Princeton Hockey Mailbag

It’s the offseason, so it’s a great time to talk about Princeton hockey. I fielded some questions on Twitter about the season for the first installment of what I hope will be a weekly Princeton hockey mailbag next year.

In this edition, I address the Gentleman’s Agreement, the team’s identity for the season and how long until the Tigers become a force in the playoffs.

I had to put this one at the top because it’s my favorite question. Ah, the age-old argument over the Gentleman’s Agreement. It’s controversial in all of college hockey, but even more in the Ivy League, a conference without NLIs. Ivy teams only have verbal commitments until that player arrives on campus the fall of their freshman year. I’m sure recruits have been poached by Ivy schools in the past, but we’ve seldom heard about it – until now.

A few months ago Josh Melnick decommitted from Princeton. It shocked me because he’s from New Jersey, he had been verbally committed for a long time, and he played with some of Princeton’s current players while he was at Delbarton. Melnick decommitting wouldn’t have been a huge story across college hockey, but it was tweeted that Melnick was essentially poached. I then published he was committed to Harvard. 

That made many people unhappy. Any Ivy school poaching from an Ivy looks really bad. Melnick ended up signing with Miami, but recruiting is tough to pin down, and I honestly believe Melnick was committed to Harvard. If I wasn’t 100 percent sure, I wouldn’t have written the story.

In a perfect world, I think schools should honor the Gentleman’s Agreement. I might appear biased because I cover an Ivy League school who had a recruit poached. Or because I went to Boston University, and rival Boston College is known for poaching (see: Sonny Milano).

But the reason I don’t like it when teams break the Gentleman’s Agreement is because it really hurts smaller schools and hurts college hockey as a whole. Take Melnick for example. He was committed to Princeton, had an amazing season in the USHL, and other schools decided they wanted him. It makes it very hard for small schools to compete with bigger programs. And it’s not just the schools who get hurt. It’s recruits hurting schools and schools hurting recruits. When schools poach other commits and stockpile them, they end up having to cut recruits at the last minute.

As much as I’d like schools and players to honor the Gentleman’s Agreement, I know it doesn’t exist anymore. And it has to be changed.

It’s actually only been a couple years since Princeton hosted a playoff round (it was 2013 against Cornell). This question depends a lot on how the other teams in the ECAC fare, but I think it’ll happen sooner than most think. The biggest piece in the team’s turnaround was getting the right coaching staff in place, which Princeton definitely has in Ron Fogarty and company. After that, it’s about getting the right recruits – something the team has already been doing. So if we’re putting years on it, I’ll go with 2017.

The last biggest change the ECAC saw was shifting the tournament from Atlantic City to Lake Placid. Right now, no changes come to mind…

I’ll take the first part first. How close is Princeton to becoming an NCAA tournament team? I tend to think on the positive side, but that’s probably because I’ve seen how much this team grew in one year. The systems and foundations have been set, and the next big step is getting offense. That area should get a boost in the next couple of years, but Colton Phinney will graduate in 2017. Onc he leaves, Princeton will need someone to take his place. Assuming the younger goalies can take his place, the Tigers should be a much better team in the next three years. But an NCAA tournament berth seems very far away, especially since we know little of what Princeton’s roster will look like in the future. But, you honestly never know. For the sake of choosing a number, I’ll go with five years.

Who will the team be this year? Last year they needed to be a defensive team to win. This year they should get more offense help, assuming the freshmen contribute and if the team stays healthy. Last year, alternate captain Kyle Rankin told me it was a struggle at first for the team to realize they’d have to win 1-0, 2-1 games. But they know that now, and I think they’ll still be a primarily defensive team.

I haven’t thought much about it. I usually don’t until September, when we put together our preseason polls.

Princeton’s series against Dartmouth this year was really close, and I think it proves how much better the Tigers were from last year to this year. I know they’re a tougher team to beat than most people think, and I could honestly see them making a trip to Lake Placid before they host a home playoff series. This March seems a little too soon, even though I expect the Tigers to get an offensive boost. Probably 2-3 years.

This is a crazy fact. I have to assume Ken Dryden could change anyone’s fate tremendously.

If you have any questions you’d like me to answer, you can either tweet them to @icehockeystick, @puhockeyblog or leave a comment on this post.

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