Since it last played at home on November 22, the Princeton University men’s hockey team has been on quite an odyssey.
The Tigers traveled to Connecticut where they played Quinnipiac before heading to the midwest where they faced Michigan State, then to New York where they took on Rensselaer and Union, then to Florida for a two-game holiday tournament, and finally to western Canada for a showcase in British Columbia.
Thus it was no wonder that Tiger sophomore forward Mike Ambrosia and his teammates were thrilled to be back home in the friendly confines of Baker Rink last Friday to host Rensselaer.
“We have been on some long road trips,” said Ambrosia. “We didn’t come out with the greatest results on the road trips but we learned a lot. We took the process seriously and every step was important.”
Applying those lessons, Princeton took a big step forward on Friday, rallying from an early 1-0 deficit to pull out a 2-1 victory over the Engineers before a crowd of 2,069.
“It was a big team effort,” said Ambrosia, reflecting on the triumph. “Every single guy contributed.”
New Jersey native Ambrosia made a major contribution in the homecoming, notching the game-winning goal early in the third period.
“It was a great play by Ryan [Siiro]; he is a big, strong kid,” recalled the 5’10, 180-pound Ambrosia, who hails from Chatham.
“I think he threw two guys off him and was able to make a really nice pass so fortunately it went in.”
The line of Ambrosia, Siiro, and senior star Andrew Calof was clicking on Friday.
“I love playing with these guys,” said Ambrosia, who now has six points this season on three goals and three assists.
“I think we all bring a little different element to the game and we just try to create a lot of offense every single game. That is our job but we have to play well defensively because that is where it starts. We want to create as many offensive chances as we can.”
Ambrosia, who has missed seven games this season due to injury, is happy to be back on the ice.
“There are a ton of guys coming back from injury and we all want to help,” said Ambrosia of the Tigers’ injury list which has included Calof, Ben Foster, Tyler Maugeri, Alec Rush, and Tommy Davis.
“We all want to help and contribute to the wins. It is a process but we are definitely happy to have some guys healthy and we just want to keep going.”
Princeton head coach Bob Prier was happy with the effort he got from his team on Friday.
“There were some ebbs and flows but in the 5-on-5 in general I thought we won the majority of the battles and we were the more physical team,” said Prier.
“We got rewarded for that. We threw a lot of body punches early and Ambro went in the third and that was the knockout punch. You knew it was going to be a game that was going to be tough to score.”
Prier likes the way the Ambrosia line is giving Princeton scoring punch. “They are playing great; they just seem to find that open man,” said Prier.
“You look at a kid like Calof, I think he may have had one shot on net tonight but you think a player that elite should have four or five. He made the right plays when he was supposed to make those plays. He is someone that can make them. It is contagious, guys like Ambrosia and Calof start making those plays and then other guys can feed off of that and they start making some too.”
The Tigers made some big plays at the defensive end, with defensemen throwing their bodies at pucks all night and freshman netminder Colton Phinney making 33 saves in earning the victory.
“Down the stretch here, it is playoff mindset and guys are really tough in front of their own net,” said Prier, whose team showed toughness a night later, battling hard in falling 3-0 to No. 4 Union, leaving the Tigers at 4-15 overall and 3-9 in ECAC Hockey play.
“I thought we did a real good job of eliminating the second and third chances with our d-corps in front and also with Colton hanging onto pucks. They were applying pressure late there. They were getting a lot through. They had good movement and he did a really good job of either putting the rebounds in the corner or holding onto them. It deadened the momentum which was great.”
In Prier’s view, the way Princeton took care of business in the win over Rensselaer could help the Tigers build some momentum as they head into the stretch drive.
“If we play the way we did tonight, we’ll have a good chance of winning against anyone,” asserted Prier, whose team is currently on hiatus for exams and will next be in action when it plays at Harvard on January 31 and at Dartmouth on February 1. “That’s the way the league is.”
Ambrosia, for his part, believes that Princeton can be a factor in league play as it looks to move up the ECACH standings.
“It is always nice to win, especially in a team effort like that,” said Ambrosia.
“It wasn’t like we snuck a game out or stole two points. I think we really deserved that one. It was a total team effort, starting with Colton Phinney in net. From him out, from the defense up we had a good, tight game. Winning a 2-1 game just breeds a lot of confidence in the guys.”