The Princeton men’s hockey loaded up the bus this morning and made the three-hour drive north to Albany for this weekend’s ECAC Hockey Championships. The third-seeded Tigers will meet second-seeded Cornell Friday night at 7:30 p.m. in the second semifinal while top-seeded Yale hosts fourth-seeded St. Lawrence in the first game tomorrow at 4 p.m.
For Princeton it is the second straight visit to Albany. Prior to that it had been nine years since Princeton last played in the ECAC Championships, then hosted in Lake Placid. TigerBlog wasn’t around in the Lake Placid days, neither were any of the players, coaches and team staff that accompanied Princeton to Albany last year, save athletic trainer John Furtado, who joined the Tigers in the 1996-97 season.
Last season traveling to Albany was a new experience. As the bus pulled into the loading dock, players were looking out the windows at the TimesUnion Center and wondering about the building where the league’s semifinals and championship game would play out. When the team walked into the building, the players needed to be directed to the locker room area and the route to the ice surface had to be pointed out. TigerBlog set out on a journey of the bowels of the TUC, looking for the media room and familiarizing himself with the route needed for postgame interviews.
While it was a new experience and the first time for the Tigers, the team did not let that phase it. Princeton was the top seed and showed why in a semifinal win over Colgate. The Tigers then continued that the following night with a win over Harvard in the title game.
This year as the bus pulled into the loading dock, the tone was different. Last year there were some happy-to-be-here sentiments. The program was continuing to rise and it was the next step in that progression. Obviously Princeton came to Albany to win, but there was some excitement in merely being here. This year the Tigers came to Albany with a job to complete.
As the players walked off the bus and unloaded the equipment, they knew where to enter the building, knew the way to the locker rooms and knew where to set up. Furtado knew where he needed to set up. Equipment manager Mark Mills knew where to set up the skate sharpener and TigerBlog didn’t wander the building. Even Princeton’s bus driver Robin knew exactly where to park and how to maneuver the bus in the tight parking area.
When the team usually pulls into a road arena, one of the first steps is to walk down the tunnel and see the rink. Not today, the primary focus was on practice. The players went right to the locker room to get ready for practice. Less than two hours later, practice was over and it was back on the bus for the two-minute ride to the hotel and an easy afternoon.
Tonight the Tigers will attend the ECAC Hockey Awards banquet where junior goalie Zane Kalemba will receive the ECAC Player of the Year Award and the league’s Ken Dryden Award as top goaltender.
There will be a morning skate tomorrow at noon and the puck drops tomorrow night at 7:30 p.m.