For the Princeton University men’s hockey team, rebounding from a frustrating 2011-12 campaign that saw it go 9-16-7 comes down to developing greater trust across the board.
Princeton head coach Bob Prier, for his part, needs to trust that he will work smarter after his first season at the helm of a college program.
“I am more patient overall,
taking more time to digest things,” said Prier. “I am thinking things through more clearly. We are being more efficient with advancements in technology.”
In Prier’s view, his players have gained a greater trust in themselves as they head into the season.
“They feel more organized; we have an agenda that we are sticking to now,” said Prier, whose team opens the 2012-13 season by facing Brown on October 26 in the Ivy League Shootout in Providence, R.I. and then playing either Dartmouth or Yale the next day.
“This group believes in each other. They want to do what they need to in order to be champions and be successful.”
Princeton’s success could depend on how much production it gets from its trio of star forwards, junior Andrew Calof (a team-high 31 points in 2011-12 on 17 goals and 14 assists), junior captain Jack Berger (22 points in 10 goals and 12 assists) and senior assistant captain Rob Kleebaum (21 points on 13 goals and eight assists).
“I expect a lot from those three,” said Prier. “The big thing for them is to get off to a good start. Given the depth of the team, it is not going to all be on their shoulders. We should have scoring by committee and they should be able to play looser and have some fun.”
Junior Berger provides leadership to go with his scoring prowess. “Berger has been a great leader, he is extremely thorough, extremely organized, and he conveys the proper things,” said Prier.
“We have an incredible group of captains with the three other guys (assistant captains Kleebaum, junior Kevin Ross, and senior Michael Sdao). It is a good mesh of personalities.
Prier believes that the skilled Calof can be one of the leading scorers in ECAC Hockey this winter.
“Andrew’s goal is and should be to be the biggest scoring threat in the league as a junior,” asserted Prier.
“It is something he can do with hard work. He is extremely instinctive and could end up being the leading scorer in the league.”
The Tigers should get some scoring at forward from junior Andrew Ammon (7 points on 4 goals and 3 assists), sophomore Aaron Kesselman (7 points on 4 goals and 3 assists), and senior Will MacDonald (11 points on 2 goals and 9 assists).
“It is exciting to see Ammon have a healthy year; Kesselman is hitting his stride after getting injured,” said Prier, noting that his quartet of freshman forwards, Mike Ambrosia, Kyle Rankin, Jonathan Liau, and Michael Zajac, looks promising.
“Willie MacDonald brings it everyday. He has as good a work ethic as anyone we have. All are veterans with another year under their belts.”
Princeton boasts an exciting talent at defenseman in senior Sdao, a 6’4, 230-pound bruiser who earned first-team All-Ivy league and second-team All-ECACH honors last winter as he scored 20 points on 10 goals and 10 assists.
“Sdao has picked up a step; he is quicker,” said Prier. “He has always had the bomb but he is even better offensively. It is his senior year; this is his last crack at it and he is going to bring it. He could be a top defender in the league.”
The Tigers are looking for Ross (10 points on 3 goals and 7 assists) and senior Eric Meland (15 points on 2 goals and 13 assists) to bring up their games.
“Kevin Ross is coming off an injury but will be back soon; he brings poise, great stick skills, and is a great decision-maker,” added Prier.
“It is Meland’s first full year on defense. He really worked on his acceleration and backpedaling. He has offensive instincts. He is dangerous with the puck; I think he could get a lot of points.”
Juniors Alec Rush (4 assists) and Jeremy Goodwin (8 assists) should see a lot of time along the blue line.
“They were sophomores last year but it was almost like their first full season because they didn’t have a lot of playing time as freshmen,” said Prier.
“They learned a lot; they have adjusted to the speed of the game. They come with a lot more confidence.”
Prier is confident that his two top goaltenders, senior Mike Condon (2.88 goals against average in 2011-12) and junior Sean Bonar (3.17 goals against average), together with sophomore Ryan Benitez, can hold the fort between the pipes.
“They are both looking pretty good and Benitez is pushing them,” said Prier.
“The top two can be elite goalies and Benitez has worked hard. It is a nice competition between the three. It is up to them as to who will play. We play to win and we will go with whoever seems to be playing well. Sean worked hard and has a great mindset and focus. Mike had a good summer of conditioning and Ryan has shown drastic improvement.”
In Prier’s view, the Ivy Shootout weekend will provide a good opportunity for his team to show its improvement.
“The big thing is the first game, working out the kinks and going against another team that is working out its kinks too,” said Prier.
In order to work through those kinks, the Tigers will rely on the trust it has forged since last winter.
“The culture is in a good spot; the mindset is good,” said Prier. “We are getting more trust within the team. We need to get the puck moving to spots and trust that a teammate will be there. Trust leads to consistency; we are much closer to that than we were last year at this point or even at midseason.”