Looking to Build on Last Year’s ECACH Title Run, PU Men’s Hockey Has Talent in Place for Big Winter
MAXING OUT: Princeton University men’s hockey player Max Veronneau heads up the ice in game last winter. Senior forward Veronneau, who scored 55 points on 17 goals and 38 assists last winter to help Princeton win the ECAC Hockey tournament, will be looking for a big final campaign this winter. No. 13 Princeton opens its 2018-19 campaign by playing at No. 10 Penn State (4-0-0) on October 26. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)
By Bill Alden
While the Princeton University men’s hockey team achieved some dramatic victories over Top 20 teams on the way to winning the ECAC Hockey tournament last winter, it is a loss that is driving the squad coming into the 2018-19 campaign.
“We have always started each year looking back on our last game and we try to build from there,” said Princeton head coach Ron Fogarty, who guided the Tigers to a 19-13-4 record last winter.
“We have done it the first four years and this year, we are building from our loss against Ohio State (4-2 in the opening round of the NCAA tournament) and how can we change and give ourselves a better opportunity to win that kind of game.”
With Princeton picked second in the ECACH preseason media and coaches polls and currently ranked No. 13 nationally, Fogarty is not buying into the hype as the Tigers prepare to open their season by playing at No. 10 Penn State (4-0-0) on October 26.
“Being second or first or 12th is irrelevant; it is played on the ice, not from predictions,” said Fogarty. “We have seen what happens when we do things the right way; we give ourselves an opportunity to win.”
The team’s top line of senior stars Max Veronneau (17 goals, 38 assists in 2017-18), Ryan Kuffner (29 goals, 23 assists), and Alex Riche (6 goals, 18 assists) gives Princeton the chance to win every night.
“Max and Ryan look leaner, stronger and Alex looks great as well,” said Fogarty. “We have a top returning line that gives you the opportunity to create offense every time they are on the ice.”
Junior Jackson Cressey (13 goals, 25 assists) has emerged an offensive force despite being under the radar
“Cressey has always been the quiet piece to our offense,” said Fogarty, who is planning to use freshmen Christian O’Neill and Corey Andonovski on a line with Cressey and sees an increased role for junior Jeremy Germain (1 goal, 3 assists)and junior Liam Grande (3 goals, 5 assists). “He has averaged a point a game through his career; if that is quiet I will take that. We may shake the lines around a little bit.”
Senior star defenseman Josh Teves produces a slew of points in addition to patrolling things on the blue line.
“When you have a player like Josh Teves (7 goals, 26 assists) playing defense with his leadership and his solid play, the three newcomers (Mike Ufberg, Sami Pharaon, and Matt Kellenberger) on the point can see what we are looking for when they see Josh on practice,” said Fogarty, who also brings back junior Derek Topatigh (2 goals, 8 assists) and sophomore Reid Yochim (4 goals, 10 assists) in his defensive corps.
“We are young on the back end but we have skill and we have skaters, so that is going to help us immediately. Three of the eight haven’t played a game so until they get into the season and get some game sense, it is still an unknown. We believe from what we saw in their years as juniors and so far in practice, they will work out very well.”
The return of star sophomore goalie Ryan Ferland (2.91 goals against average, .912 save percentage in 2017-18) along with senior Austin Shaw gives Princeton known quantities between the pipes.
“Ferland comes back with experience and with Austin as a senior, we have two guys who know what it takes to win,” said Fogarty.
“Ferland looks really solid in practice. He had a great stretch after Christmas last season. He is a winner. He won in prep school. He didn’t play a lot of games in junior hockey but he led us to an ECAC championship last year and was the MVP at Lake Placid.”
The Tigers look solid all around as they have gone through their preseason practices.
“It is just trying to get better and getting the first year players up to speed to what we are looking for with our style of play and then making sure the returning guys get the rust off really quick,” said Fogarty. “It has been uptempo practices. Throughout forward, defense, and goalie, I really like where we are at.”
Facing former Princeton coach Guy Gadowsky and his uptempo Nittany Lions in the opener figures to be a big test for Princeton.
“We want to get off to a good start at Penn State and give ourselves an opportunity to win,” said Fogarty.
“They are going to be up to game speed a little quicker than we are. We have to utilize practice against ourselves more effectively to prepare for that quicker first period we are going to see against Penn State. They have a lot of speed and they are great in transition; we do counter those things very well. Before we would be a great underdog playing against them; now it is more of a balanced game and it is who executes better.”
With its balance all over the ice, Princeton has potential to produce a great season.
“It is up to the players, it comes down to that,” said Fogarty. “You assess what you have; the commitment and dedication from the players will get them to realize and achieve the goals for the season. You can want to win it as a staff, but ultimately, it is up to the players on how far they want to go.”
Fogarty senses that his players possess that kind of commitment. “It has always been a determined group in the four years that we have been here; the guys work extremely hard,” said Fogarty.
“They are very dedicated, on and off the ice. It is the small things that go unnoticed as a fan that gives you the opportunity to win as a team. Those are the finer details that we are addressing right now.”