Tiger Men’s Hockey Sees ECAC Run End Sadly As Playoffs Canceled Due to COVID-19 Outbreak
GRANDE FINALE: Princeton University men’s hockey player Liam Grande goes after the puck in a game this winter. Senior forward Grande and his classmates saw their college careers come to a premature end last week as the ECAC Hockey playoffs and NCAA championships were canceled due to ramifications of the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak. In his finale, Grande scored a goal and an assist as Princeton defeated Dartmouth 5-4 in overtime on March 7 to sweep an ECACH best-of-three first round playoff series. The Tigers ended the winter with a 6-20-5 record. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)
By Bill Alden
For the players on the Princeton University men’s hockey team, their locker room at Hobey Baker Rink is a sanctuary.
“The hockey dressing room is a terrific spot because the guys share their daily stories,” said Princeton head coach Ron Fogarty.
“It is a lifetime of preparing for the games and the dressing room is a pretty special spot because of the bonds and brotherhoods that are forged.”
Last Thursday, the dressing room became a solemn spot as the 2019-20 season came to a premature end with the winter playoffs getting canceled due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak as Princeton was preparing to take part in the ECAC Hockey quarterfinals.
“When it is the last time in the dressing room with that group of guys that you have gotten to know for four years and underclassmen, it is is very difficult for them to say goodbye to each other,” said Fogarty, whose team swept Dartmouth in a best-of-three ECACH first round series from March 7-8 to improve to 6-20-5 and make the league quarters.
“I sympathize with their feelings. It was an emotional goodbye and an emotional time for everybody.”
While Fogarty sensed that the cancellation was bound to happen, it was tough for him to break the news to his players.
“I knew it was coming
because of the events leading up to it,” said Fogarty, pointing out that four teams had withdrawn from the quarterfinals before everything was canceled.
“I wasn’t prepared to tell our team that the season was over. Usually after you lose a game and the season is done it is because of competition. You know what you are going to say; it is unfortunate. I was not prepared and felt really bad for the seniors and the team, as in any sport, that had their season cut short. At the same time, our concern is for the health and well-being of each player and that takes precedence over any game.”
The premature end to the season was particularly tough for Princeton’s group of seniors — Jackson Cressey, Joey Fallon, Jordan Fogarty, Jeremy Germain, Liam Grande, and Derek Topatigh — who helped Princeton win the 2018 ECACH title.
“The conversation was that I am tremendously proud of that group,” said Fogarty, noting that senior players generally go on to play professionally after the end of the college season and have nowhere to play right now.
“Jackson Cressey tied for the most games ever played (132) for a player at Princeton. That just shows that group played in a lot of important games for the program. They won a championship. They have done some special things as a group collectively and as a part of a team. As with any senior group that goes through here I am very proud of them.”
Fogarty was especially proud of one of those seniors, his son Jordan.
“It was difficult at times but regardless of any day it was probably the most rewarding four years of my life,” asserted Fogarty, reflecting on coaching his son. “It was pretty special, no question about it. I thoroughly enjoyed it.”
While Fogarty didn’t enjoy seeing the losses pile up over the regular season, he credited his players with maintaining their intensity and focus.
“It was a year riddled with injuries; I am very proud of our guys sticking with the game plan and what was asked of them every weekend when the results were not lining up,” said Fogarty.
“We knew that if we kept playing the way we were, we would put ourselves in position to win playoff series. This is what you are measured upon, if you can win a championship. We went up to a place where we won. It is college sports, you never know what is going to happen.You just want a chance to play and we gave ourselves the opportunity to advance and the rest will be unwritten.”
Giving playing time to such young performers as sophomore Corey Andonovski, junior Luke Keenan, freshman Spencer Kersten, sophomore Christian O’Neill, freshman Pito Walton, freshman Liam Gorman and sophomore goalie Jeremie Forget, Fogarty sees good things happening for the Tigers.
“It is exciting times for our program, we are going to add some speed and grit next season along with skill,” said Fogarty.
“I think Jeremie Forget took a big step, winning some games down the end. Even though Dartmouth scored some goals, he got two wins for us. I am looking forward to the freshmen coming on campus.”
All of that is on the back burner for now as Fogarty’s focus is on seeing everyone get through the coronavirus crisis.
“I am really concerned for our current players going home and being safe,” said Fogarty.
“You just stay in touch with everybody and make sure your family is doing well. Hockey is a backseat right now to everyone’s families. One of our daughters is in the health field and is starting a job at a hospital and we are going to be very concerned but she is a young, resilient person. This virus isn’t looking at anyone’s name or health record, it is attacking everybody. I hope everyone’s being safe here and taking precautions.”