Having Starred, Served on Staff for PU Men’s Hockey, Davis Excited for New Role as Tiger Assistant Coach
STICKING WITH THE PROGRAM: Tommy Davis, right, battles for the puck in a 2017 game during his senior season for the Princeton University men’s hockey team. Over the last two years, Davis has been teaching and coaching at Princeton Day School and also serving as the director of operations and then volunteer assistant coach for the Tiger men’s hockey team. In late December, Davis was promoted to the role of full-time assistant coach for the Tigers. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)
By Bill Alden
Tommy Davis helped the Princeton University men’s hockey team turn the corner during his senior season with the Tigers in 2016-17.
After Princeton went a combined 9-46-6 in the previous two years, defenseman Davis starred as the Tigers improved to 15-16-3 and won a first-round ECAC Hockey playoff series in his final campaign.
“I am proud about a lot of things and a lot of teams that I played with but I think what always stands out to me is my senior year and how we sort of finally found our rhythm,” said Davis, a 6’2, 185-pound defenseman from Ho-Ho-Kus, N.J., who ended up with six goals and 15 assists in 96 appearances for Princeton.
“It was a really tough first year with Ron (head coach Ron Fogarty), Dex (assistant coach Brad Dexter), and Stavs (assistant coach Stavros Paskaris). The second year, we were a lot better but it didn’t really get reflected in the win column. Then that last year we were a respectable team. We were .500 or thereabouts, we won a playoff series, and we came really close to winning another one. I felt like we set the stage for the next year.”
The next winter, Princeton went on to win the ECACH tournament while Davis headed north and starred at Providence College in his remaining year of college eligibility, tallying a goal and 10 assists as the Friars advanced to the finals of both the Hockey East tourney and NCAA East Regional.
“That was an awesome year, I was able to go to grad school that got paid for and get housing for me and my family right off campus,” said Davis, referring to his wife Annabeth Donovan, a former Tiger field hockey star, and their two young daughters, Esme and Adeline.
“There was an opportunity to compete for a league championship and a national championship.”
After earning his MBA at Providence, Davis returned to Central Jersey, taking a job teaching and coaching at Princeton Day School and also serving as the director of operations and then volunteer assistant coach for the Tiger men’s hockey team.
Now, Davis will be looking to help Princeton get back on the winning track, recently getting hired as a full-time assistant coach for the Tiger program which went 6-20-5 in 2019-20 and had this season canceled due to COVID-19 concerns.
For Davis, getting the chance to work even more closely with head coach Fogarty and top assistant and now associate head coach Dexter inspired him to apply for the job after Paskaris left the program.
“Being on the staff the last two years, getting to know those guys more on a personal level rather than just being their player was a ton of fun,” said Davis.
“It was kind of a no-brainer to throw my hat in the ring for the job. I am really happy that I was lucky enough to get the nod. Those guys have been around the game so long, they have such an unbelievable knowledge of the game. I am really excited to learn from them and be able to use my experience from being on the other side to help the whole team.”
Over the last two years, Davis gained a lot from his experience coaching at PDS and working with Panther head coach Scott Bertoli, a former Princeton University men’s hockey standout in the late 1990s.
“It was fun; I came in from college hockey with college hockey drills and high level stuff and you have to adjust to younger ages,” said Davis, who was the head coach of the middle school team and a varsity assistant in addition to teaching and working in admissions.
“Learning how to coach different age groups was a lot of fun. Getting the experience of being an assistant coach for one of the best high school coaches in the state and then being able to turn around and use what I picked up from him as a head coach was really, really nice. Scott is awesome.”
While Bertoli will miss having Davis on his staff, he believes the young coach can thrive at the college level.
“Tommy is passionate about it, working there in a volunteer capacity the last couple of years,” said Bertoli.
“It is great for the program. For me it is a little different. I fully support that program so I think it is a wonderful opportunity but it was a tough loss for us at the time.”
Before Davis took that opportunity and made the commitment that comes with coaching at the college level, he needed the OK from his wife.
“With our experience at Providence, that solidified the fact that we knew we could handle some travel,” said Davis, noting that the couple now has three children with a son, Tommy, having been born last year.
“We had that experience before so that was big. At the end of the day when we just talked about it, she knew this was where my interest lay. She was supportive and we felt like we could make it work.”
Davis is ready for the workload that comes with being the second assistant.
“The less experienced assistant is usually the one who logs the most travel and does a lot more of the recruiting,” said Davis.
“Obviously it is always a staff decision in terms of recruiting. I will be involved in scouting. In the past, Stavs ran the penalty kill and had a hand in the power play so I may do that.”
While starting his new role in a pandemic restricts his interaction with the players, Davis feels a comfort level based on the time he has already spent with the program.
“It has been a challenge for everyone,” said Davis. “This would be a lot more daunting and challenging if I didn’t have a relationship with the guys and the staff already. It is a little bit easier that way but with that being said, I haven’t met the freshmen. I am excited to meet those guys. I think most of them are coming back.”
With Princeton students coming back to campus for the spring semester, Davis is looking forward to working with guys at Hobey Baker Rink.
“The plan is that we will be getting on the ice with them, there is a whole protocol in phases and I have to research it,” said Davis.
“Everyone has a slightly different manifesto. I think it is phase two when we can get on the ice with small group work if there are no positive tests or whatever. Then if everything goes well and all of the groups are cleared and there are no positive tests, eventually phase four is full team practice with physical contact and stuff like that.”
As Davis starts his career as a full-time assistant, he is planning to be in college coaching for the long haul.
“I have learned from other people that plans change; I am taking it one day at a time,” said Davis.
“I think that is where my heart is right now. I haven’t done the entire grind yet but I have done the volunteer and the ops job. My ultimate goal is to be a head coach someday.”