Category Archives: Blog

Breaking Down Princeton’s First-Half Success And Where It Came From

Hi everyone, I’m back! At least for a little bit as I breakdown Princeton’s surprise success of the first half and how it will translate to the second half. In this piece I will visit two topics – first I will break down the success Princeton is having, where on the scoresheet it is most reflected. Secondly I will break down where that success is coming from.

This doesn’t mean the blog is back for good, but I would like to post some tidbits on it every now and then – especially because I can still pop into Baker from time to time (like I promised I would.)

Anyway, thanks to Princeton’s SID, Kristy, I have a handy breakdown of Princeton’s first quarter of this season vs. the second quarter of the season as well as the first half of this season compared to the first half of head coach Ron Fogarty’s first season.

Continue reading Breaking Down Princeton’s First-Half Success And Where It Came From

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Goodbye Letter: I Won’t Be Returning To Cover Princeton Hockey

I’m crying as I type this because it’s the hardest decision I’ve ever had to make.

After three years, I won’t be returning to cover Princeton hockey.

Since the summer of 2013, the beat has been my life. I’ve surrendered my days, nights weekends and more. But I’ve known for a while this isn’t sustainable, and I’ve been living the past two years on borrowed time.

I’ve given everything I had to this and now I have nothing left to give. This year with teaching, covering Big Ten hockey and the CWHL, I had very little time to dedicate to the blog. So as hard as it is, I know it’s the right moment to move on.

Princeton defenseman Joe Grabwoski hands Ron Fogarty the game puck
Princeton defenseman Joe Grabwoski hands Ron Fogarty the game puck

I’m really going to miss reporting. During my senior year of college, a professor asked us why we wanted to beat report, and I said it’s because I love being an expert on something. And I do. I love reporting, breaking stories, pressing for interviews, being around the team as much as possible and putting it all together to give people the best insight into the team. I love watching players grow and building relationships, witnessing it all change. Because it does change a lot. And over the last three years, I’ve changed a lot.

But this is difficult because I’m not only saying goodbye to beat reporting – a staple since freshman year of college – but I’m also saying farewell to the community and to my home for the last three years, the one that welcomed me as a scared post-grad dealing with life’s instability. I watched my life capsize several times over the past few years, but this community helped me swim below the waves until I was ready to resurface.

I started the blog in the summer of 2013 as a graduate who, for the first time in four years, didn’t have a beat anymore. With just summer RA duties in a sweltering Warren Towers, I needed something to do. I missed school. I missed reporting.

I had intermittently covered Princeton through my senior year and knew the team received little coverage. I wanted to improve my journalism skills and the team needed a reporter, so I created the blog.

It started that summer populated by a few Q&A’s with the incoming freshmen – Colton Phinney, Quin Pompi, Ryan Siiro, Garrett Skrbich, Ben Foster, Marlon Sabo and Tommy Davis. I later returned home jobless, so covering this team became my job.

I remember my first week on the beat. The fall chill hadn’t permeated the thin walls of Baker yet, leading to nice walks from the small parking garage up the to the rink. But it was tumultuous. The Tigers welcomed Ryerson and brushed aside the Rams in two exhibition games, complete with an Andrew Calof hat trick. But I still came home after the first game and cried. I missed BU hockey so much. I felt so alone.

I knew I had two choices – I could run back to Boston, where it was safe and familiar, or I could believe in myself and push forward. I knew staying at Princeton was the right thing to do.

It’s funny because that was almost three years ago when I cried at the thought of staying. And here I am now, heartbroken at the thought of leaving.

Fans pelt the ice with tennis balls after Dartmouth's first goal
Fans pelt the ice with tennis balls after Dartmouth’s first goal

I’ve been so fortunate to continue beat reporting for the past three years. It’s been hard, certainly. I’ve given everything I could to this beat – late nights of transcribing, writing, photo editing, traveling and a lot of money. But I wouldn’t trade it for anything. I wouldn’t give up the weekends spent shivering in the rink, or the bus rides, train travels and road trips to Harvard, Colgate, Yale, Brown, Dartmouth and Penn State. I wouldn’t give up fighting three canceled flights just to get home from Wisconsin for a Tuesday game. I wouldn’t give up staying awake until 3 a.m. to write and edit photos.

I wouldn’t trade being there for Ryan Benitez’s first collegiate appearance. Or Ron Fogarty’s first Division I win. Or the women earning their Ivy League trophy. Or watching a live stream, counting every save, when Colton Phinney broke the program’s single-season record. Or spending over 20 hours at Baker for my last Princeton game coverage, split between three women’s playoff games and the men’s last regular season contests.

I’ve been so lucky not only to see some amazing places and moments but also to meet such amazing people. The SIDs, fans, families, coaches and players have all been so great. They’ve made this so much easier than it could’ve been.

