December 14, 2022

Posting Weekend Sweep Heading into Break, PU Men’s Hockey Seeing Hard Work Pay Off

ON A ROLL: Princeton University men’s hockey player Pito Walton goes after the puck in recent action. Last Saturday, senior defenseman and team captain Walton picked up three assists to help Princeton edge RPI 6-5. Walton was later named as the ECAC Hockey Defender of the Week for his performance over the weekend which also included a strong effort on Friday as the Tigers blanked Union 2-0. Princeton, now 6-7 overall and 5-6 ECACH, is on break until it plays a two-game set at Colorado College on December 30 and 31. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

By Bill Alden

In losing six of its eight first games this season, the Princeton University men’s hockey team played its foes tight but had trouble getting over the hump in close games.

While the defeats stung, Princeton head coach Ron Fogarty wasn’t discouraged by the early stumbles.

“I was happy with where our team was moving towards in our style of play,” said Fogarty. “The loss against Colgate in overtime (3-2 on November 5) was tough but we were playing well. We just didn’t get the results.”

But starting with a 5-1 win over No. 20 RIT on November 26, Princeton has been getting the results since Thanksgiving. Putting together its best weekend of the season, Princeton defeated Union 2-0 last Friday and then edged RPI 6-5 a night later.

“It is very difficult to sweep in our conference, no matter who you are,” said Fogarty.

In getting the sweep, the Tigers showed that they are developing a knack for winning tight games.

“All of our games besides the Clarkson win (6-2 on December 2) and RIT 5-0 win a goalie had been pulled by either side,” said Fogarty, whose team is now 6-7 overall and 5-6 ECACH and tied with Cornell for fourth place in the league standings. “We have been accustomed to playing tight games and having great resolve and composure. It is a sign of a young but mature team that is moving toward being a good to great team that you can win these games and close out a sweep.”

In the win over Union, Princeton came through in a defensive struggle.

“We had a lot of scoring opportunities; their goalie Connor Murphy played very well and we just persisted through the entire game and finally got a goal in the third period,” said Fogarty, who got goals from Adam Robbins and Noah de la Durantaye in the win.

The Tiger starting goalie, sophomore Ethan Person, played very well, making 22 saves for his fourth shutout of the season — tied for No. 2 all-time in a season by a Princeton goalie and one away from the single-season mark.

“It was another strong performance by Ethan,” said Fogarty of Pearson, who has a goals against average of 2.12 and a save percentage of .920. “It is just getting game time. He didn’t play junior hockey because of COVID. He had just over a game with us last year so now he has had the opportunity to really display his craft in games. He has been playing  extremely well. For the goalie position, you need reps and time.”

In addition, the team’s defense has tightened up in front of him.

“Another part is that our defense structure is better than last year,” said Fogarty. “We have eliminated a lot of the Grade A chances against on 5-on-5 and we are winning that battle.”

A night later, Princeton won in a different manner as it outlasted RPI 6-5 in a wild contest that saw Princeton build leads of 2-0, 4-2, and 6-3 before the Engineers tacked on two late power play goals.

“We create a lot of red zone opportunities and the guys have been rewarded,” said Fogarty. “We were stifled a little bit in the Union game and the guys battled.”

Sophomore forward Jack Cronin has been cashing in his chances, tallying points in five of his last six games and now has seven goals and three assists on the season.

“A player like Jack Cronin as a power play specialist but on the 5-on-5 as well has stepped up,” said Fogarty. “His puck protection led to Noah’s goal against Union, the insurance goal for us to go up 2-0. He has really emerged as an underclassman.”

With 13 players getting on the scoresheet in the win over RPI, the Tigers are developing some offensive balance.

“I am really happy with a lot of our guys; I am proud when I watch the game, all four lines are starting to look the same,” said Fogarty. “Every player has a little different quality, but it looks the same as we go over the boards. We are in a good spot now.”

The play of senior defenseman Pito Walton, who tied his career-high with three assists against RPI, has been spot on.

“He is logging a lot of ice time because he makes things simple,” said Fogarty of Walton, who was named the ECACH Defender of the Week and leads the Tigers in points with 11 on three goals and eight assists. “Over the past of couple of years we have asked him to do a lot and now he has emerged from a college player to a player who can move into the professional ranks with his style of play.”

Princeton is emerging as a force with its recent surge. “They see the results coming from the work for the past three months, working on and off the ice,” said Fogarty. “I like where our team is at in terms of what we are doing in the games to be successful. I think it has been gradual for sure after we made a couple of minor changes after the first period against Cornell (a 3-1 loss on November 4). It has been gradual from better, to good, to great.”

With the Tigers on break until they play a two-game set at Colorado College on December 30 and 31, Fogarty believes the trip west will help the team pick up where it left off last weekend.

“We look at it as a second half team bonding experience,” said Fogarty. “We are going to go to a NHL game. We are got to watch the Kings play against the Avalanche. We will get out there and have two excellent quality games against Colorado College. I really liked how we finished the first half of the season, going three for four in league games.”