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.

What success are we talking about?

The success that stands out lies in Princeton’s record. At seven wins, the Tigers have already surpassed their win total from last season and are just two wins away from tying their combined wins over the past two years. Much of Princeton’s success, at least win wise, has come in non-conference play. Their stretch of seven wins in eight games – which included five wins in a row – began at Bemidji State and ran to the Minnesota State series, which concluded Princeton’s first half. The Tigers won seven games in nine to close out the first half, which included a sweep of Quinnipiac and four non-conference wins.

The wins speak much of Princeton’s success alone, but Princeton has been able to win because of its offense. The Tigers have scored four goals or more in seven games this year. That’s far above what they’ve scored in the past. Princeton averages 3.2 goals per game – that’s almost double of what Princeton averaged total last year at 1.94 goals per game. And when Fogarty had just completed the first half of his first-ever Division I season, the Tigers were averaging 1.2 goals per game.

Lead the attack is sophomore sensation Max Veronneau, who has 21 points, which is one more than his classmate Ryan Kuffner scored all of last year. That whole sophomore class has been superb, which we foresaw when they were just rookies. Josh Teves is still Princeton’s best defenseman, and he was as a rookie. Kuffner, Veronneau and Alex Riche combine for the all-sophomore line which has the best chemistry and some of the best speed on the team. It helps that Kuffner and Veronneau played together in juniors, so they were blistering from the start of their collegiate careers.

Kuffner has 17 points so far this year so will pass his totals from last year shortly. Junior David Hallisey is having a breakout year with 16 points and freshman Jackson Cressey – the HCA Rookie of the Month for December – has 15. His 0.94 points per game is tied for 12th amongst rookies.

With the improved offense comes an improved defense. The Tigers average 33.25 shots on goal per game – which ranks 10th nationally – and allow 34 shots per game. At this time last season Princeton gave up 40.08 shots per game – dead last in the league – and averaged 30.23 shots per game. Through the first half of Fogarty’s first season Princeton averaged 23.6 shots per game and allowed 37.6 shots per game.

But the difference lies in the quality of shots. In previous years Princet maybe scraped together a good chance or two but was unable to create concrete quality scoring opportunities. And on the opposite end they would often be pinned in their own zones facing a multitude of shots, although last year Princeton did a good job keeping those shots to the perimeter.

While we’re on the subject of defense, here are the Tigers goals allowed per game stats – 3.4 goals allowed per game in the first half of 2014-15 (Fogarty’s first season) and last year they allowed 3.19 goals per game.

The stats show Princeton’s improvement – and how drastic is has been – but why did they make the jump so quickly?

Ok, but why is Princeton so successful? Is it a fluke?

It’s not a fluke. The foundation began being built the day Ron Fogarty took over the program in 2014. He stayed committed to making sure the team played the “right way” and “stuck to the systems” (which are big buzzwords for struggling programs). But over his two years, the improvement was evident, even if it didn’t show up on the scoresheet or in the wins/loss column. If you watched closely, you could tell. Now it’s paying off because the Tigers finally have the talent to play in the systems.

Fogarty’s systems were good, but the Tigers didn’t have good players or players who could score. Now they do. And that’s the difference.

Let’s go back to the sophomore class. It’s made up of forwards Max Veronneau, Ryan Kuffner, Alex Riche, Josh Teves and Austin Shaw. I’ve already talked about Kuffner, Riche and Veronneau and how they make up Princeton’s best line, and Shaw, the goaltender, never plays. But Teves is – and was even as early as last year – Princeton’s defenseman. He’s gotten lost in the outside focus on offense but has still been solid on the blue line. With another year of experience, the sophomores are contributing even more.

But the big difference is the freshmen. The Tigers welcomed forwards Jackson Cressey, Joey Fallon, Jordan Fogarty, Jeremy Germain, Liam Grande and Derek Topatigh. On defense Topatigh has been stellar and on offense Cressey, Germain and Grande have been the difference. They’re skilled forwards but most importantly they’re fast. Fogarty had a few years to recruit and the team not has enough talent to play in this system and make it work.

Where I see the most improvement is that speed. The freshmen are fast and the sophomores are fast and the Tigers now have a team that can out-skate opponents, which is drastically different from previous years.

The freshmen have wings attached to their skates and they’ve made Princeton into a dangerous transition offense team. While the average of shots per game is on par with previous years, the quality of chances have escalated – mostly because they’re created from the speed and skill the sophomore and freshmen bring. Especially the speed. The Tigers have gotten a lot of chances off the transition offense and teams are struggling to keep up with them.

This has then improved Princeton’s defense. The Tigers spend little time in their own zone, but when they do they’re strong inside it. They collect the puck cleanly and commit a drastically lower number of turnovers than they did last year.

So where will they finish?

Good question! There’s still half the season left and now it’s all conference play. Before the year started I pegged Princeton to earn home-ice advantage in the first round and they’re on that path. This is a weak year for college hockey overall and for the ECAC, but while other teams lost their best players, Princeton barely lost anyone and only got better.

It’s tough to predict what will happen between now and March, but the Tigers are in a good position to win a majority of their conference games. There are a few tough contests looming – Harvard, Clarkson, St. Lawrence – but if Princeton keeps playing the way it is, look for early March games at Hobey.

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