Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXII, No. 52
Wednesday, December 24, 2008
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INCREDIBLE JOURNEY: Princeton University men’s hockey sophomore Sam Sabky heads up the ice in a game earlier this season. Sabky has risen from a walk-on who saw no action last season to the team’s third-leading scorer this season with seven points on three goals and four assists. Sabky and the eighth-ranked Tigers, who brought a 10-2 record into the holiday break, will resume action when they host No. 17 Minnesota State on December 29.

Sabky Displays Special Persistence, Work Ethic in Earning Key Role for PU Men’s Ice Hockey

Bill Alden

It was the opening goal of a routine mid-November regular season game at Union but it provoked one of the more heartfelt cheers seen in years from the members of the Princeton University men’s hockey team.

The goal by Sam Sabky represented a key milestone in an improbable journey which has seen the sophomore forward rise from an unwanted walk-on to a valued member of the Tigers.

For Sabky, the goal was a product of following the system he has worked so hard to learn.

“It happened so fast; we were on a power play and I saw a chance to put it on net,” said Sabky.

“Our focus is to put it on net and get as many chances as we can so that’s what I did. It was great; my teammates were really happy for me.”

The reaction from Sabky’s teammates reflected their appreciation of what the 6’0, 200-pounder has gone through in his fight to get his foot in the door of Princeton’s talented squad.  

After a fine hockey career at Choate Rosemary Hall, Sabky was hotly pursued by such Division III schools as Middlebury, Williams, Hamilton, and Trinity.

But Sabky, a native of Madison, N.J., didn’t even get a nibble from Princeton University, the alma mater of his mother and her father.

At his family’s urging, Sabky went ahead and applied to Princeton, notwithstanding his other options and the Tiger hockey program’s lack of interest in him.

Sabky ended up getting admitted to Princeton and shortly thereafter he was in contact with Princeton men’s hockey head coach Guy Gadowsky seeing if he could walk on to the team.

While Gadowsky doesn’t encourage walk-ons, he indicated that there was an open defenseman spot.

Undeterred, Sabky jumped at the chance, throwing himself into all team activities knowing that one misstep could have him shown the door.

“I started in October with captains practices and team lifting and then went into regular season practice,” said Sabky, whose mother, Janice Benson, played for the Princeton women’s hockey team and was the program’s MVP in the 1979-80 season.

“I knew I couldn’t slack off because there was no guarantee that I would ever play. Everyday I worked my hardest because I knew that was the only way I could ever get on the ice.”

Sabky quickly found, however, that he had a good support system in his teammates.

“It’s a real good group of guys; they all went out of their way to introduce themselves to me and encourage me along the way,” said Sabky.

“They set such a high standard on work ethic; they set a really good example for me.”

While Sabky never got into a game last season, he did get to take part in the sweetest moment of the season as the Tigers celebrated winning the ECAC Hockey tournament.

“I got to go on the ice at the ECAC and hoist up the cup,” recalled Sabky. “That was to the team’s credit.”

Coming into this season, Sabky learned that his chance to get on the ice would be improved as Gadowsky was planning to give him time at forward.

“I had been practicing defense and I didn’t know what the situation would be,” said Sabky.

“When I came in, coach said I would probably be playing both; I said that was fine with me.”

Over the summer, Sabky got the chance to hone his skills on home ice as his parents own the Princeton Sports Center rink in South Brunswick.

“I was working out all summer at Princeton Sports Center; it was a good situation for me,” said Sabky. “I was able to get a lot of ice time and use the weight room. I basically followed the team’s summer program.”

Gadowsky marvels at how Sabky stuck with the program in his freshman season.

“Sam worked so hard; he quickly became a very popular guy on the team,” said Gadowksy. “He was very respected for what he was doing. He was at every practice, not one minute late to one.”

It was during those practice sessions that Gadowsky saw that Sabky had the skills to help the team at forward.

“We knew he had offensive talent,” said Gadowsky. “He scored some beautiful goals on defense in practice last year. He stayed after practices to shoot on goalies.”

During preseason, Sabky worked his way onto the team’s fourth line. He didn’t waste any time showing those offensive skills once the season started, picking up two assists in Princeton’s opening night 4-1 win over Brown.

“I had a little bit of jitters for the Brown game,” said Sabky, recalling his college debut. “We played so well that it wasn’t so bad after a while. It felt good to get those assists.”

It took Gadowsky a while to get sold on Sabky’s scoring ability. “When he got two assists in the Brown game, I thought it might be “first time fortune” but he kept on doing it,” said Gadowsky of Sabky who ended the first half of the season tied for third in points on the Tigers with seven.

“When he got his first goal, it was the loudest I have ever heard the bench cheer. We know we can count on Sam to produce points for us.”

But in Gadowsky’s view, Sabky has given the team a lot more than points.

“I can speak for the whole coaching staff, Sam has done something special that has earned everyone’s respect,” asserted Gadowsky, whose eighth-ranked team brought a 10-2 record into the holiday break and will resume action when it hosts No. 17 Minnesota State on December 29.

“It takes a special guy to do what he has done; he is a valued member of this team. I don’t think I could’ve done this.”

As the Tigers head into the second half of the season, Sabky will be continuing his daily quest to be a valuable member of the Tigers.

“It was a tough ride; it taught me a lot about myself,” said Sabky. “I have learned about persistence and dealing with adversity. I am happy I made the choice. Every day is a learning experience. If you get yelled at, you need to learn from it and move on. It is a long road but it has been worth it. It’s great to be a part of this team.”

And it has been great for the Tigers to have an inspirational player like Sabky on their squad.

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