Friday, March 16, 2018

Big Friday

Courtney Banghart said one of the first text messages she got after winning the Ivy League women's basketball tournament championship was from men's hockey coach Ron Fogarty. Chris Ayres, the wrestling coach, was at the women's team's selection show party.

They're close, those three. And they also know what they're doing, as evidenced by what will be going on today.

All three are competing today in major championship events, with teams that aren't just happy to be there. So where to start?

How about at the site of the greatest moment in the history of American sports?

There's no chance that the Princeton men's hockey team will play the greatest game in the history of the building in which its plays this afternoon against Cornell in the semifinals of the ECAC hockey tournament. The game starts at 4 and can be seen on Eleven Sports, on the ECAC hockey website or for free on the Twitch app, which you'd need to download first.

The game is being played at the Olympic Ice Center in Lake Placid. It's the site of the 1980 Olympic hockey tournament, where the USA defeated the Soviet Union 4-3 and then won the gold medal by beating Finland to complete the "Miracle On Ice."

It's the greatest sporting event that's ever been played or ever will be played. There's nothing that will ever come close to even being able to be compared to what happened in that arena 38 years ago, so don't even bother trying.

It doesn't make the Princeton-Cornell game any less exciting, especially for Princeton.

Maybe Ron Fogarty should use this as he pregame speech:

The Tigers are in the ECAC semifinal for the first time since 2009. They're also one year removed from being picked to finish 12th, and last, in the league, which is where they were in the 2016-17 preseason poll.

Now the Tigers are in the semifinal, being played in a building where something legendary happened. Cornell is the top seed, and the winner of this game will take on the winner of the Harvard-Clarkson game (starts at 7:30 tonight) in tomorrow's championship game at 7:30.

The winner of that game gets an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament.

Fogarty has transformed Princeton from a team that struggled to score goals to one of the most exciting offensive teams in the country. The challenge today will be Cornell freshman goalie Matthew Galajda, already one of 10 finalists for the Hobey Baker Award as the top player in college hockey and the first freshman to be the ECAC goalie of the year.

There are six players who made first-team All-ECAC, and all six will be in Lake Placid today. 

Harvard and Clarkson have two each. Cornell has Galajda; Princeton has Max Veronneau, who is the nation's leader in assists per game and is second in points per game. He also led the ECAC with 37 points in 22 games. Ryan Kuffner was a second-team selection and is second in the country in goals per game.

The hockey game is the second game of a huge Princeton doubleheader. The first starts at 12:30, when the women's basketball team takes on Maryland in the opening round of the NCAA tournament. That game is on ESPN2.

Princeton is making its seventh NCAA tournament appearance in the last nine years (the other two years ended with WNIT bids). Unlike Princeton's 2015 NCAA game against Maryland, this one will not be played on the home court of the Terps. Instead, it will be the Reynolds Coliseum, on the campus of North Carolina State University in Raleigh.

The winner of the Princeton-Maryland game gets the winner of the host team and Elon in the second round.

Should Princeton have been better than a 12-seed with a 29 RPI? Maybe. Who cares anymore though. It's time to play the game.

Maryland is the Big Ten runner-up, and not the champion, like it was in 2015. Still, Maryland is one of the premiere teams in women's basketball, a team that is focused on deep runs this time of year.

Princeton will have the tallest player in the game with Bella Alarie, the Ivy League Player of the Year and Ivy League tournament MVP. Princeton is more than just a one-woman show, though, with the kind of depth which means that on any given night, any one of six or seven players could be the one who steps up. Maybe today it'll be Gabrielle Rush or Tia Weledji.

It's postseason game day for women's basketball and men's hockey. It's also a huge day for the wrestling team, who qualified four to compete in Cleveland looking for the ultimate honor for Princeton wrestling - the right to ride the elevator.

Only those wrestlers who have earned All-America honors are allowed to ride the Jadwin Gym elevator. The others all have to take the stairs up and down from A level to the wrestling room on E.

The NCAA wrestling championships started yesterday. Princeton sent Matthew Kolodzik (141), Mike D'Angelo (157), Jonathan Schleifer (165) and Patrick Brucki (197). Schleifer has already made history as the first Princeton wrestler ever to qualify for four NCAA championships.

The NCAA wrestling event will be on ESPN, ESPN2 or ESPNU all weekend. You can get all the information you need HERE.

The events for women's basketball, men's hockey and wrestling are what they compete all year to be a part of, and there are obviously never any guarantees that any of them will make it this far.

It's a big Friday to be sure.

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