When I first started covering Princeton, I knew nothing about the team. I’d walked into Devils development camp in 2012 to interview Jack Berger and Mike Ambrosia, and back then I didn’t even know that Jack was the captain. I knew little about the team and community, despite growing up at its doorstep.

Four years later, I watched Mike become a co-captain. And I saw Jack’s younger brother, Chase, play for Penn State. I’ve gotten to cover the women’s team and meet the makers of that program’s success. Four years later, the people I knew so little about have become my family.

With college hockey, we’re lucky we see athletes come in as freshmen and grow as players and as people. It’s crazy that the players who jumpstarted my blog will graduate next year. And it’s crazy that the first player who responded to my Q&A request, the first real content on the site, was Ryan Siiro.

He’s the team captain now.

When I first spoke to Ryan and the other players, I wasn’t sure I could cover this team and be so far away from BU. But I’m so glad I stayed, because the past three years of my life have been incredible. The road trips, the crazy games, the memorable moments and the countless stories will always have a special place in my heart. (I still tell people about the night an errant puck ripped into the press box and tore down the Ivy League banner, or when a puck cut Kyle Rankin through his cage and there was a trail of blood on the ice.)

I want to thank the Princeton hockey families for their endless support with the blog and aiding with travel. But I really want to thank them for their encouragement, kind words and for always believing in me.

I want to thank the players for letting me into their home, for handling all my requests and always making themselves available for interviews. I’ve covered some good people here. These people made it easy for me to come to the rink every weekend and they made it a safe space away from the tests of being a woman sports journalist.

Ambrosia and KesselmanI would really like to thank the captains – my go-to interviews – from Jack Berger in 2014 to Mike Ambrosia and Kyle Rankin this year. Not only did they give great quotes, even after tough losses, but they were always so welcoming.

Lastly, and most importantly, I want to thank the team’s SID, Kristy, and coach, Ron. Without Kristy, none of this would have been possible. She’s one of the best, a fact I learned at my first Princeton hockey game after I gracelessly tripped on the steep stairs that led to the locker room. Kristy instantly asked if I was hurt and offered to have the trainer help.

Ron is one of the best coaches around and an even better person. Since the day he took over, Ron has emphasized the importance of relationships in building a program. They’re the most important things not only in hockey but in life.

All of these people – from the staff, to the coaching staff, to the players, fans and families – made Baker feel like home from my first game in January 2013.

I know this team is in good hands. I know this team is on its way to being a force and I’m only sorry I won’t be there to chronicle it.

Geographically, I’m not sure where life will take me. If I’m still in the area, I’ll sneak into Baker from time to time. If I’m not, I’ll still pay close attention to this program. I haven’t decided the future of the website, but it will definitely stay up and the content archives will still be accessible. There are also some stories and interactives that I’m trying to put up in the offseason.

My goal when I started covering this team was to become a better journalist. I think I’ve accomplished that. But I also hope I’ve become a better person.

So to the wonderful community: please keep in touch! And if there’s anything you ever need, please let me know. I will always consider this place my home.

It’s very hard for me to leave. But I’m excited for my next adventure, whatever that may be.

At my first Princeton senior night, Andrew Calof’s mom asked me how I did it all.

I told her it was love.

And love is what makes it so hard to say goodbye.

But as Winnie The Pooh said: “How lucky am I to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard.”

Blog: Postseason Practice (News And Notes)

Behind The Blue Line

With the regular season over, I stopped by practice on Wednesday to catch up with the co-captains, coach Ron Fogarty and a couple other players. It’s been a while since I’ve posted anything here, but there’s a lot I was asking about (like faceoffs and the power play).

But before I go there, I have to say if Princeton is going to beat anyone in the playoffs this year, it would be Clarkson. If the Tigers play well, especially on the defensive end, they have a chance of at least taking one game. But there’s very little margin for error defensively. Having a healthy Colton Phinney should really help though, as he was playing hurt during their trip to North Country a few weeks ago.

The tie against Brown was really big. You could feel the sense of relief that, after so many times down one goal with Phinney pulled, Princeton finally got the game-tying goal. It also marked just the second time since the 5-4 loss to Colgate when Princeton scored more than a goal in a game.

With the playoffs starting today, here’s a quick rundown of some key news, notes and quotes heading into tonight’s matchup at Cheel Arena:

• Princeton’s power play is still struggling

The Tigers have one of the worst power plays, converting 12.3 percent of their chances. It’s something the Tigers have also been working on in practice.

“There’s two things with the power play that you need,” Fogarty said. “You need productivity and we’ve been at 11 percent. I think it’s not that good. But the biggest thing that we need to do is get shots and generate some momentum against their top defensemen and their top defensive forwards. You don’t have to score, but you have to get some momentum off of the two-minute power play.

