Jersey guy Aaron Kesselman didn’t need a lot of arm-twisting when it came to joining the Princeton University men’s hockey program.
“My sister went here; she graduated this past spring,” said freshman forward Kesselman, a native of Mays Landing, N.J., referring to sister Megan, who rowed for the Princeton women’s lightweight program.
“When she would come home, she would tell the family how it was. The way she described things, it seemed almost too good to be true. When I was invited on my visit here, I was like you are absolutely right about everything you said. I loved it.”
While it was love at first sight for Kesselman when it came to Princeton, it has taken him a little longer to get up to speed on the ice. The 5’11, 190 pound Kesselman appeared in 12 of Princeton’s first 19 games, notching just four points on two goals and two assists.
“The beginning of the year was the toughest part,” said Kesselman, who played three seasons with the New Hampshire Junior Monarchs of the EJHL, scoring 96 points in 112 games.
“You have to adjust to the speed of the game and how quickly you need to get the pass up to the guys. It’s just the next step from juniors to this level.”
Coming into the 2012 portion of the season, Kesselman started to feel a comfort level.
“Coach [Bob Prier] talked to us at individual meetings and told us how the second half of the season should be easier because you are already used to it,” said Kesselman.
“You come back after break feeling great. You are not really a rookie any more, you have that experience from the first half under your belt.”
Last Friday against visiting Colgate, Kesselman didn’t look like a rookie, tallying two goals and an assist as the Tigers cruised to a 6-2 win over the No. 12 Raiders.
As Kesselman took the ice Friday night, he had a feeling that Princeton was primed for a big effort.
“We definitely came out with a lot of energy; we had our best week of practice by far, the most intensity for sure,” said Kesselman. “We had momentum from this week and we came in confident.”
The Tigers gained momentum from the play of Kesselman and his linemates, Brodie Zuk and Will MacDonald as they were responsible for three of Princeton’s goals, including two in a 4-0 second period outburst.
Kesselman tallied the first and third Princeton goals and assisted on the fourth.
“On the first goal, I got a little piece of it,” recalled Kesselman “I thought someone else got it in but I will take it. In the second one, I kept my stick on the ice and went to the net and got a great pass from Brodie and it just went in. Coach is always telling the second guy to crash the net.”
In Kesselman’s view, his outburst Friday could be a turning point for him.
“I’d like to think so; that would be great,” said Kesselman. “I am just going to keep working my hardest. Definitely the way we practiced this week benefitted all of our games, myself included. We brought ourselves to the playoff mentality that we need to be at and we are just going to keep on getting better and hopefully I can do the same.”
Princeton head coach Prier believes that Kesselman is getting better and better.
“He is a kid who plays hard; he is a tough kid,” said Prier, whose team showed its toughness a day later against No. 9 Cornell, fighting back from a 3-0 third period deficit to tie the Big Red 3-3 and move to 6-10-5 overall and 5-8-2 in ECAC Hockey play.
“He is starting to figure out the game at this level and understanding that opportunities are a little more limited than in juniors. He really capitalized on it tonight. They were hardworking goals, going to the net. He stuck around for one and he beat a guy to the net on the other one. He kept his stick on the ice.”
Prier liked the way his players kept their noses to the grindstone in the win over Colgate.
“They came out and played physical; they reloaded the forecheck so much,” said Prier, who got two goals from Jack Berger in the win with Matt Farris chipping in another.
“They had an opportunity to hem in a really good team; they outworked them and they were rewarded. Outworking the opposition in this league is the main ingredient for success and the guys did it.”
After some early struggles as it has adjusted to new coach Prier and his staff, Princeton appears to be finding a rhythm.
“We needed a game like that; I think the guys have been working hard to try to get one and we needed to pop,” said Prier.
“You could kind of see it coming the last few games since they came back from Christmas break refocused and reenergized. They have done great in the second half, we have one blemish so far and that was at Yale [a 6-2 loss on January 7].”
Princeton’s progress this weekend bodes well for the rest of the second half of the season.
“Confidence breeds confidence; wins breed winning,” said Prier, whose team is on exam break and returns to action when it hosts Connecticut on January 31.
“Now we have to start stringing some together. These guys have been great here in the second half. From here on out, it is kind of playoff mindset. You are fighting for positioning going into the playoffs so you have to start playing like it is the playoffs. You can’t pass up on any hits, you have to crash nets. You have got to stop at the net. Doing those little things is going to pay off down the stretch.”
Kesselman, for his part, is confident that the Tigers can produce a big stretch drive.
“We have had a ton of road games; that is tough and we battled through it,” said Kesselman.
“All of our wins have been a really great team effort; tonight was a perfect example of that. I don’t see any complacency in the locker room after this. We are going to keep building on this and be a better team.”