming ECAC Hockey League (ECACHL) playoffs. A day later, Westgarth added an assist as Princeton topped St. Lawrence 4-1. The victories improved Princeton to 13-13-3 overall and 10-10-2 in ECACHL play, giving the sixth-place Tigers their most wins since the 1998-99 season and a best-of-three opening round set with Brown starting this Friday at Baker Rink.
Kevin Westgarth and his senior classmates on the Princeton University men's ice hockey team entered last weekend determined to clinch home ice for the upcoming ECAC Hockey League (ECACHL) playoffs.
The Tigers needed a win or two ties from their games with visiting No. 6 Clarkson and No. 14 St. Lawrence to be sure of hosting an opening round series at Baker Rink for the first time since the 1998-99 season.
Senior forward Westgarth took matters into his own hands in the game Friday with Clarkson, producing a career-best five points on two goals and three assists to spark Princeton to a 7-1 rout of the Golden Knights.
A day later, Westgarth added an assist as Princeton topped St. Lawrence 4-1, riding a three-goal third period to the victory and a weekend sweep.
The victories improved Princeton to 13-13-3 overall and 10-10-2 in ECACHL play, giving the sixth-place Tigers their most wins since the 1998-99 season and a best-of-three opening round set with Brown starting this Friday at Baker Rink.
In reflecting on his team's breakthrough, Princeton head coach Guy Gadowsky said it was a product of consistent effort in the pursuit of a long-held goal.
"We had a very good week of practice but that wasn't any different from the rest of the year since this is a very hard-working team," asserted Gadowsky. "The seniors had been talking about home ice since day one this season."
Gadowsky acknowledged that Westgarth set the tone for the Tigers. "With Kevin, it seems like the better he plays without the puck, the better things happen with the puck," said Gadowsky. "He was playing smart; he was playing hard. He was going after pucks and playing physical with good technique so he didn't take penalties."
The Tigers had some good fortune to go with their smart play in the win over Clarkson. "We played periods like that early in the season even when we started 1-6-1," said Gadowsky, whose team scored four goals in the first 13 minutes of the contest.
"For whatever reason, the puck bounced in for us Friday and things snowballed. One of the most gratifying things is that we played hard and with intensity the whole way."
Gadowsky liked the intensity he got the next day from goalie B.J. Sklapsky and the team's defense as the Tigers fought back from an early 1-0 deficit.
"B.J. handled that goal well, it was fluky, it changed direction and took a bad bounce," recalled Gadowsky, who got goals from Cam McIntyre, Mike Moore, Mark Magnowski, and Brett Wilson in the win. "He didn't let that get to him. I thought the penalty killing was key. Darroll Powe picked up a five-minute penalty at the end of the second period and they were on the power play for the first 3:15 of the third. We killed the penalty and that gave us momentum."
Gadowsky credited the seniors with helping to provide the momentum behind Princeton's progress in recent seasons. "I think it is a great statement for the senior class and where they have come from," said Gadowsky. "They won five games as freshmen and now they have 13; they should be very proud."
Princeton will have to remain sharp if it is to make a statement this weekend against a Brown team which it beat 3-2 in overtime and tied 1-1 in their regular season meetings.
"They present a few challenges; it's not a team we were hoping to play," said Gadowsky of Brown which has an overall record of 10-13-6 with a 6-12-4 mark in ECACHL play, good for 11th place.
"Their goalie Dan Rosen had a save percentage of .975 at one point this season. That's scary, he can get hot. Their forwards are creative and explosive. They are guys with talent and speed; they create problems. We have to play great defense if we are to win. We also have to get some shots on Rosen."
While the Princeton seniors are happy to be hosting a series, that isn't their ultimate goal. "One of the biggest goals was to host a playoff series at Baker," said Gadowsky. "Hosting will give them a better chance to move on; that's another goal."
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