“That’s our goal as well too, to create more shots. We’re averaging like a half a shot a power play, which is horrific. We have to try to get three or four shots each power play just to create that momentum and force the goaltender to make saves.”

• And about those faceoffs…

Faceoffs, or the inability to win them, hinder power plays. It’s really tough – and I’ve seen this with Princeton – to establish zone time on the power play when you’re losing the faceoff, the puck gets cleared and you have to spend that time regrouping.

“It’s everything. I think with faceoffs, when you’re running at one-third of the time getting it, 52 percent, 53 percent in the national hockey league is great so what’s 32 percent in college hockey?” Fogarty said. “It’s awful. The one area we’re doing a better job is using more of a line faceoff. The two wingers are helping out more because of our inability to win faceoffs center vs. center, so they’re doing a better job to help it out.”

The Tigers have a nation-worst 40.8 faceoff winning percentage. On the team, Ben Foster and Garrett Skrbich have taken the most faceoffs. Foster has won 41.7 percent and Skrbich has won 40 percent.

“It’s awful. Our faceoffs probably the worst in the league and that’s been one of our attention to detail this week in practice and moving forward this week,” Fogarty said. That’s so important to get that first possession off of a faceoff and put people in a set position. That has to improve. We are bad.”

• Colton Phinney being healthy is huge

Phinney wasn’t playing his best hockey in February, which made sense after we found out how hurt he was and how much it limited him in practices. Fogarty said that one game he sat, which was a loss at St. Lawrence, helped him heal. So Phinney was still hurt when the Tigers fell at Clarkson. And he’s looked a lot better since that game off.

While we’re on the subject of Phinney, he’s 29 saves away from reaching 1,000 for the season.

• Hayden Anderson back in the lineup

Anderson has played a lot the second half of the season. He’s missed just two games since January, filling in on a defense missing Kevin Liss. Anderson’s role is especially important now, since there’s no update on Matt Nelson’s condition yet. He left Saturday’s game with an injury, forcing reserve Stuart Pomeroy (who played as a forward in that game) to return to defense. Granted, blueliner Tommy Davis was missing because of a suspension, but Nelson’s absences would leave the defense shorthanded.

Anderson has played in the last four games, and was playing for both games against Clarkson this year.

“He knows his limitations,” Fogarty said. “He’s a defenseman that knows what he can do with and without the puck and does it a hundred percent of the time with stuff that he does well. He moves it quickly he doesn’t try to beat someone one on one, Hayden looks for the open man quickly … and distributes it effectively. He’s been very consistent for us.”

• All the close games

The Tigers have played in 14 one-goal losses (not including opponent empty net goals.)

“Our guys have stayed with it throughout the year, have competed for 60 minutes so that’s the big thing,” Fogarty said. “It’s easy to cut corners, it’s easy to formulate a different game plan because things aren’t working. I’ve said we’ve had 14 losses by one goal where we pulled the goalie, that’s by far better than the five we had last year.

“We’re in more of the games and there’s where sometimes you get frustrated as a player because you see how close you are and you’re not getting over the hump. Bt it’s been great improvement throughout the course of time over the year and hopefully we can break through.

• Struggling offense

As mentioned above, the Tigers have just seven goals over the last seven games.

“We need to score goals. Besides the Colgate game we’re nine goals in the past nine games so we have to get back on the scoresheet,” Fogarty said. “Winning faceoff, taking shots can help that out.”

• Close to home

Senior co-captain Kyle Rankin is excited to go back to Clarkson.

“I really enjoy playing up there,” Rankin said. “It’s close to home, it’s a good atmosphere. You’re right we do have that playoff experience there. We also know what it’s like to be up one game in a series there. If we find ourselves in a similar situation this time we know the importance of Game 2 and closing things out.”

• The last time…

Rankin talked about being up in the series. That was thanks to an overtime goal from Andrew Ammon in 2014, a senior back then.

• Alex Riche coming into his own

At one point, the forward was taken off the all-freshman line. Fogarty wanted him to be more of his own player and take control of things. Now Riche is back with Ryan Kuffner and Max Veronneau.

“He had two great scoring chances there against Brown,” Fogarty said. “Yeah he’s taken ownership of that line more. Obviously his number’s don’t support that but his effort is much better the second half and better the last quarter.”

• Closing notes…

If Princeton is healthy, or at least somewhat healthy (Matt Nelson being back would help), the Tigers can win. They don’t have a great record of winning at Cheel Arena in the playoffs, but I think this team has a stronger foundation than the one that took a game from Clarkson two years ago.

 

As The Road Trip Starts

As Princeton men’s hockey takes on the final stretch of the season, the team is in an interesting position. The Tigers mathematically still have a chance to host the first round of the ECAC tournament and have improved a lot, but they’re still struggling to win. And they’re mostly struggling to score.

