Starting last weekend off with a bang, the Princeton University men’s hockey team scored on a Will MacDonald goal 25 seconds into their game against visiting Union last Friday.
But getting whistled for a slew of penalties, the Tigers quickly dug a 3-1 hole against the No. 16 Dutchmen.
While Princeton head coach Bob Prier enjoyed MacDonald’s goal, he wasn’t happy with the rest of the period.
“We didn’t start off the game well at all,” said Prier. “We just got a nice opportunity and capitalized on it. It was nice to see Willie Mac score. We had a lot of penalties. That is a good team; they had the puck a lot so we took a lot of penalties. They capitalized on their 5-on-3. We lost probably 80 percent of the stick battles in the first half of the game on our own rink and that is just something that is unacceptable.”
Princeton sophomore forward Tyler Maugeri acknowledged that the Tigers were on their heels as they took four penalties in the first period and found themselves on the wrong end of 5-on-3 situations twice in the first 20 minutes.
“We have a top penalty kill; I don’t want to say it wore us down but it definitely took some momentum out,” said Maugeri. “We definitely don’t want to be hemmed in our zone like that for that period of time.”
With under eight minutes left in the second period Maugeri got loose in the offensive zone and scored to make it a 3-2 game.
“I jumped on the ice and Michael Zajac was driving hard to the net and he kicked it out to me,” recalled Maugeri, who now has seven goals on the season, second-best on the Tigers. “I put a shot on net and it went through the goalie. He didn’t see it.”
While the game ended in a 3-2 win for Union, the Tigers pressed hard to the final whistle.
“The last 12 minutes, that is how we want to play,” asserted Maugeri. ”We were winning stick battles. We were winning all the little battles, stuff that we didn’t do in the first 48 minutes of the game.”
Against Rensselaer the next day, Princeton battled from the outset, taking a 2-0 lead in the first period. “I thought when we came out we had a pretty strong first period,” said Prier. “We needed that start.”
The Tigers sputtered a bit after that as the Engineers notched a power play goal in the second period to make it a 2-1 game going into the final 20 minutes of regulation.
“Certainly the rest of the game didn’t go as well as we had hoped,” said Prier.
“RPI was plying pretty desperate. They got a lot of opportunities in the second period on their power play. I thought we played well in the 5-on-5, we bottled them up and played smart.”
The Tigers did convert two empty net goals in the last 1:05 of the game to earn a 4-1 triumph.
“Those things are important, those goals were the result of some really hard work by those guys,” said Prier, who got a goal and three assists from junior star Andrew Calof with Mike Ambrosia, Tom Kroshus, and Andrew Ammon also finding the back of the net.
While the Tigers were disappointed to not achieve their second straight weekend sweep, Prier did like the way his stars stepped up.
“You look at the weekend,“ said Prier, whose team is 3-1 in its last four games and is now 6-8-4 overall and 5-4-3 in ECAC Hockey action.
“Calof was good, Michael Sdao had a good weekend, the goaltending was good [Sean Bonar had a career-high 42 saves against Union and Mike Condon recorded 24 saves in the win on Saturday.] The high profile players did well. When your team is not playing its best, it is important that the best players come through.”
With Princeton on an exam hiatus until a home game on January 27 against Sacred Heart, Prier is looking for his players to fine-tune things.
“We are going to have three or four high tempo practices, feeling good with the puck and working on fundamentals,” said Prier. “We can’t not get together for this long a period.”
In Prier’s view, the Tigers need to be more fundamentally sound all over the rink.
“No matter where you are on the ice, you are important,” said Prier. “You need to be engaged and working hard. We are hard working at the point of execution; we battle hard for the puck and we finish hits. Working hard away from the puck is extremely important, we need to skate hard in open space.”
In recent action, Princeton has displayed an ability to finish off foes. “They are understanding how to win and what it takes,” asserted Prier.
“We have won in a variety of ways which gives them more confidence. We are trying to build off of that.”
Currently sitting second in the ECACH standings behind front-running Quinnipiac, the Tigers are in good position to earn the top-four spot that would ensure them a bye into the league quarterfinals.
“We are pretty optimistic about the finish,” said Prier. “We know what it is that we have to do to get better. We are in a spot where we can control our destiny. We could get one of those top four spots which is worth two wins.”