After practice on Wednesday ended, Ryan Siiro was the only player left on the ice. Coach Ron Fogarty was there with him, passing pucks from the corner to the slot, where Siiro tried shooting them into this net.
Scoring this weekend will be important for Siiro’s line if the Tigers want to defeat Clarkson.
“That line will be the difference,” Fogarty said. “If they’re playing to what they can do and they can produce, we’ll have a pretty good shot.”
Siiro and his linemates Kyle Rankin and Garrett Skrbich form one of Princeton’s most reliable, defensive lines. They account for almost one-third of the Princeton players who’ve skated in every game this season. And lately, Fogarty has been playing the trio against opposing teams top lines when he can get the matchup.
“You need guys to play consistently, get pucks in, get pucks out, get pucks on net, play defense, penalty kill roles, all the little things on the ice that kind of add up throughout the game,” Skrbich said. “You have to try to lead by example and try to just make all the little plays correctly.”
The Siiro-Skrbich-Rankin line has been Princeton’s shutdown line. Of all the Tigers who appeared in more than 15 games and Rankin, Skrbich and Siiro do have the team’s highest plus-minus ratings with minus-3, minus-4, minus-5, respectively.
And they’ve done it against the top lines in the ECAC.
“Recently we’ve been trying to shut down the other team’s top line while producing. A lot of times that is us in the offensive zone not letting them play offense, “ Siiro said.
“It comes from working together as a line, a lot of low play, a lot of hard work. You won’t see our line making too many dipsy-doodle plays. [We get] the puck to the net and grinding it out in front which has been nice. [We] also have two guys low and one guy high to reload and keep the pressure on.”
They’re not the team’s highest scorers – that goes to the freshmen Ryan Kuffner and Max Veronneau – but Siiro, Rankin and Skrbich have contributed 23 points. The line was instrumental in the sweep of Yale and Brown in December, when Siiro had a goal against Brown and two points again Yale – including the game-inning goal. Skrbich had a goal against Yale and the game-winning goal against Brown, while Rankin had two assists against Brown.
“Those three have probably been the best improvements since day one, those three guys collectively as a line,” Fogarty said. “They know where each other are on the ice, they trust each other to do their jobs so the other guy can pay attention to the play away from the puck.”
The season started with just Siiro and Skrbich skating together, but Rankin joined the pair Nov. 20 against St. Lawrence. The three have played together in every game since, except the 4-3 loss to Holy Cross.
“We just have a lot of chemistry together,” Skrbich said. “They’re both great hardworking guys. We really seem to know where each other are on the ice and we’ve just got the line feeling you get with some guys.”
Fogarty said the line’s biggest improvement comes from their play down low.
“Ryan Siiro’s a big strong player and now he’s moving his feet when he gets the puck,” Fogarty said. “Before he was trying to use leverage to get to the net, but [now] he’s moving his feet. Skrbich’s faceoffs have improved and Kyle Rankin’s very consistent and he’s brought his game up to a different level.”
Skrbich has six points this season, a new career high. The Minnesota native has seen an increased role over the last two years after playing in 10 games as a freshman. He’s also taken the most faceoffs on the team and holds a .400 faceoff percentage.
“The role on the team is very consistent player and I think having a lot of young guys on the team we need to work on our consistency,” Skrbich said. “As a team, that’s one of our most vital things and when we’ve won games we’ve played very consistently so I think that’s something I’ve worked on.”
His classmate, Siiro has been in the lineup regularly since his rookie year. While the junior is three points off his career point mark, set last season, he’s been playing better.
“My biggest improvement is just knowing my limitations and knowing what I can do personally,” Siiro said. “[I’m] just trying to get better at what I’m good at, getting better at what I’m not good at and trying to become an all-around good player.”
The line has had its scoring chances but hasn’t registered a point since Sirro’s goal at Union on Feb. 19. Rankin and Skrbich haven’t scored since Feb. 5 at Colgate and the Tigers have scored seven goals in the last seven games since that loss to Colgate.
“I really enjoy playing with them,” Rankin said. “They both work so hard and they’re very smart on the ice. They always make good decisions with the puck. I do feel a lot of games we’ve had a lot of good chances. If you look at the shots on net we’re generating and the responsibility for 200 feet of ice, I’m really happy with a lot of things we’ve done.
“Come playoff time everyone’s got to step up. The team’s going to need some goals from us in the playoffs and we know that and we’re ready to contribute.”