The played really well against Cornell but couldn’t find that one goal when they needed it, and they had an amazing first period against Colgate. Actually, these games were almost mirror images of the two played in Upstate New York in November – Princeton played extremely close with Colgate but couldn’t’ find that extra goal, while the Tigers and Big Red played a match similar to last weekend’s Princeton-Colgate affair.

But before I get to any of that, I wanted to remind everyone that women’s hockey is holding “A Day For Denna” on Saturday at 3 p.m. against St. Lawrence. The team is fundraising for the Denna Laing Fund through a bake sale, chuck-a-puck and 14 Strong hats.

The women, who just won the Ivy League title, return home to close out the regular season. It’s a couple of really important weeks for the Tigers, who are third in the ECAC and have a chance for home-ice advantage. There are only six points separated the second through sixth teams in the league.

The men also have a shot at home ice, but it’s starting to slip away

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The Tigers aren’t actually mathematically eliminated, but they would have to win at least four of their last six games and get some help. Winning four is actually possible since the Tigers probably have their “easiest” stretch left. I said easiest and used quotes because three of pit droid ECAC wins have come against these grabs, and two more were tied.

Earlier results don’t mean that Princeton will win, but it does show the Tigers can win against the teams (and they should’ve swept Union and RPI when the teams played in January.

What does Princeton have to do to win?

The Tigers are close, so close. There are several answers to this question. Sometimes it’s to not break down, to score or to not give up many goals. Scoring was an issue against Dartmouth and of course against Cornell, and against Colgate it was combination of allowing too many goals and some ill-timed mistakes. Sometimes it’s a combination of a few of those things, but the main issue I see is scoring. The Tigers are getting chances and they just need to score.

“The forwards have all been scorers on the way up,” co-captain Kyle Rankin said after the loss to Cornell. “No matter where you play, you can’t really get to the Division I level without having done that as a forward. So I think it’s just having the confidence. If there’s anything I’ve learned over my four years is confidence is really king and you really see the guys who have confidence, the things that they’re able to accomplish. You just [have] to remind yourself that you’re a good hockey player and you’re here for a reason and you earned the chances that you’re getting and you just got to trust yourself and put them in.”

The breakdowns and mistakes aren’t good, but the team has minimized them quite a bit and they’re progressing in that area.

 

Some number crunching

Whether you like advanced stats or not, they are helpful. Princeton’s Corsi For (which essentially measures possession) is 46.0 percent. It’s not a great number and it’s in the bottom of the league, but it’s not last and is definitely an improvement from last season, when the Tigers had a 43.3 percent Corsi For. It means the Tigers are possessing the puck more than last season, which backs up the eye test. Unfortunately those numbers don’t measure Grade-A chances…

The other number I wanted to look at is faceoffs. On Saturday, Princeton coach Ron Fogarty said the team hasn’t been doing well in the dot.  The Tigers have a 41.4 percent faceoff conversion rate, and losing faceoffs has really hurt the team – especially when it comes to keeping possession on the power play.

Where I see this team finishing

I was hoping (for the sake of my coverage) the Tigers would get home ice advantage, but I don’t think it will happen. A bunch of the top teams are very close together in the standings though, so it’s even more difficult to predict who Princeton will face in the first round.

A weekend prediction

Princeton had one of its worst performances of the season against St. Lawrence back in November. But it’s a long way from November, and if the team plays well, the game should at least be close. Clarkson is an interesting series, since the Tigers shut them out in November. But Clarkson has played better of late. I’m going with a split for Princeton, because I still think they can beat the Golden Knights.

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Blog: A Week of Travel and The Return

It took 17 hours and a trip that made me cross four states, but I managed to make it home from Madison last Monday just in time for Princeton’s game against AIC. (Long story short, I had three flights that were cancelled, one scheduled for Tuesday that I then thankfully got to switch back to Monday). I then went to Boston for Princeton’s game against Harvard and was lucky enough to go to Dartmouth as well. After watching the three games, especially the team’s losses to Harvard and Dartmouth, I have some thoughts on the team’s progress (and their shot chances/shot charts, which I’ll get to later).

Princeton coach Ron Fogarty wasn’t thrilled with the team’s effort against AIC, but they picked it up and he was  happy with the two efforts over the weekend, despite the losses.

“I will take that game every day, how we played,” Fogarty sad after the team’s loss to Harvard.

Where the team is now compared to November: These teams last met in November, and Princeton lost both. Back then, the Tigers weren’t happy with their first period against Dartmouth but played better the rest of the game and played very well against Harvard. Princeton is definitely a lot better now, and they’ve shown it through some impressive wins (Yale and Brown). Mostly it’s just Princeton’s stronger play, both defensively and offensively (although strong defensive play helps the offense).

