Looking to maintain its five-game league unbeaten streak, the Princeton men’s hockey team will go on the road this weekend as it faces Ivy League rivals Harvard and Dartmouth.
The Tigers (9-13-1 overall, 6-9-1 Eastern College Athletic Conference Hockey League) lost to Harvard (12-9-2, 9-7-1) in a close 2-1 game earlier this season with home-ice advantage. But this weekend as Princeton travels up to Cambridge, Mass., the Tigers know that they are a different team from the one that faced the Crimson in November.
“We played well earlier in the year against both teams, but I feel like our team has come a long way since then,” senior forward Brian Carthas said.
Having swept the previous two weekends at home, Princeton is confident at its chances Friday and Saturday. As a whole, the team feels that it has been coming together over the course of the year, and things are finally starting to click. The Tigers have been minimizing their own mistakes and capitalizing on those of their opponents.
“They both play up-tempo, fast styles of play, similar to the type of game we would like to play,” said junior forward Grant Goeckner-Zoeller, who was named ECACHL player of the week on Monday. “We have had success recently by paying attention to details and making fewer mistakes than our opponent.”
A long history exists between Princeton and Dartmouth (11-10-2, 9-5-2). Since 1907, the Tigers and the Big Green have faced off 176 times. The series currently stands in favor of Dartmouth 87-77-12.
The last time Princeton faced the Big Green, it shut Dartmouth out 3-0 at Baker Rink. Since then, however, the Big Green has gone on a tear of its own, beating a number of the top teams in the league in a run that has been good enough to put the Big Green in third place in the ECAC.
“We know that we are playing two very good teams, and we cannot get caught up in our success and forget how we got there,” Goeckner-Zoeller said.
The stakes surrounding these final weeks of the season are very high. Given the parity in the league this season, something as simple as home-ice advantage could easily be the difference when the playoffs roll around.
Senior goaltender Eric Leroux has been solid the last few weeks. The Tigers are 6-8 with Leroux in goal and are looking forward to evening that statistic with a sweep this weekend.
The fast-paced play that both Harvard and Dartmouth are known for will keep Leroux on his toes all night. The Big Green has three players with double-digit goal totals on the season and nine players with nine or more assists. On the other end of the ice, the Crimson will also make it very tough for Princeton to get the puck to the net, having given up only 58 goals in the season thus far.
In order to be successful this weekend, the Tigers are going to have to stick to their game plan. Throughout the season their practices have focused on drills involving getting the puck to the net to create scoring opportunities.
In Saturday’s win over Clarkson last week, however, Princeton was substantially outshot 39-25. Though they still outscored the Golden Knights 4-2, if the Tigers would like to continue their success, they need to get back to what they do best and focus on creating scoring opportunities and controlling the puck.
Working toward this result, Princeton has been taking practice very seriously this week. The Tigers always pride themselves on outworking their opponents rather than riding on talent alone. The season’s late twist of fate has confirmed what the players have been saying about their team all season: Despite its record, Princeton hockey can compete with any team in the league on any night.
“We’re going to have to work hard to pick up some points, but I think we’re prepared and confident in our play,” Carthas said.
The Tigers resume action against Harvard in Cambridge at 7 p.m. Friday before traveling to Hanover, N.H., for Dartmouth at 4:30 p.m. on Saturday.