Entering last weekend, the Princeton University men’s hockey team was in position to finish anywhere from seventh to 10th place in the final ECAC Hockey standings.
But heading on the road to play at Dartmouth on Friday and at Harvard the next day in the wake of having dropped four straight games at home, the Tigers seemed destined to settle towards the bottom of the pack.
Displaying a steely resolve, the Tigers battled back from 1-0 deficits each night to earn a 2-2 tie with the Big Green and a 2-1 overtime win against the Crimson.
Princeton’s undefeated weekend combined with other results lifted the Tigers (10-14-5 overall and 8-10-4 ECACH) to eighth place, earning home ice for the opening round of the playoffs as they host No. 9 Cornell (12-14-3 overall, 8-11-3 ECACH). The best-of-three series starts Friday night at Baker Rink with Game 2 set for Saturday and Game 3, if necessary, slated for Sunday.
Reflecting on his team’s work in New England, Princeton head coach Bob Prier saw a lot of positives.
“We played six solid periods this weekend, it is the most consistent we have played all year,” said Prier.
“The resilience was great all weekend. They stuck to the process and played to win. They were reloading on the forecheck and going hard. They were really moving their feet all weekend. We created offensive zone time in both games. We had a lot of shots and lot of opportunities.”
In the tie with Dartmouth, Will MacDonald and Andrew Ammon both cashed in on opportunities with MacDonald scoring a first period goal that evened the game at 1-1 and Ammon scoring to make it 2-1.
“It was such a good response, he worked so hard,” said Prier of MacDonald’s tally.
“He was flying all weekend. Ammon had such a nice goal. It was hard work by Tyler Maugeri and Kyle Rankin to get control of the puck. Ammon got the puck off as soon as it hit his stick and got it right under the goalie’s stick.
In the win over Harvard, senior assistant captain Michael Sdao scored the tying goals and junior star Andrew Calof notched the winning tally, hitting the 100-point mark in his career in the process. “
“Sdao played fantastic, he was skating really well all weekend,” said Prier. “The guys can tell how much he wants it and they are inspired by him. Calof is a unique player, he has turned it up a notch in recent games even if it hasn’t necessarily shown on the scoresheet. He has the puck a lot and he is a one man transition game. He skates right by the forecheck.”
Senior goalie Mike Condon did a good job of keeping Princeton’s foes in check, making 30 saves against Dartmouth and 28 in the win over the Crimson.
“Condon gave up only three goals against two tough teams on the road,” said Prier of Condon who now sports a goals against average of 2.42. “He is so good with the puck, it resonates with the team.”
Prier is hoping his team will be tough at home this weekend against traditional power Cornell.
“It is an advantage, we are excited,” said Prier, who is expecting more big crowds in a season that has seen Princeton post an average attendance of 2,208. “We have a good opponent coming in. It is not who you play, it is how you play. It is up to us to play well and take advantage of being home.”
With Princeton having beaten Cornell 5-3 on November 9 at Baker Rink before edging the Big Red 1-0 on February 9 in Ithaca, Prier is confident about his team’s chances in the opening round and beyond.
“We like the matchup but we are not thinking as much about our opponent as we are focusing on us,” said Prier.
“If we continue to play this way and continue to skate like we have in the last three games, we can be dangerous in the playoffs. When you have the puck more, you start seeing the smaller parts of the game. You get more power plays. This weekend was the first time this year where we had back-to-to back games with more power plays than the other team. We worked hard for that.”