This weekend, a lot of people were telling me Princeton looked really good and played well. It’s funny to hear since their performance didn’t surprise me. After watching this team over the past three years, especially how it’s progressed this year, I expect them to play like that.

Some of the best games of the season: Against Dartmouth in the third period, Princeton had a really good chance of scoring. Actually, both games were some of the team’s best offensive efforts (despite Princeton scoring just one goal.)

“When you’re on the road and you get plus-30 chances, 30 shots on goal, you’re showing progress because you have the puck more,” Fogarty said after the loss to Dartmouth.

It’s not just the chances, although Princeton did outshoot Dartmouth 37-23, but it’s where the chances were coming from. After the first, the Tigers attempted shots from everywhere in their offensive zone. Here are the shot charts from the first and second frames:

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Here’s the second period:

IMG_4216

And here’s the third:

IMG_4215

“We had some great scoring chances again and that’s what you want,” Fogarty said after the game against Dartmouth. “To have the opportunity to have scoring chances.”

Now I want to look at Princeton’s shot attempts against Harvard, because the Tigers to some shots off from just in front of the net and the slot.

Here’s the second period(31 is Harvard’s Merrick Madsen):

IMG_4218

Here’s the third:

IMG_4219

Now the Tigers just need to work on finishing those chances: The opportunities are coming, a lot more than they had in the past. Fogarty said the players aren’t used to being in some of these situations, but the more familiar they get the easier it’ll be for them to score.

Dartmouth has a nice rink: My visit Saturday was my first trip to Dartmouth, so I’ve now checked six of 12 ECAC rinks off my list. I actually really liked Thomspon Arena. It’s not as small as Bright (Harvard’s Rink), but it’s not very big either and it’s pretty well lit. It helped Saturday’s game was packed with fans and students, making for a good atmosphere.

Fans pelt the ice with tennis balls after Dartmouth's first goal
Fans pelt the ice with tennis balls after Dartmouth’s first goal

The tennis ball tradition is… Part of the reason I’ve always wanted to go to Dartmouth is because of the tennis ball tradition, where the fans throw tennis balls on the ice after Dartmouth’s first goal against Princeton. So after Dartmouth scored in the first period, it started. It’s kind of cool but also kind of strange, and I was mostly impressed no one threw tennis balls for the second goal (fans aren’t supposed to, but sometimes they do. So now each year Dartmouth’s brass issues a statement asking fans not to throw tennis balls for subsequent goals).

One last note: I’m trying not to get sentimental with just eight games left in the regular season, but this has truly been a great year. Thank you to everyone who’s shown your support – I really appreciate it, and it’s made covering this team that much more fun.

Until next week!

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Analysis: Princeton vs. Harvard 12.4.15

For this portion, I wanted to look at Princeton’s 2-1 overtime win against Harvard in December. For those who remember, the tight game ended with a fantastic play from defender Kelsey Koelzer in the extra frame. I actually wasn’t at this game, so I saw the whole game for the first time specifically for this post.

I didn’t have many areas of focus, but here were some things I looked for:

  • Karlie Lund: The freshman has been unstoppable for Princeton, and I was looking for some clips that would show what’s helped her succeed.
  • Kelsey Koelzer: Last week head coach Jeff Kampersal told me that Koelzer, a forward converted to defense, has been getting better on the defensive side. So I was looking for her defensive plays.
  • The power play: Kampersal has been emphasizing that Princeton needs to work on its power play. The Tiger advantage is 23rd in the nation.

Let me start with Koelzer. Her goal was incredible, but I wanted something that showcased her defensively. So I found this clip of Koelzer, where she makes a good defensive play. I circled her in the first frame so you can see where she starts and how she reacts calmly to the play:

Koelzer-D-play

Koelzer isn’t extremely close to the play, but she does a good job of getting over to Harvard’s forward and knocking the puck away. Koelzer is known pretty well for her offensive ability though, which brings me to her game-winning goal:

koelzer-goal

I don’t think Koelzer’s goal needs any explanation, so I’ll go to my next point – the power play. The Tigers turn the puck over a lot on the power play and have trouble moving it or getting any Grade-A shots off. It’s the same for opponents when Princeton is on the penalty kill though, and in this game they shut down the nation’s top power play unit.

I’ve talked a lot about Karlie Lund and how effective she’s been for the Tigers. Here’s a clip of her bringing the puck in Princeton’s offensive zone, and I want you to watch how she gets the puck past a couple of Crimson defenders:

Lund

And here’s another one of Lund, who picks the puck up in Harvard’s zone and tries to get an angled shot off:

lund-scoring-chance

I was also hoping to grab some footage of Stephanie Sucharda, because she’s also been a force on the blue line. I was unable to get some footage, but she’s played well on the point for the power play.

