Growing up as an ice hockey star in Chatham, N.J., Mike Ambrosia closely followed two teams in his home state.
“One of my older cousins went to Princeton and growing up I came to a lot of games at Baker Rink,” said Ambrosia, a star for the New Jersey Colonials travel team and the Delbarton School. “I started playing hockey early and we would go a couple of times a year. I was always a fan of the New Jersey Devils too.”
Ambrosia, who helped Delbarton win three New Jersey state titles, has achieved the rare feat of going from the stands to the ice for his teams.
The 5’11, 180-pound forward joined the Princeton University men’s hockey team last winter, scoring 11 points on six goals and five assists in 21 appearances in his debut campaign. Last month, he skated at his second straight New Jersey Devils Development Camp held on the AmeriHealth Pavillion rink in Newark.
For Ambrosia, committing to Princeton after his junior year at Delbarton was a no-brainer. “Education is very important to my family and I was looking at the Ivy League schools,” said Ambrosia, whose father, David, played hockey at Cornell, while his mother, Lynn, was a lacrosse player for the Big Red.
“In high school, the focus is working hard on and off the ice and seeing how things play out. Princeton was always my No. 1 choice and when they made the offer I jumped on it. It is a great fit with the academics and and athletics. I had met the coaches and the players and I really liked them.”
Prior to starting college hockey, Ambrosia did a two-year stint in juniors with the Youngstown Phantoms of the USHL.
“It was an awesome experience,” asserted Ambrosia, who was Youngstown’s Rookie of the Year and then served as a captain in his second season, leading the Phantoms in scoring with 65 points in 60 games as the team set a franchise record of 32 wins with its first playoff appearance and series win.
“I was lucky because I was drafted by the team that is farthest east in the league. My family could come to a lot of the games. I know I am biased but I think it is the greatest organization in juniors. The coaches relate to the program. I grew as a player and as a person. We do a lot of work in the community. I took a couple of on-line courses to stay sharp.”
A few months before joining the Princeton squad, Ambrosia took part in his first Devils development camp.
“In any one-week camp, you act as a sponge, taking in as much information as you can,” said Ambrosia.
“You learn nuances, you figure out little things. You don’t get better that week but you work those into your training and game. You are not going to get better that week but you implement the things that you learned. You work on things like where to put your stick on ice and breakouts.”
Ambrosia kept learning as he went through his freshman season with the Tigers.
“Being out of school for two years, time management was a big thing, balancing academics, athletics, and social,” said Ambrosia. “I was really excited to be there.”
An exciting moment for Ambrosia came when he notched his first college goal, scoring in the first period of a 4-0 win over Colgate last November at a packed Baker Rink.
“I remember the play; I passed to [Andrew] Calof, he made a great play and faked his defender,” said Ambrosia. “It looked like he was going to shoot but he made a great pass to me and I was able to put it in.”
During January, Ambrosia put in some of his best play of the season as he was named the ECAC Hockey Rookie of the Month, tallying three goals and three assists in five games.
“That was the first stretch after I got injured,” said Ambrosia, who was bothered by an abdominal problem and was sidelined for a nine-game stretch from mid-
November into December.
“I was fortunate to have a string of games where our line had chemistry and I was able to score some.”
Ambrosia felt fortunate to get invited back to the Devils camp this summer.
“I was very grateful to attend again,” said Ambrosia, who scored a goal in one of the scrimmages at the camp.
“It was a little different this year because we had the whole NHL coaching staff there. They pass on what they have learned, having coached and played at the highest level. We learned the Devils philosophy and things like on and off ice training and nutrition.”
With Princeton coming off a 10-16-5 season in 2012-13 which saw the Tigers lose 2-0 to Cornell in the first round of the ECACH playoffs, Ambrosia believes the squad is poised to play at a higher level this year from beginning to end.
“The No. 1 goal is to win; every team has to build an identity through the season,” said Ambrosia.
“You want to be playing your best in the playoffs. The process starts in the fall. It comes down to hard work and execution. We have set some high goals; we believe in each other, from the coaches down. Last year we had some injuries but that is not an excuse. It is a long season and it is a grind. Teams get hot and cold. You want to stay pretty even keeled and consistently focus on getting better; that is the way to peak in the playoffs.”