November 20, 2019

PU Men’s Hockey Rallies to 2-2 Tie with RPI As Senior Star Topatigh Displays Leadership

TOE TO TOE: Princeton University men’s hockey player Derek Topatigh, right, battles for the puck in recent action. Last Friday evening, senior defenseman and captain Topatigh scored a goal to help Princeton rally from a two-goal deficit to pull out a 2-2 tie with RPI. The Tigers, who lost 2-1 to Union in overtime a night later to fall to 1-3-2 overall and 0-3-1 ECAC Hockey, play at Colgate on November 22 and at No. 2 Cornell on November 23. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

By Bill Alden

Even though the Princeton University men’s hockey team trailed RPI 2-0 after two periods last Friday night at Hobey Baker Rink, Derek Topatigh was confident that the Tigers could rally.

“It was just stick to the game plan, it has been working,” said senior defenseman and captain Topatigh, recalling the discussion in the locker room during the second intermission.

“We were all over them; they got a couple of bounces and capitalized on their chances. The message was just keep doing what we were doing. We know we are a good team and we have the systems in place to win.”

Midway through the third period, Topatigh capitalized on a chance, tallying a power play goal to get the Tigers on the board and cut the deficit in half.

“It just found a way through, I just got it on net,” said Topatigh, reflecting on the score, his first goal of the season.

“We have a lot of good skilled players, they collapsed to the net and we just tried to get it through. I was lucky enough to get it through there.”

Sparked by the Topatigh goal, Princeton knotted the contest at 2-2 on a Jake Paganelli tally with 7:41 in regulation and neither team scored again as the contest ended up in a tie.

“The boys rallied pretty hard,” said Topatigh. “Everyone was flying all game, everyone was getting the puck in deep and playing the way they are supposed to. We knew it was bound to come if we played the way we knew we could.”

The Tigers played well defensively as they didn’t give up a goal over the last 45:40 of the game.

“Our defense had a good gap all day, we were up tight on their forwards,” said Topatigh.

“We were smothering them pretty well; I thought our defense was not giving their forwards much of anything.”

Serving as captain this winter, Topatigh is looking to give encouragement to the team’s core of young performers.

“All the young guys are great players so it is just making sure they know the systems and making sure that they know what is expected,” said Topatigh, a 5’11, 185-pound native of Mississauga, Ontario.

“It is just making sure they play their game and do what we know they can do. They have been great.”

With Princeton using new faces in new places, Tiger head coach Ron Fogarty is expecting some ups and downs.

“The whole team is in positions they haven’t been in before, whether it be a first year player or upperclassmen that haven’t been given the opportunities to see as much ice time or be counted upon in high impact times of the game,” said Fogarty. “They are still learning how to manage their time on ice.”

In Fogarty’s view, pulling out the tie against RPI was a step forward in that learning process.

“We went heavy on the puck and we don’t get it out and it it is in the back of the goal,” said Fogarty, whose team fell 2-1 in overtime to Union on Saturday night to move to 1-3-2 overall and 0-3-1 ECAC Hockey.

“We are learning through that, so to make the mistakes and rebound and get a point, hopefully will be a staple in our guys minds to shore up those weak plays so we can have better success.”

Fogarty credited Topatigh with working through some tough times in leading the Tigers.

“He is trying to be a great leader and he has been a great leader,” said Fogarty, noting that Topatigh’s mother has been dealing with a serious illness.

“We are all human beings here in this program and it is tough for him to put in the effort day in, day out but he has been a tremendous leader.”

Junior forward Paganelli is starting to develop into a tremendous force around goal for the Tigers.

“Jake is the player that we recruited, he is starting to play really well,” said Fogarty.

“Today, I was moving him around and he was the catalyst for different lines. He has been really solid for five games here, just skating and using his strength on the puck to do a good job.”

Another player who has been stepping up for Princeton is sophomore forward Christian O’Neill.

“With Christian, the amount of ice time has gone up,” said Fogarty of ONeill, who assisted on Topatigh’s goal and now has four assists on the season.

“He is on the penalty kill, he is on the power play, he is on one of the top lines. Now you are throwing 21 minutes at a guy who is accustomed to 13. It is a work in progress. When you rely so heavily on three or four guys for four years and then they are gone, now a lot more players have to step up in different roles that they are not accustomed to so it takes time.”

As the Tigers head north to play at Colgate on November 22 and at No. 2 Cornell on November 23, Fogarty believes his players will keep progressing.

“In amateur hockey we are the top developmental league so we continue to develop players,” said Fogarty.

“We can ask them to be in a scoring role but then we see some lapses on the defensive side by being soft. It is very fluid what you are trying to teach them. Every game represents another type of team dynamic coming at you. It is just continuing working with them, coaching, looking at video, and communicating.”

Topatigh, for his part, sees the rally against RPI as a sign that the Tigers are developing the right mindset. 

“It is huge, especially being down two early and being able to bring it back,” said Topatigh.

“I know we are all feeling good, knowing that we could have won the game easily.”