Something else I wanted to note was Kimberly Newell’s play. It’s no secret she’s one of the best goaltenders is the country, and she proved it in the game. Newell was especially pressed in the third period but wasn’t giving up many second chances on net (one of the few times she did resulted in Harvard’s goal).

That’s all for now, but hopefully I can get to some more games – especially since the current team (which is on a 10-game winning streak) has solidified since this game.

Analysis: Princeton vs. Harvard 11.14.15

I went back and re-watched Princeton’s 3-0 loss to Harvard from November. I’m at every home game, but taking pictures for two periods limits my visibility, and the side view from the stream on Ivy League Digital Network lets me see more than I would from a corner (or from the press box).

This was a game that was very close, as Princeton trailed 1-0 until very late in the game when the Crimson potted two empty-net goals. There were a couple of things I wanted to watch for here:

  • Are the freshmen getting protected starts? The freshmen have been impactful this year, especially the line of Max Veronneau, Alex Riche and Ryan Kuffner. At the time of this game, Riche wasn’t with Veronneau and Kuffner. But the two rookies together were dominant and contributing points. There are game situations that can help this – are they starting mostly in the offensive zone (protected starts)? And how much ice time are they getting? I couldn’t actually tackle the second question, though.
  • How did the defense perform? I’m probably the most interested in Princeton’s defense, and have been since last season. I think it’s one of the team’s most improved aspects from last year.

That was my main focus, although I picked up some other observations while watching. Unfortunately my time has been limited since hockey resumed after winter break, so I wasn’t able to watch and pick up some more – but I did take some clips to analyze some points. And his game happened a few months ago, so the Tiger team that played then is different than the current one. (Hopefully I can also look at a more recent game).

Let’s start with the first period and Harvard’s goal. It was a play right off the faceoff, with Jimmy Vesey tipping Desmond Bergin’s shot from the point. The entire play started with the faceoff win, which brings me to this point – faceoffs has been a huge issue for Princeton both in this game and during the season. The Tigers are winning just 41 percent of their faceoffs.

Here’s Harvard’s goal:

Harvard-goal

Like I mentioned before, faceoffs weren’t a strong suit for Princeton in the game. The Tigers got better at it as the game went on, but I think it was a considerable factor in Princeton’s struggle to generate offense.

Here’s a clip I wanted to share of Princeton winning a faceoff at center ice and breaking the puck out (there’s no point to this, I just liked it):

F-woin-and-breakout

Princeton’s offense isn’t a powerhouse, but it’s been much better than last year. If the Tigers won more faceoffs and controlled the puck off the drop, it would help their offense a lot – especially on the power play. I don’t have any clips to share of their man-advantage, but part of the reason they’ve struggled to generate chances is a lost faceoff that leads to a quick clear.

Speaking of offense, the freshmen aren’t getting protected zone starts. They also aren’t being placed in easy situations and have sometimes created their chances from nothing. I’ll use the clip of Max Veronneau and Ryan Kuffner below, where Veronneau forces a turnover near the blueline and Kuffner picks it up for a shot:

Veronneau-takeaway

I thought the defense struggled a little bit early in the first, but they settled down and became better later in the game. There was still some running around/breakdowns at times in the game, but not much. Princeton head coach Ron Fogarty talks a lot about keeping shots to the perimeter, and it’s part of the reason why Princeton has been successful on defense. They might allow many shots, but they’re not quality shots. The Tigers do a pretty good job of protecting their net, which brings me to the next point – the penalty kill. Princeton’s penalty kill was ranked very high nationally when they played Harvard, and Harvard had the best power play at the time. The Tigers did a great job of limiting chances on the penalty kill, but it helps when you have a player like Eric Robinson who can kill shorthanded time with some offensive chances.

But as I mentioned above, there were some defensive breakdowns – including one that led to Colton Phinney’s cartwheel save – remember that? One of the defensemen was too high into the offensive zone, leaving Quin Pompi as the only defenseman back in the play having to defend two Crimson players.

D-breakdown

And lastly, I wanted to share this play from Garrett Skrbich because I liked it. He helps create the turnover (or creates, the camera angle makes it a little hard to see) at neutral ice and then gets in a great position for a Grade-A chance.

skrbich

That’s all for now, but if there’s anything you’d like to see more of, please let me know!

Blog: As We Embrace The Break

Kyle Rankin celebrates his goal

Princeton is now officially on break (again). For those unfamiliar, the Tigers take their exams after Winter Break – meaning Princeton has a couple more weeks off to study and take tests. The men resume their season on Jan. 26 against AIC, Princeton’s last non-conference opponent.

The Tigers finished the season on an interesting note, tying RPI and Union. Last year those would’ve been favorable results, but coach Ron Fogarty (and some players) emphasized it wasn’t enough. I agree. Princeton was capable of winning both games, especially the first (when the lead slipped away on a penalty and a missed call).

