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.
The results for the men’s hockey awards, as voted on by the fans, are in. There were five categories to vote for: Rookie of the Year, Player of the Year, Defender of the Year, Unsung Hero and Moment of the Year.
Each category had three nominees. The winners, along with the nominees and percentage of votes each nominee received, are listed below:
Rookie of the Year: Ryan Kuffner (43.5%) Runner ups: Max Veronneau (29.4%), Josh Teves (27.1%)
Kuffner, Veronneau and Teves were integral parts of the team as rookies. Kuffner and Veronneau combined to form a stellar duo, while Teves was one of the team’s best defenders. Kuffner finished with a team-high 20 points and 15 assists, many of which found his linemate Veronneau.
Player of the Year: Colton Phinney (81%) Runner ups: Max Veronneau (14.3%) and Ryan Kuffner
Like last season, Phinney was the team’s best player. He finished with a career-high .924 save percentage, which ranks second in program history. Phinney also surpassed the program record for saves in a single season, all while playing through an injury for the last month of the season.
Defender of the Year: Josh Teves (51.2%) Runner ups: Tommy Davis (24.4%) and Joe Grabowski (24.4%)
Even as a freshman, Teves saw major minutes. The defender added some offense, netting seven points while playing in every game.
Unsung Hero: Ryan Siiro (52.4%) Runner ups: Eric Robinson (26.2%) and Garrett Skrbich (21.4%)
Siiro, who was named the team’s 2016-17 captain, played on the team’s top checking line. He added some offense too, scoring 10 points – fifth on the team.
Moment of the Year: Colton Phinney breaks program season save record (68.6%) Runner ups: Princeton sweeps Yale and Brown on the road (26.7%) and Princeton defeats AIC for fifth win of the season
Phinney broke the season save record after missing his only game of the year with an injury. The goaltender finished with 1,058 saves and is close to breaking the program record for saves in a career.
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.
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.
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.
PRINCETON, N.J. – With less than seven minutes left, Colton Phinney skated to the outside of the crease and made a save on a Dutchman shot. The puck bounced into the air and gravitated towards the center of the crease, now devoid of a goaltender. Phinney tried to push his way back but couldn’t, leaving an open net for Union. Freshman defenseman Josh Teves saw the danger and threw himself to the ice, pushing the puck away with his stick.
“The puck must’ve hit someone in front, kind of lobbed up and I’m not sure if Phinney saw it or if he was just trying to get back,” Teves said. “But I just dove and [was] lucky enough to get a stick on it and direct it out away from the net. So [it was a] pretty lucky bounce there and on the goal.”
Teves picked himself up and rejoined the play, trying to push Union out of Princeton’s zone. Some seconds later, Teves drove to the neutral zone, picked up the puck, crossed into Union’s zone, caught the Dutchmen defense off guard and shot the puck past Jake Kupsky.
“I don’t know if I had chipped it or Kuffner got on the boards and made a great behind-the-back pass,” Teves said. “I just saw some open ice and just took advantage of it, took a shot and tried to pick a corner.”
His goal gave Princeton the 4-3 lead.
“He got an assist for himself, knocked it out of the air and [goes and] scores,” Princeton coach Ron Fogarty said. “That’s skill. You knock a puck out of the air and then you have your head up coming down and pick a spot without looking down. He’s a skilled hockey player and we’re going to continue to bring those types of players into this program.”
[bctt tweet=”‘(Teves is) a skilled hockey player.’ – Ron Fogarty”]
The goal was Teves’ second in three games. The rookie, who scored his first collegiate goal in a 4-3 loss to Union on Dec. 30, leads all Princeton defenders with five points.
“He’s a great player,” co-captain Kyle Rankin said. “You see him skate and hop up in the rush, that’s top-notch skill from the back end. That’s hard to find, a D who can jump up like that and rip a puck perfectly top shelf.”
Despite his freshman status, Teves has commanded major minutes over half a season with Princeton. He has played in all 18 games this year, becoming an offensive factor and a staple on special teams.
“He’s playing like an upperclassmen already,” Fogarty said. “He’s a smart, intelligent hockey player so that allows him to quickly absorb the game at the next level.”
While he’s been a solid part of the blue line, the defender has still committed a few rookie turnovers and mistakes – mistakes he’s trying to learn from.
“I think at first balancing the academics and the athletics, that was obviously tough with the rigor here at Princeton. But all the veteran guys, especially my D partner Tommy Davis, he’s been a huge help. [I’m] just watching what they do and how they handle things on and off the ice,” Teves said.
“It’s just trying to absorb as much as I can and obviously learn from my mistakes. There’s definitely been a lot of those so both in the classroom and on the ice, just trying to learn from everything and just be improvement oriented. That’s one thing that’s got me here and one thing that’s going to keep me moving forward.”
Davis, a junior, and Teves have been paired together all season. But while Davis brings 52 games of collegiate experience, the combination has helped both players grow.
“We want to be the best D pair in the nation every night,” Teves said. “I think if you go into games with that kind of mentality, only success can happen. Obviously it’s good to push ourselves and maybe every night we aren’t the best D pair but I think if we set that mindset and set our goals high like that, only good things can happen.”
While Teves has made the occasional mistakes, the improvement is visible. He’s not making as many turnovers, his drop passes are better and he’s become more solid positionally. Most importantly, Teves has calmed down.
“I think [Teves is] actually helping Tommy. I think it’s reverse now where he’s kind of more of the calming presence back there and Tommy wants to jump,” Fogarty said. “But they’re both kind of finding a niche with each other and being on the power play helps out too so there’s a lot of practice time and special teams and situational stuff in practice so they see each other a lot.”
While Teves is a Division I hockey player now, several years ago the dream of collegiate hockey was just that – a dream. Mostly focused on academics, Teves spent the 2013-14 season in Junior B hockey playing for the Fernie Ghostriders. But the defenseman was developing quickly, and the BCHL’s Merritt Centennials noticed. They picked up Teves for the 2014-15 season, where he was the team’s second-highest scoring defensemen. That’s where Princeton’s Brad Dexter and Stavros spotted the defenseman and offered him a spot in November of 2014.
That’s where Princeton’s Brad Dexter and Stavros spotted the defenseman and offered him a spot in November of 2014.
“His skill development from three years ago is an incredible story,” Fogarty said. “He’s gone from junior B to tier 2 Junior A to college in less than three years. It’s a credit to Brad and [Paskaris] for finding these guys and they’ll continue to do that.”
Teves followed a 24-point performance in Fernie and Junior B with 33 points in 57 games for the Centennials. The defenseman, who’s on the engineering track at Princeton, then received the RBC National Junior A Scholarship last season, an award of $5,000 towards his academics. Teves was the first Merritt skater to earn the award.
“I was a bit of a late bloomer so I have always been one of the smallest guys on the team, especially as a defenseman,” Teves told Eye on the Tigers in a Q&A in July. “That resulted in me being cut from a lot of teams and having to work that much harder to keep moving up. It’s been an uphill journey making it to the NCAA as a small defenseman, but it has shaped me into the player I am today. I have learned how to play larger than my size and to keep working, and I think those characteristics will help me in the future as well.”
Here is Teves’ save and his goal from Friday night, along with photos: