After earning Ivy League Co-Rookie of the Year honors last winter, Princeton University men’s hockey star Andrew Calof experienced a bit of a sophomore slump in the early stages of this season.
Through the first 10 games of the 2011-12 campaign, Calof had no goals and five assists, a far cry from 9 goals and 24 assists he produced as a freshman in leading the Tigers in scoring.
In game 11 on November 26, Calof broke through with a goal to help Princeton top Providence 3-1 at the Denver Cup Classic.
Last Friday against visiting Rensselaer, Calof built on that performance, notching two goals, including the game-winner, as Princeton prevailed 5-3 over the Engineers before 1,616 at Baker Rink.
A relieved Calof basked in the glow of his two-goal outing. “It is really nice, it is being at the right place at the right time,” said the 5’10, 165-pound Calof, a native of Nepean, Ontario.
“I have been getting great passes and having great chances and it is definitely nice that they are starting to go in instead of missing them like I was doing in the previous bunch of games.”
It was definitely nice for Princeton to rally from an early 1-0 deficit in the win over the Engineers.
“It was pretty big because we have gotten down quite a bit in games this year,” said Calof.
“We are getting confidence that we can battle back. It is really good that we are starting to produce offensively because that has been our biggest shortfall this year. We have been getting a lot of chances but have not been getting them in.”
Calof knows that playing on the same line with junior Rob Kleebaum and sophomore Jack Berger has helped him become an assist leader for the Tigers.
“It is really not too hard when you are playing with the caliber of players that are on the team,” said Calof who now has 42 points in his Princeton career on 12 goals and 30 assists.
“I know that if I get the puck to Kleebaum or Berger in the slot, nine times out of 10, it is going to be in the back of the net. If they miss it, they are going to be mad and it will create a rebound and somebody else will put it in. We have been playing together for quite a bit now. We know where each other are and we are pretty comfortable with each other.”
In Calof’s view, the team gained a comfort level from its recent trip to Denver where it fell to 3-0 to the University of Denver before posting the win over Providence.
“When we played Denver, they were the 10th ranked team in the country and after playing them, we didn’t feel like they were that much of a better team than us,” asserted Calof.
“We felt we could compete with them on every aspect of the game so it gave us the confidence going into the next game.”
Princeton head coach Bob Prier is happy to see Calof playing with confidence.
“Andrew Calof had a couple of goals tonight; he has the monkey off his back,” said Prier, who got two goals and an assist in the win from sophomore forward Jack Berger.
“You see it a lot with a lot of second year guys; it is just a common thing. So now that he has gotten going, with a guy as talented as him, it is not going to stop.”
In the win over Rensselaer, the Tigers showed some grit to go with their talent.
“It was tough on the bench tonight because we were mixing and matching all over the place,” said Prier, whose team showed more toughness on Saturday afternoon when it overcame a 3-0 deficit to tie No. 9 Union 3-3 and improve to 4-7-2 overall and 3-5-1 in ECAC Hockey play.
“When you lose a guy that early in Jimmy Kerr, to a concussion, and you lose a couple of d-men that early to sickness, it was a big grind. The guys responded well. I think Derrick Pallis showed some leadership qualities tonight. He logged a lot of ice, particularly in the third period and he was gassed. He made some really good poised plays while he was in a state of exhaustion and those are plays that your seniors have to do because it settles everyone else down.”
Like Calof, Prier sees the Denver trip as a possible turning point for the Tigers.
“It was huge for us to do that and get some momentum coming back to Baker for three of the next four,” said Prier, whose team hosts Harvard on December 10 before playing at Quinnipiac on December 11.
“You play a team the caliber like Denver and you want to win those games, don’t get me wrong. But you can also take a lot from it and then to beat Providence on the road like that was great for us. Winning breeds winning and winning breeds confidence. You have to get the Ws. I think these guys are starting to learn what it takes little by little and that’s the most important thing.”
It took some time for the Tiger players to adjust to the new systems that first-year head coach Prier has installed.
“Obviously there is a bit of a learning curve but this is an extremely responsive group of young men, more so than any I ever worked with,” said Prier.
“I am pretty sure that they do understand it all, and, at the end of the day, it just comes down to their execution. You can install whatever systems you want with a team but you need all five guys on the ice to do them at the same time. There are no secrets to it; it is just making sure that they are playing together and communicating a lot and knowing what their job is at that time.”
In Calof’s view, everybody around the program is now on the same page.
“It was kind of off and on in games in the past; we weren’t completely buying into the system,” said Calof.
“The problem is that we were doing the systems right some of the time but not right all the time. We just have to focus on making sure that we commit to it all the time. Now that we have been buying into it, things have been going a lot better. We have been getting a lot more chances and we have been seeing the benefits.”