October 27, 2021

Mixing and Matching Veterans with New Faces, PU Men’s Hockey Excited for Return to Action

ON POINT: Princeton University men’s hockey player Christian O’Neill heads up the ice in a 2019 game. Senior forward and alternate captain O’Neill is looking for a big final season with the Tigers. Princeton, which had its 2020-21 season was canceled due to COVID-19 concerns, returns to action by playing at Army West Point in its season opener on October 30.  (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

By Bill Alden

As the Princeton University men’s hockey team has hit the ice to get back in action after the 2020-21 season was canceled due to COVID-19 concerns, Ron Fogarty is seeing a heightened intensity from his players.

“The enthusiasm and the appreciation is evident with our guys, just how they are at the rink and how the practices are,” said Princeton head coach Fogarty, who guided the Tigers to a 6-20-5 record in 2019-20 and a sweep of Dartmouth in a best-of-the ECAC Hockey opening round playoff series before the season was halted due to the pandemic. “They are full of emotion. It has been great.”

With Princeton playing at Army West Point (1-5-1) in its season opener on October 30, the Tiger players will be looking to translate that emotion into success on the ice.

“Everyone is working so hard because they understand this is one of the biggest years,” said Fogarty.

“You have an opportunity to step in and play a different role or gain a scoring role or goaltending or defense.”

With senior defenseman Matthew Thom (three goals and six assists in 2019-20) serving as team captain and senior forwards Luke Keenan  (seven goals, 11 assists) and Christian O’Neill (five goals, five assists) assuming the alternate captain roles, Fogarty likes how the team is coming together.

“We have 10 seniors, it is a big group; Thom, Keenan, and McNeill have done a tremendous job of bringing two classes together to be part of the team,” said Fogarty.

“It is difficult just bringing in one class and getting them up to speed. They have done a great job with the sophomore and first-year guys.”

Keenan and O’Neill have been leading a group of forwards that is  a work in progress at this point.

“We have been mixing and matching lines, we have 14 forwards and we will have a better sense after Army,” said Fogarty.

“We may not have the top skill guys like the Veronneaus [Max Veronneau] and Kuffners [Ryan Kuffner] but the overall skill level is very good. It is still a lot of things up in the air. We will have to see.”

Senior Finn Evans (four goals, three assists), sophomore Adam Robbins (two assists), sophomore Nick Seitz (two assists), and freshman Jack Cronin have been looking good in preseason play.

“Finn looks really good, we are going to have him on more of an offensive role,” said Fogarty.

“Over the past scrimmages, he has done well. Adam and Nick took a year off and played junior hockey, they have looked stronger because of another year of playing when a lot of people weren’t. We have Jack who did a great job two years ago in the New England prep league. Hopefully, he can continue his scoring ways. He produced at that level.”

Fogarty will be looking for defensemen Thom, senior Mark Paolini (four goals, seven assists), junior Pito Walton (one goal, five assists), and freshman Noah de la Durantaye to produce along the blue line.

“Hopefully they continue on the offensive side, Mark was he last player to score for us against Dartmouth in the overtime game,” said Fogarty.

“We are returning a lot of players from that power play unit. Pito is looking to have a good year. We have 10 defensemen back there with the new guys. Durantaye looks really good for us, he will be a promising piece of the puzzle as a freshman.”

At goaltender, senior Jeremie Forget (2.79 goals against average, .912 save percentage in 2019-20), junior Aidan Porter (3.99 GAA, .862 save pct.), and freshman Ethan Pearson are vying for time.

“The two returning goalies look good,” said Fogarty. “It is tough because you don’t have any reference points from the past year. You have to see what they are like in real competition.”

In order to compete better this winter, the Tigers will be taking a more aggressive approach all over the ice.

“We are going to go to more of an attack style this year,” said Fogarty.

“Every year, you talk about puck possession and protection. We want to have a very aggressive forechecking team that creates turnovers and more of an offensive zone-minded team where we can manufacture goals and possession. We want to get it in deep in the zone and work the opponents’ defense, that has been our focus for this year.”

That attack mentality has been taking hold in preseason action.

“The scrimmages have been good with learning points on what we need to work on,” said Fogarty.

“Our forecheck is looking good, the guys have been working on it and it has been pretty smothering the majority of the time in the three scrimmages.”

Fogarty and his players are primed to have a memorable time this weekend on their trip to West Point.

“I am even more excited about the pregame festivities,” said Fogarty.

“We are going to have an opportunity to have General Mark Milley come in and visit and talk, with him being a Princeton alum. Our guys are looking forward to that. Just being on that campus is pretty spectacular, we are looking forward to walking around.”

Once the puck drops, Fogarty will be looking forward to seeing his guys return to action.

“I like this team a lot,” said Fogarty. “It is a team that is striving to get better every day since September 1 when we started skating. I am excited for this year.”