The deck appeared to be stacked against the Princeton University men’s hockey team as it headed up to Clarkson last weekend for an ECAC Hockey best-of-three opening round playoff series.
Princeton was seeded 12th while the Golden Knights were seeded sixth and in the history of the ECACH playoffs, a 12th seed had only prevailed twice in such a matchup.
Moreover, the Tigers had struggled mightily against Clarkson, both recently and historically. Princeton was mired in a five-game losing streak against the Golden Knights and trailed 76-28-5 in the all-time series
between the programs. Princeton was 1-6 lifetime against Clarkson in the ECACH playoffs, having never won a postseason game at Cheel Arena.
In looking to reverse those trends, Princeton head coach Bob Prier wanted his team to keep it simple.
“We just wanted to play more in their face,” said Prier. “We wanted to tighten up gaps in the neutral zone and keep our feet moving on defense.”
Following that blueprint, the Tigers nearly dealt Clarkson a stunning exit, winning the opener 3-2 in overtime before falling 4-0 in Game 2 and dropping a 3-2 nailbiter in the decisive Game 3.
“The guys competed pretty hard,” said Prier, whose team ended the winter at 6-26 overall.
“The last game could have gone either way, both teams played hard. I told the guys I was proud of how they competed.”
Senior forward Andrew Ammon stood out as a top competitor for the Tigers, scoring the game-winning goal in the opener.
“He shoots the puck well and works so hard,” said Prier of Ammon, who was named as a first-team All Ivy League performer this season and was the team’s top scorer with 21 points along with classmate Andrew Calof. “He is a playoff player. He is an honest player who shows a lot of emotion.”
Princeton got some good playoff efforts from sophomores Kyle Rankin and Jonathan Liau, among others.
“Rankin and Liau both put up some good numbers,” said Prier, who got a goal and two assists from Liau with Rankin contributing two goals. “I thought Jeremy Goodwin had a really good game last night. They all generally played well.”
While the Tigers played well in defeat, Prier acknowledged that Clarkson had a slight edge in puck possession.
“They won more stick battles,” said Prier. “They had the puck a little more than we did and that gave them a few more power plays.”
Prier was proud of how his seniors battled to the end. “The class we lose is a considerable group, the record doesn’t always reflect how much a senior class has put into a team,” said Prier of the team’s Class of 2014 which includes two-time captain Jack Berger, Sean Bonar, Eric Carlson, Will Ford, Jeremy Goodwin, Kevin Ross, Alec Rush, Ammon, and Calof. “They are outstanding young men.”
In assessing why Princeton didn’t post the record it had hoped, Prier said a rash of injuries held the Tigers back.
“It was hard to have combative practices with the number of injuries that we had and the guys who were playing through pain,” said Prier.
“You play how you practice. Up until a month ago, we couldn’t scrimmage in practice, we just didn’t have the bodies. If you can’t get the intensity in practices, you are not prepared for the intensity you face in games.”
With such returning players as Ryan Siiro, Tucker Brockett, Tyler Maugeri, Tommy Davis, Mike Ambrosia, Aaron Kesselman, Ben Foster, Quin Pompi, Marlon Sabo, Colton Phinney, along with Liau and Rankin, Princeton hopes to inflict some pain on its foes next winter.
“I think we have some pretty good players coming back,” said Prier. “We have a good group coming in. It is a 12-month commitment to be a Division I athlete. They need to train more to be more explosive and stronger physically.”