January 8, 2020

Junior Keenan Assuming More Responsibility, Helping Tiger Men’s Hockey Tie Harvard 3-3

KEEN INSIGHT: Princeton University men’s hockey player Luke Keenan, right, battles a foe in recent action. Last Saturday, junior forward Keenan contributed a goal and an assist as Princeton skated to a 3-3 tie with Harvard. The Tigers, now 2-11-4 overall and 0-7-3 ECAC Hockey, play at Clarkson on January 10 and at St. Lawrence on January 11. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

By Bill Alden

Luke Keenan realized that he needed to step up this winter in his junior season for the Princeton University men’s hockey team.

“I have been given more responsibility this year, a lot of other guys have too,” said forward Keenan. “We lost a lot of scoring from last year.”

Last Saturday evening against visiting Harvard, Keenan handled that responsibility well, tallying an assist and a goal as Princeton overcame a 2-0 first period deficit in skating to a 3-3 tie with the Crimson.

“We did come out a little flat tonight; I think we turned it around quickly,” said Keenan, reflecting on the tie which moved Princeton to 2-11-4 overall and 0-7-3 ECAC Hockey.

“It was just to stick to the systems there; we were deviating from the systems. The main thing was to hit harder. We brought it to them, we started finishing checks and that led to shots.”

Keenan assisted on the first goal for the Tigers, combining with Mark Paolini as Derek Topatigh blasted the puck in from the point for a power play tally.

“It was a good pass by Paolini and Derek has a good shot and he really stepped into that one,” said Keenan.

Late in the second period, Keenan cashed in on a power play chance for Princeton’s third goal, assisted by Adam Robbins and Paolini.

“I just got a back door; Adam Robbins, the freshman, made a really good backhand pass finding me there and it was a tap in,” said Keenan.

For Keenan, whose last goal came in the second game of the season, the performance against the Crimson was a boost for his psyche as well as his teammates.

“We haven’t been putting up many goals this year so as many as we can put in the back of the net, it is going to build everyone’s confidence,” said Keenan, a 6’1, 196-pound native of Courtice, Ontario, who now has seven points this season on four goals and three assists.

With Princeton having rallied to force overtime against Dartmouth on Friday night only to lose 4-3, the tie against Harvard marked progress.

“It is a step forward,” said Keenan. “We have had a hard time holding on to games in overtime and it was good that we held on to that one. Moving forward, hopefully we get the wins out of that.”

Princeton head coach Ron Fogarty saw the result against Harvard as a positive.

“It is baby steps and this was a small baby step in getting back on track on our style of play,” said Fogarty.

“We were down 2-0, we had a couple of chances that just missed. This was a good tie, you want to get points.”

Coming into the clash with the Crimson, Princeton was focused on defensive play.

“We had a good talk this morning about how we have been successful in the past in limiting the 5-on-5 goals to one or two,” said Fogarty.

“We have been giving up two or three 5-on-5 goals and today it was one 5-on-5 goal against. That gives you a chance to win.”

In order to tighten things up after falling behind 2-0, Fogarty made a key adjustment.

“We switched our forecheck around after the first,” said Fogarty. “We executed the new forecheck very well. Even though they had a couple of power plays, there were no grade A chances because the play up ice was helping us defend. We were in a really good position.”

Fogarty liked the way Keenan executed as the junior has adjusted to playing a bigger role for the Tigers.

“There are a lot of players who have never played in the special team roles so now it is new for them and they are still adapting to it,” said Fogarty, noting that the graduation of senior stars Alex Riche, Max Veronneau, Ryan Kuffner, and Josh Teves left a major void on the Princeton attack.

“The guys last year absorbed so many minutes in critical times. They played 23 minutes so you have guys who played 7 or 8 minutes for their career; now they are playing  15 or 16 in different situations so they are still new to that. Luke is new on the power play and he is starting to figure it out. I think Robbins’ pass was just terrific. He has great vision.”

With Princeton playing at Clarkson on January 10 and at St. Lawrence on January 11 before it goes on exam break, Fogarty is hoping his young squad can take more steps forward.

“We are in a relearning process, we are playing in different situations where we have to adjust to new roles,” said Fogarty. “It is a big adjustment role right now; we are putting a lot of freshmen in those situations.”

Keenan, for his part, is confident that the Tigers can come through if they stick to the process.

“We just take the positives out of what we did tonight and last night,” said Keenan.

“We haven’t had a lot of three-goal games so far this year so it is good to see that the scoring is coming. We just have to stay patient and stick to our systems and it is going to work out.”

—Bill Alden