January 17, 2024

PU Men’s Hockey Displays Resolve, Resilience, Battling Hard in 3-1 Defeat to No. 5 Quinnipiac

NO TURNING BACK: Princeton University men’s hockey player Noah de la Durantaye controls the puck in action last winter. Last Saturday, junior defenseman de la Durantaye tallied a goal as Princeton fell 3-1 to No. 5 Quinnipiac. The Tigers, now 6-9-2 overall and 5-5-1 ECAC Hockey, play at Cornell on January 19 and at Colgate on January 20. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

By Bill Alden

Playing at No. 5 Quinnipiac last Friday evening, the Princeton University men’s hockey team dug an early hole, falling behind 6-1 in the first period on the way to a disappointing 9-2 defeat to the Bobcats.

With Princeton hosting Quinnipiac a night later in the home-and-home set, Noah de la Durantaye and his Tiger teammates were primed to bounce back.

“Listen, I think it is no secret that we were all a little embarrassed by our performance last night but you know what, it is a new day, that is the mentality,” said junior defenseman de la Durantaye, a 6’1, 205-pound native of Montreal, Quebec. “It is chalk it up to experience, move on. I think the guys did a really good job of compartmentalizing that and just pushing forward.”

On Saturday before a sell-out crowd of 2,453 packing Hobey Baker Rink, the Tigers did a much better job as the rivals were locked in scoreless tie late in the second period. Junior goalie Ethan Person, making his first appearance for Princeton since December 9 after being sidelined by injury, repeatedly came up big between the pipes to hold off the high-powered Bobcats, the 2023 NCAA champions.

“We trust in our game plan, we trust in our coaches, we trust in our system,” said de la Durantaye. “I think that was a big difference tonight, just the effort was a lot better and the attention to detail. It was just all around a better effort, just putting that in the past and not letting it effect today was important.”

With Quinnipiac dominating possession, the Bobcats broke through with a goal at the 16:12 mark of the third period. They increased their lead to 3-0 with two goals in the first five minutes of the third period. But showing a good effort to the end, Princeton narrowed the gap to 3-1 as de la Durantaye scored a power play goal with 1:20 left in regulation.

“I think there is no quit in our group. That is just a testament — those last three, four, five minutes and just really battling it out to the end,” said de la Durantaye, whose goal was the last score of the contest as the Tigers fell 3-1 to move to 6-9-2 overall and 5-5-1 ECAC Hockey.

“We get one at the end, there is a little bit of life. Luckily I was just on the end of a really good play. It was good battles in the zone, all six guys were implicated in that play. I have them to thank for that, I just happened to be the guy who put it in. We battled hard down low and we created some chances. Their goalie made a couple of saves — you just have to keep going. I am really proud of that. I think that is going to serve us well going down the stretch here in the second half.”

In reflecting on Princeton’s performance, de la Durantaye credited goalie Pearson with battling hard as he ended with 35 saves.

“He is phenomenal, I love him, he is my roommate,” said de la Durantaye, noting that Person has dealt with leg and head injuries this season. “I really felt for him the last month. I am super proud of his resilience and the way he has come back and fought. It wasn’t easy at times, he has definitely seen some tough days. I can only imagine, but he is trooper. He is a real character guy for us. We saw it out there tonight. I think it was 30-plus shots and he stood on his head for most of them. I can’t thank him enough really.”

In his third college season, de la Durantaye has looked to be tougher around the blue line.

“A big focus of mine was trying to defend better, I  think I made strides in that regard,” said de la Durantaye, who now had 10 points this season on two goals and eight assists. “It makes it easier; defending well, the offense takes care of itself. I am just trying to do my job. It is something we talk about a lot. Individually if you do your job, collectively we will be successful. I don’t focus too much on where I am playing or how many minutes. It is every shift you have to go out there and do your work. It is good shifts, let the next man up do his job and then just keep it rolling like that. For me, that starts defensively. I have had some struggles in the past so I try to work on that and that just helps the game flow a little better.”

A focus on team camaraderie has helped the Tigers make progress this winter.

“I think that goes into the guys coming in mid-August and getting together,” said de la Durantaye. “Starting from then, we really cultivated a good group and a good culture. I think that is a big component of it. The boys love each other, I can say that to a man. It is unbelievable, it is like nothing I have ever experienced, not to say in the past, it was bad. This year, I feel like we have got a really close group of guys. The new guys coming in have bought in. The seniors are huge leaders on our team, I think the older guys have done an unbelievable job.”

As a stalwart for the Tigers since his freshman campaign, de la Durantaye is looking to be a positive influence on the group.

“I am just trying to follow in the footsteps and do my job as an upperclassmen to pull everyone along and be a leader out there,” said de la Durantaye. “We really have a roomful of leaders honestly. There is not a single guy that doesn’t take it upon himself to do the right thing. I  think that is what the difference is this year and I think you can see it on the ice.”

Princeton head coach Ron Fogarty saw a big difference in the way the Tigers played from Friday to Saturday.

“It was better for the checking purposes; they had a lot of looks last night because we were not moving our feet,” said Fogarty. “We showed we can skate with them. They were just a little bit better tonight in moving pucks. It was good learning from this, how to get better. Our individual play, our compete, and our attention to detail individually was a lot better tonight than last night.”

While Princeton competed hard, it struggled to find an offensive rhythm as it was stuck in its defensive zone for much of the contest.

“They controlled more in our zone, you are tired defending and once you get the puck you have no energy,” said Fogarty. “You get all of your rushes from the defensive zone. That is what we want to look at it on the tape, how can we get the puck back quicker from a team like that. We are going to play them again so how do we move it and maneuver it up the ice quicker.”

Fogarty loved the way goalie Pearson played against Quinnipiac.

“His knee was nagging him but he came back still and then getting bumped at Dartmouth, he was a little hesitant and then bumped again with Sacred Heart,” said Fogarty. “It has been the mental part of it with him. His knee is finally feeling good. That is the Ethan we have grown to appreciate. The poor kid can’t get a break. If he plays like that, we are going to win  a lot of games. We gave him some time off, we could have put him in last night. I wanted to give him the full start, the full preparation in his first game back, it has been a while. He has only been practicing full for two or three days. He was struggling there pretty bad with his knee and the concussion.”

Even though Princeton fell behind 3-0, Fogarty know his squad wasn’t going to fold.

“We are resilient, we have resolve,” said Fogarty. “We ask our guys to play 60 plus minutes and they continue to do that.”

With the Tigers heading north to play at Cornell on January 19 and at Colgate on January 20, Fogarty is confident that his players will continue to display that resolve.

“Now we have got to turn our focus to Cornell; it is an Ivy League game and we are 4-1-1 in the Ivies,” said Fogarty.

“How we prepare for them is going to take some of this and what we did against Cornell at home (a 2-1 overtime win on November 18) and put it into motion. Cornell is not like that, they are going to try to get down in the corner and grind you. A team like Colgate does somewhat the similar thing (as Quinnipiac) but not as much as skill. We have to be ready to suppress their rushes and attack them below the goal line.”

In the view of de la Durantaye, Princeton will be ready to keep moving forward.

“I think we are a really resilient bunch, we just have to get back to basics,” said de la Durantaye. “We trust our systems a lot, we trust our personnel a lot. It is just matter of putting the pieces together and playing a full 60 minutes hard. We will get our breaks and get our chance and put them in them in the back of the net. I am confident in that.”