Here are some more thoughts on the team, players, the season so far and miscellaneous quotes:

Is this team really progressing faster than expected?

If you look at Princeton’s stats, yes. The Tigers are averaging more goals per game than last year. They already have four wins, which matches the total number of victories from last year. Ryan Kuffner is one point away from matching Jonathan Liau’s team-leading total from last season. But statistics are useless without context.

It’s more important how Princeton is playing than wins and losses. Because the final score can be influenced by so many different factors that won’t show up in goals per game, or shots. But the way the team plays, whether it breaks down, turns the puck over, keeps shots to the outside and creates quality scoring chances determines if the team has progressed or not.

To me, Princeton has improved. I don’t see as many turnovers or breakdowns as I did last year. Princeton isn’t getting as outshot as they have in the past, and most opponent shots are kept to the perimeter. The defense looks a little more sound this year too, which is really important.

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To everyone else, I think it appears like Princeton is progressing faster than expected. I was the only media member who expected Princeton to finish higher than 12th, so this doesn’t surprise me. There are some games the Tigers probably should’ve had back (the two ties, and then the games at Maine).

Can Princeton host the first round?

This is a topic that deserves its own post (it’s on my to-do list already). The Tigers are currently in a spot for that, tied for sixth in the ECAC with Yale. So right now they’re in a good position, with a few ECAC wins and some ties. But whether they’ll host or not comes down to the second-half schedule. There are only three points separating six teams between sixth and 11th. And the Tigers have played 12 games already, which is four more than Ivy counterparts Dartmouth and Yale.

It’s one of those things I feel will come down to the last weekend of the season,

When a walk-on becomes a regular

Defenseman Hayden Anderson has played in Princeton’s last three games. The junior, who joined the team as a freshman walk-on, has now played in six games this year for a team that’s thin on defense. In the ties to RPI and Union, Anderson was on the back end while defenseman Kevin Liss dressed as a forward.

“As someone works hard, [is] more of a hard, gritty defenseman, he made some intelligent poised plays and I just hope that permeates through the team,” Fogarty said on Friday.

“Hayden’s been playing great in practice. He’s been consistent. As a coaching staff you ask the players to bring your best and then we can assess it and then the lineup is created. And then people get the opportunity to play in different impact situations. In special teams, Hayden Anderson has been one of our consistent defensemen and making smart, breakout plays. That’s what we need.”

More mature than their years

You can’t overlook the freshmen as a key part to Princeton’s success. Rookies usually face a learning curve when coming to college hockey – and the Tiger rookies have too – but they’ve really helped the offense (and defense). I’m going to look back at some of Princeton’s games to see how much playing time/zone starts have (if at all) influenced their offensive stats. Even certain situations did, you can’t ignore the talent the freshmen bring – especially the line of Ryan Kuffner, Max Veronneau and Alex Riche.

Fogarty has said their creativity has been helpful, and it shows on the ice.

Speaking of freshmen… Josh Teves has been a huge addition on the blue line. And then he made an incredible save and scored a goal on Friday night.

A better restart, finals break and the schedule ahead

The Tigers came back from winter break and got blown out by the Bobcats. They rebounded with a better effort at Quinnipiac, but Fogarty emphasized that Princeton can’t falter like that again.

“The emphasis was [to] do the opposite of what they did when they went home for Christmas,” Fogarty said on Friday.

The benefit is the Tigers, who have finals, will still be on campus. On Friday, Fogarty said they didn’t know yet what the practice schedule would be like during finals, except that he would try and give the team four days off and possibly start practice on Wednesday.

And… That’s all for now. I’m putting the “pen” away temporarily while I delve into a little more analysis and rewatch some old Princeton games.

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Princeton Hockey Mailbag

Ryan Kuffner splits Penn State defenders

It’s the holidays, there’s no hockey and just a little bit of a break. But before I take some time off, here’s a Princeton hockey mailbag for the first half of the season.

If you have any additional questions for a future mailbag, you can tweet me @icehockeystick, tweet the blog @puhockeyblog, or email me at jashvinapshah@gmail.com.

https://twitter.com/davependrys/status/675116530460434433

Definitely faster. The Tigers have actually relied on their freshmen in recent history, and they’ve had many rookies who’ve been thrust into important roles. We saw that last year, with Eric Robinson and David Hallisey contributing on offense and Joe Grabowski earning to-pairing minutes on defense. But none of the freshmen have put up numbers the way Max Veronneau and Ryan Kuffner have.

It usually takes a semster for freshmen to really adjust to the collegiate game, but the two have benefitted from chemstiry created in junior hockey. They’re both skilled players, and so is Alex Riche. I knew they’d contribute and probably lead the team, but I didn’t realize their contributions would be this much.

