PRINCETON, N.J. — The Cahoon era has come to an end. So now what? That is the million-dollar question for new Princeton head coach Len Quesnelle. With the departure of Don “Toot” Cahoon after nine relatively successful seasons at the helm, Quesnelle must now collect his 19 returning players and begin anew.
— Len Quesnelle
“It’s a great opportunity and one I am looking forward to,” said Quesnelle, who is entering his 13th season behind the Tiger bench after a successful four-year career as a player. “To work at Princeton is a special thing, the way they treat athletics here. But to coach and teach at your alma mater is unique. The program is very personal to me … I played there and coached there for 12 years. For the last 16 years, Princeton hockey has been part of my life.”
Unlike many new coaches, getting to know the players won’t be a challenge for Quesnelle. As the head recruiter under Cahoon, Quesnelle handpicked the players who will be suiting up for him this season.
One player who must assert himself as a leader on the ice is senior Kirk Lamb. After sitting out his entire freshman year and nine games of his sophomore season, Lamb has slowly become acclimated to the college game. A tentative sophomore year led to a more offensive campaign last year, as he finished with a team-high 28 points. With the graduation of Benoit Morin and Brad Meredith, Lamb will have some pretty big shoes to fill.
“[Kirk's] a terrific player and, more importantly, a terrific human being,” said Quesnelle. “What has set Kirk back initially was that he had to sit a year and nine games. He got out of rhythm hockey-wise and now he’s starting to become the player we thought he would be.”
Always known as a joker in the locker room, Lamb will have to keep the other forwards at ease as they try to improve upon last season’s offensive output, which saw only two players — Chris Corrinet and Brad Parsons — hit double figures in goals. Fortunately for the Tigers, both Corrinet and Parsons are back for another year. Corrinet has shown marked offensive improvement over the past two years, as has been able to use his 6-foot-3-inch, 223-pound frame to make things happen on the ice.
Another critical element to the attack will be the team’s faceoff specialist, Shane Campbell. The speedy senior will look to create chances for snipers like Parsons, who recorded a team-high 11 goals, including seven on the power play and three game winners last season.
The real key offensively for the Tigers, however, will be their depth — or perhaps lack thereof. Role players such as David Del Monte, Ethan Doyle and Josh Roberts will look to assert themselves into the offensive mix to give the Tigers a 1-2-3-and-possibly-4 punch.
“It’s an interesting mix,” said Quesnelle. “Parsons is a real clever player and Roberts is a good skating power forward. Corrinet is a big body and can make a big play. Campbell, who has taken the big defensive faceoffs where Syl Apps used to take them, has come into his own. And the freshmen will get a chance to get right in there.”
The newcomers who may catch the most ice time this season are Drew Morrison, Chris Owens and a youngster named Tommy Colclough from Milton Academy, who Quesnelle has called “our replacement for Benoit Morin.”
Much like the forward contingent, the blueliners are missing few in numbers but a lot in presence. The graduation of Darren Yopyk and Chris Barber leaves a noticeable void in both toughness and experience. Senior defenseman Peter Zavodny will have to shoulder the defensive burden, as will the junior pair of David Schneider and Dave Bennett. Quesnelle is also hoping that freshmen Matthew Maglione and Steve Slaton — both strong skaters with soft hands — will be able to step right up.
“One of the biggest things that we try to stress is that, as freshmen, you are going to be given an opportunity to play,” said Quesnell. “What you do with that is completely up to you.
“All the [defensemen] were given the opportunity to play, and now two freshmen will also be given that opportunity. Our defense will compliment each other pretty well. As a whole, they’ll be in pretty good shape.”
One player who is hoping that the defense comes together quickly is junior Dave Stathos, who will be given the starting nod in net for the Tigers. Stathos posted a .911 save percentage and 2.85 goals against average last season and will be supported, and possibly challenged, by sophomore Nate Nomeland, who saw action in six games last year.
“Dave was given the opportunity and he has been the go-to guy,” said Quesnelle. “It’s probably the lightest position we have and we only have two goaltenders. Nate is a worker and will certainly push Stathos. The basic ingredients are there for Stathos to have a good year. Now it’s up to him to do it.”
The start of the season is always rough, especially for first-year head coaches. One thing is for sure, however: Quesnelle has been around the ECAC and around Princeton hockey too long to get concerned over any rocky start that his team may have come November.
“Last year going to Clarkson [for the ECAC quarterfinals], we knew it was an uphill battle,” said Quesnelle. “We were light in our numbers last year and practices weren’t as competitive as they could have been. And we battled and we weren’t that far off. One of the trademarks of our programs over the last six or seven years has been to play our best hockey as the stretch goes on.”