Princeton men’s hockey will travel to Dartmouth for the first round of the ECAC tournament. The first two games will be Friday and Saturday at 7 p.m., and the third game – if necessary – will be at 5 p.m. on Sunday
The Tigers (4-21-3, 2-18-2 ECAC) are the No. 12 seed, while the Big Green (15-10-4, 12-8-2 ECAC) are the fifth. If Princeton wins, they will face Quinnipiac – the No. 1 seed in the league. But the Tigers are on a four-game losing streak, while Dartmouth has won two in a row, including a 3-1 victory over Princeton last Friday.
“Aside from the first, we all we agreed we played a good game,” assistant captain Mike Ambrosia said. “[In] the second and third period we did a lot better. I think they only had a couple shots in the third period, so that’s what we wanted to do.”
Michael Zajac scored the lone goal for Princeton in the meeting, which was Dartmouth’s second win over the Tigers this season.
“It was two different games,” Princeton coach Ron Fogarty said. “They had three backdoor goals against us, which were pretty easy. [In] the third period, we took away time and space more effectively in the offensive zone.
“We gave ourselves some opportunity to score, we missed two breakaways that could’ve changed the game a little bit in the second period, but I thought the circumstances of the loss were our lack of focus at the back door.”
This is the second consecutive year the Tigers are facing a familiar foe in the playoffs, as last year Princeton ended the regular season against Clarkson before heading back to the North Country.
“You have that familiarity with them and you can start focusing on some tendencies that you can potentially expose, so that’s helped us,” Fogarty said.
For practice this week, Princeton worked on the issues from last Friday’s contest – including limiting back-door chances, running two-on-one drills and working on slowing down speed in the neutral zone.
“They’re a good skating team and has some skill, and we saw them do some damage to us if you give them time and space in the middle of the ice,” juniorKyle Rankin said. “But I think we’ve done a good job trying to take that away from them, so hopefully that works well for us this weekend.”
Dartmouth’s offense is led by Eric Neiley and his 29 points. The Big Green’s top line of Brad Schierhorn and Tyler Sikura, aided by Eric Robinson’s return, has combined for 54 points over 27 games.
“The beginning [of Friday’s game] we started a little slowly. That’s kind of been our problem the past few weekends, so we have to focus on that,” senior Aaron Ave said. “This weekend [w have to] get off to a good start and play well defensively, give Colton [Phinney] some help and we should be alright.”
Phinney has started every game but one this season, and has played well in net. He holds a .908 save percentage on the season.
The biggest issue for the Tigers, who lost their top two scorers from last season, has been scoring. Princeton averages 1.32 goals per game – last in the nation. Jonathan Liau has 14 points and four goals, while Kyle Rankin and Ben Foster have 10 points each.
On the other end is James Kruger, who earned both wins against Princeton this season. Kruger has a .927 save percentage, and has allowed three goals to the Tigers.
With an injury to defenseman Quin Pompi, the defensive pairs have changed the past few weekends. A couple of defensemen – Stuart Pomeroy and Kevin Liss – were switched to forward, but that change might not be permanent.
“We’ve done a lot of work on our systems and trying to tweak some things to get ready for Dartmouth,” Ambrosia said. “We just want to focus on ourselves going into the weekend and we think we’ll get a good result.”
Fogarty said the team’s practices for the week were uptempo, although Tuesday was a learning day.
“[It was] a little more learning and reestablishing our goals in the neutral zone and forecheck,” Fogarty said. “It wasn’t as fluid as we’re accustomed to, but it was more of a learning day, which we needed.”
Dartmouth is on a three-game winning streak against Princeton, and is 2-0 against the Tigers in the playoffs. This season, Princeton is 0-11-1 on the road, and hasn’t won in Hanover, N.H., since Jan. 30, 2010.
Despite the slim odds of No. 12 seeds advancing and a tough regular season, Princeton is positive.
“I think the team’s done a great job of realizing that it’s a brand new season, it’s a fresh start,” Rankin said. “The good thing about the ECAC is everyone makes the playoffs obviously, but I think it’s deservedly so.
“As much as we would like to have a better regular season record, we’ve been in so many games with so many good teams and I think it just gives us some opportunity to show the team that we can be and the team that we are. I think that we’re going to seize the opportunity this weekend.”