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.”'(Teves is) a skilled hockey player.' - Ron Fogarty Click To Tweet
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: