Thursday, August 30, 2018

Cautiously Optimistic

TigerBlog can't remember exactly what the story was back when then-Ford Family Director of Athletics Gary Walters came down to his office to say that it was too positive.

Managing expectations is something that people in athletic communications always have to keep in mind. You never want to give an opponent anything for the proverbial bulletin board, and you never want to over-hype a team before it plays.

In fact, TB can only remember one coach who ever said "yes, we should be the preseason favorite because we should win the league," and that was Bill Carmody before the 1997-98 men's basketball season. Princeton then went 27-2 and moved into the national Top 10, so Carmody was clearly correct.

Anyway, back at Gary's suggestion that time, TB's colleague Craig Sachson is pretty sure it had to do with a headline before a football game. The original wording of that headline - from about 12 or so years ago - is lost, but whatever the overly enthusiastic phrase was, it was changed to "cautiously optimistic."

The Ivy League has taken this year to doing preseason polls for every sport. According to those polls so far, Princeton will win three Ivy League titles this fall - women's volleyball, women's soccer and field hockey.

Will it play out that way? Who knows.

It appears there's reason for cautious optimism, of course.

So far, the only Princeton team to have played this year is the women's soccer team, who will play the first home game of the 2018-19 year tomorrow, hosting St. Joe's. There's another game Sunday night, when North Carolina State will be here in a matchup of Top 20 teams.

The field hockey, men's soccer and women's volleyball teams also play tomorrow.

Ever since that day with Gary, TigerBlog has used the term "cautious optimism" a lot. It's been something of inside joke, but it also is very applicable to expectations for teams that figure to be good.

Over-hyping? Not good. Sneaking up on people? Very good.

This bring us to a tweet from ESPN's John Buccigross, who put out an early preseason Division I men's hockey ranking. And where was Princeton?

No. 5.

That's not in the ECAC. That's in Division I.

Keep in mind, Princeton men's hockey finished 12th out of 12 in the ECAC two years ago (well, two-plus, now that it's 2018-19). Keep in mind Princeton finished higher than seventh in the ECAC regular season standings three times this century and not at all since 2011.

On the other hand, this is also a team that has made a meteoric rise to the national spotlight. Ron Fogarty has rebuilt this team quickly, and the Tigers enter the coming season with, well, cautious optimism.

Lots of it.

Princeton went from 12th place to back-to-back seventh place finishes. The 2016-17 Tigers won an opening round ECAC playoff series. The 2017-18 Tigers did that, and much more.

Princeton defeated Brown in the opening round of the playoffs and then won a best-of-three series against Union (the No. 2 seed) to advance to the semifinals in Lake Placid. After that, it was a win over top-seed Cornell and three-seed Clarkson and just like that, the Tigers had won an ECAC title and reached the NCAA tournament.

And now expectations seem to be a tad high.

Buccigross had Minnesota-Deluth as the No. 1 team. Up next were Michigan, Ohio State (who beat Princeton in the NCAA opening round 4-2) and then Providence. Then the Tigers.

You know who was behind Princeton? Every one else.

The reason for the optimism is that Princeton has some the best players in the country this year. Ryan Kuffner and Max Veronneau will be on every preseason Hobey Baker Trophy list. Josh Teves is one of the best defensemen in the country. Goalie Ryan Ferland was the MVP of the ECAC tournament last year as a freshman.

Those are pretty good building blocks.

The men's hockey team, of course, will not have the luxury of sneaking up on anyone this coming season, not after last year's ECAC title. And the expected preseason hype won't help that cause at all.

Still, it's better to be in the position that the Tigers find themselves in. And even though it matters not at all, having someone who knows a lot about college hockey be that high on Princeton is cause for pride and celebration.

And optimism.

Just keep it cautious, that's all.

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