Wednesday, February 15, 2017

A Hockey Resurgence Continues

Being a high school junior, Miss TigerBlog is very much in the middle of her college search.

This past Saturday, it took her and her father to Wesleyan University in Connecticut. TigerBlog had never been there before, and he liked it, except for the pictures of Bill Belichik everywhere.

TigerBlog has been to a lot of Division III schools in his life, and Wesleyan's athletic facilities are way up there. In fact, TB would love Princeton to have the setup that Wesleyan does, though on a larger scale.

If you walk into the main athletic building from the back, parking lot side, the first thing you'll see on your right is a glass facade above the basketball court. Through the double doors is the hockey rink.

They're both very nice places to watch a game. And they're right next to each other.

The rest of the building houses an indoor track with a large infield that can be used for a practice facility for most outdoor team sports, a pool, squash courts, meeting rooms, locker rooms, a large workout area - all surrounded by pictures from three centuries of Wesleyan athletics, from the 1800s through the current teams.

It's a pretty impressive setup. It probably wouldn't be easy for Princeton to build the same type of facility, since it would need to be gigantic from the standpoint of the basketball and hockey venues alone. Still, it would be great.

At one point, TigerBlog was sitting by himself on the bleachers in the back of the indoor track when the Colby men's hockey team came in to warm up. Colby would be taking on Wesleyan in another 90 minutes or so.

One of the Colby players was stretching out on the floor in front of him, and TigerBlog asked him how long the ride was from the school in Maine to Wesleyan. Turns out it's about 4.5 hours.

It also turns out that the player TB randomly spoke with was a transfer to Colby at the start of the semester. He had played at his old school - Quinnipiac - last semester, which means he played against Princeton twice, not that long ago.

Princeton, TigerBlog reminded him, beat Quinnipiac twice this year. And a lot of other really good teams.

If you haven't been paying attention to Princeton men's hockey this year, then you're really missing out on something special. TigerBlog would also throw in words like amazing and incredible.

Princeton had a record of 34-106-16 in the last five full seasons, including a 5-22-3 season a year ago that saw the team finish last in the 12-team ECAC. Picked to finish last again this year, Princeton got off to an 0-6-1 start, which meant that the Tigers were 34-112-17 in their previous 163 games, for a winning percentage of .261. They were also the only winless team in Division I men's hockey at Thanksgiving.

Since then? It's been a completely different team.

This past weekend was another great one for Princeton hockey. The Tigers took out No. 18 St. Lawrence - who came to Baker Rink tied for first in the ECAC - by a 3-1 score Friday night and then came back to beat Clarkson 3-2 Saturday night in overtime after trailing 2-0 midway through the third period.

So what does it all mean?

Princeton has followed up that 34-112-17 stretch and 0-6-1 start to this season by going 11-5-2 in the last 18 games. Think about that. Princeton has gone from a .261 winning percentage to a .667 winning percentage.

And it happened quickly. TigerBlog would say things turned on a dime, but maybe not. This is Year 3 for Ron Fogarty. He has really good young players. He has his system in place. He has the goalie. Maybe it's better to say that it finally clicked.

It's one thing for a team to know that it's better by seeing how much better everything is in practice or how much more competitive the games are. It's not until they actually start to see it turn into wins, though, that a team can really grow in confidence.

And Princeton has gotten wins against some of the best teams in college hockey. What is it? Seven wins over ranked teams already? 

That's where Princeton is now.

Suddenly, Princeton is at .500, with an overall record of 11-11-3. The Tigers are in eighth place in the ECAC, one point ahead of Dartmouth and only one point behind Yale.

The top eight teams in the league get home ice in the playoffs, with a bye into the quarterfinals for the top four and then the right to host the opening round best-of-threes for fifth through eight places.

The idea that Princeton is in the hunt with two weekends left would probably have been unthinkable to any objective observer of ECAC hockey. And yet here Princeton is, right there, with a trip to RPI and Union and then home games with Brown and Yale to be played.

Union is currently in first. Princeton is one point back of Yale, as TB said, and the Tigers are ahead of RPI and Brown.

When you're where Princeton is, no team is unbeatable, and no team is a guaranteed win. It makes every night exciting, and that's certainly what Princeton hockey has become.

Just like that.


Tad La Fountain '72 said...

There may be other schools with even better physical facilities than Princeton. But we have been and are blessed with the most extraordinary cadre of coaches ever assembled: technically proficient and just wonderful human beings. This remarkable hockey story is "merely" the most recent manifestation of the trend. Our school and our student-athletes are indeed fortunate beyond measure.

Anonymous said...

Impressive recent wins. Could it be the beginning of Guy Gadowsky glory days?