Coming into last weekend’s trip north to Colgate and Cornell, the Princeton University men’s hockey team hadn’t exactly been road warriors.
The Tigers went 1-7-3 in their first 11 away contests and were coming off a rough New England jaunt which saw them fall 4-2 at No. 8 Yale on February 1 and then absorb a 5-1 setback at Brown the next day.
While Princeton head coach Bob Prier acknowledged that he was disappointed by that weekend, he was confident his team could benefit from the experience. “We tried to forget about it,” said Prier.
“We had a good week. We needed a day off so we didn’t practice on Wednesday. We were pretty tired. The Yale game took a lot out of us. We didn’t play poorly but we didn’t play well enough to win. We weren’t ourselves in the Brown game. We learned from it, we compiled videos of some habits that weren’t strong that weekend. We didn’t watch it as a team. We had the guys watch it on their own.”
Even though the Tigers were down to 16 skaters as they braved the blizzard and made their way to New York last weekend, Prier was upbeat about his team’s prospects against Colgate and Cornell.
“It was a challenge, not a concern,” said Prier. “We had three solid lines and three pairs of defensemen. If we wanted to be successful this weekend, everyone had to pitch in.”
In the early going against Colgate, it looked like undermanned Princeton was on its heels as it was knotted at 1-1 after the first period but had been outshot 18-8.
In the second period, however, the Tigers found their stride, scoring two unanswered goals with Alec Rush and Jack Berger both finding the back of the net. Princeton went on to a 4-2 victory as Jonathan Liau added an insurance goal and senior goalie Mike Condon made 36 saves.
“We had 16 scoring chances and they had nine, we didn’t waste too many opportunities,” said Prier.
“We did a real good job in tight on the goal. We generated a lot of chances and kept them out. It was nice to see Jack get his first goal. Alec got another and Liau got his first. It was nice to get balanced scoring; all three lines were involved. Guys did things they don’t usually do, everyone helped with the penalty killing.”
A night later, Condon did some great things, making 39 saves as Princeton blanked Cornell 1-0.
“Mike was the MVP of the weekend, he was clearly the best player on the ice,” asserted Prier of his netminder who was later named the ECACH Goaltender of the Week for his performance on the trip.
“He made a huge save with a minute and a half left and he made another big one in the second. He came up huge.”
In Prier’s view, his team’s performance before a crowd of 4,267 jamming Lynah Rink marked a huge step forward.
“The guys played really well on the road,” said Prier, whose team got the lone tally of the contest on a second period goal by Andrew Ammon as it improved to 9-10-4 overall and 7-6-3 ECACH, moving into a three-way for third place in the league standings with Rensselaer and Dartmouth.
“Cornell is a hostile environment, their crowd is electric. It is a tough place to win. It gives you a lot of confidence to win on the road like that.”
The play of sizzling netminder Condon, who now sports a goals against average of 2.42 and a save percentage of .926, is making the Tigers tough to beat.
“When your goalie is playing that well, it really gives your team confidence,” asserted Prier of Condon, a 6’2, 195-pound native of Needham, Mass. who is now sixth in the ECACH in goals against and fourth in save percentage. “It makes everyone better, they don’t grip the stick as tightly.”
The play of junior captain Berger together with bruising senior defenseman and assistant captain Michael Sdao helped Princeton enjoy one of its better weekends of the season.
“Jack Berger scored on Friday; we keep stats tracking impact on the game and he was fabulous,” said Prier of Berger, who now has nine points on a goal and eight assists.
“He played like a captain, he played like a leader. Mike Sdao was also outstanding. He kept the puck safe and made things hard on our opponents. He was not on the ice on any of the goals against us. It is great when you have a leader on the front end and one on the back end playing like that.”
Prier is hoping for a great home weekend when Princeton hosts Clarkson (7-14-7 overall, 6-7-3 ECACH) on February 15 and St. Lawrence (13-11-4 overall, 6-6-4 ECACH) the next day.
“We approach every game the same,” said Prier, whose team has a 6-2 record so far this season in the friendly confines of Baker Rink.
“We get their tendencies on special teams but we need to focus on ourselves. We need to sprint to spots. Our transition game is getting so much better. We have got some momentum and we want to use it this weekend.”