Then you have Spencer Kryczka, who’s worked his way into the lineup almost every night. He’s more of a physical forward, but has added a few points. And on the back end, Princeton has relied on Josh Teves in a thin defense. While Teves (and all the freshmen) still has room to learn, he’s been a big part of the defense, and has helped offensively.

What are some pre/post game traditions? – Anonymous

I actually don’t have many, and definitely not as many as when I was at Boston University. I still make/bring my coffee with me, something that’s lasted since junior year of college. My favorite pregame tradition has to be walking around the rink. I’ll usually take a lap or two just to look at the old pictures and see if any familiar faces are hanging around. I love having pregame chats with fans and families. Then I usually walk around the benches or the penalty box to get some photos for my gameday Instagram picture.

As far as post-game tradition goes, my favorite is definitely the drive home! It’s the most relaxing part of the day and I usually blast some upbeat music to go with it. After that, I’ll put on some tea, write my post-game stories, edit some photographs and usually watch a horror movie while I’m editing pictures.

The best thing, though, is being at the rink after the game. Nothing compares to the peace of an empty hockey rink.

https://twitter.com/davependrys/status/675116934158000128

While Jonathan Liau was one of the offensive leaders last year, he didn’t contribute much statistically to the team this year. While he was still with the team, he actually only missed two games, but put up three points. Liau was arguably one of the faster players on the team, though, and the Tigers lose depth with his departure. It doesn’t seem like there’s much of a void to be filled, though, only because the underclassmen have really bolstered the offense.

What’s your go-to song/artist before a game? – Anonymous

It usually varies, depending on what I’m listening to at the time. I do have a set playlist of songs I listen to, all upbeat tracks. I like Shake It Off, because it’s really applicable to journalism (and the first place I heard it was at Baker Rink!) But I usually listen to Shake It Off on the way home. I like listening to “I Lived” on the way over, because it really calms me down. Defying Gravity from Wicked is also one of my go-to songs before games. The rest are a bunch of Hindi songs 🙂

Princeton doesn’t track advanced stats, although College Hockey News tracks things like Corsi. While I think they would be helpful, they’re not nesecary at the moment (especially because it’s hard to do in college hockey, including player Corsi). There are certain advanced stats I’d like to calculate (if time permits) because I do think they can help tell the story better!

https://twitter.com/davependrys/status/679434928036139008

Definitely higher. I knew they would be above 12th, but certainly didn’t predict they’d be tied for seventh. I also didn’t see them beating Yale – that was a huge win. It’s largely been a down or inconsistent year for the ECAC, which has contributed to some wacky standings in the conference. Given the way things are going, I wouldn’t be surprised if the Tigers hosted a first-round playoff series.

I would like to do more mailbags in the future, so if you have any questions, you can tweet me @icehockeystick, tweet the blog @puhockeyblog, or email me at jashvinapshah@gmail.com.

Checking In Just Before Break

It’s been a long time since I’ve posted something to the blog. It’s been a busy season so far with the road trip and the games at home and the stories. I wanted to throw up one more post before I go to Penn State this weekend for what should be a great game.

After the road sweep over Brown and Yale, the Tigers now have four wins on the season, matching their total from last year. This is the earliest they’ve reached four wins in a long time, and it represents the improvement in the team.

I’m going to delve into exactly what/where is contributing to the team’s overall success during the team’s winter break. But first, here are some other thoughts thus far in the season:

  • Princeton probably should’ve swept Maine: I watched Princeton’s Saturday game against Maine the week after it happened. Other than the first period, it was a good game from the Tigers (who had to travel a long way to get to Alfond Arena).
  • The best penalty killer(s): The Tigers have one of the nation’s top penalty kills, and part of the reason is Eric Robinson. He’s been phenomenally taking away time with some shorthanded bids, and has come close to scoring on a couple chances.
  • In the fate of the freshmen: I knew the class would help with some much-needed scoring, but they’ve been player better than I thought. The collegiate game is a tough adjustment for freshmen of all positions, but Princeton’s rookies (especially Ryan Kuffner and Max Veronneau) haven’t had any trouble contributing. There have been some hiccups for the freshmen, but they’ll get much better in the second half.
  • In our goaltender we trust: Colton Phinney’s .940 save percentage is seventh-best in the country. And three of the nteminders ahead of him (Jayson Argue, Devin Buffalo and Merrick Madsen) have played less than 10 games. He made some big saves last weekend, including one at point-blank range off a turnover against Brown.

And don’t look now (actually you can if you want) but the Tigers are tied for seventh with six points.

Also, this break I would also like to put up another mailbag. So if you have any questions, you can tweet me or the blog, or shoot me an email at jashvinapshah@gmail.com.