The Tigers, unanimous No. 1 picks to enter the season, got off to a white-hot start in going 9-1-0 in their first 10 games and 13-2 after 15.
Then the wheels began to wobble a bit.
Three straight losses in early January precipitated a 7-7-0 conclusion to the regular season, and after edging Union in the quarterfinals, the Tigers lost a heartbreaking double-overtime semifinal contest to Cornell in Albany. The Garden State icers qualified for an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament, only to see their ambitions crushed in the cruelest of ways: Minnesota-Duluth scored twice in the last 40 seconds of the first-round game to tie the Tigers, and inevitably vanquished the stunned Stripes in the 14th minute of extra time.
Guy Gadowsky’s hard-charging but ultimately snakebit crew was led in goals and points by junior Dan Bartlett with a 16-12-28 line. Classmate Mark Magnowski had 11 goals, bookending a pair of seniors — Brett Wilson and Lee Jubinville — who had 12 and 10 goals, respectively. Thirteen Tigers finished at 10 points or better on the year, and Zane Kalemba was immense in net, sporting a .932 save percentage and a superb 1.82 goals against rate.
In 2009-10, 10 of those 13 double-digit scorers will return to the ice wearing the orange and black. Kalemba enters his senior year and has been spectacular in his career to date, and only four members of last year’s national-caliber team departed with spring’s commencement ceremonies.
“Losing three extremely important players that are also great people and great leaders … in terms of numbers, we didn’t lose a lot,” Gadowsky said. “We lost three. But each of them were extremely important to the team, both in terms of how they played the game and the leadership they provided, so the difference is we lost some key quality people. I’m very confident in the overall quality of the locker room, but we certainly need guys to step up and take leadership roles because Kush and Jubs and Willy were so exceptional in that area.”
Among the forwards returning to the fold, “Dan Bartlett had an amazing year last year, all over the ice,” Gadowsky said. “He put up tremendous offensive numbers, but I think he works so hard at the other aspects of his game that I hope that other forwards take a cue from that. He’s a tremendous player. Cam MacIntyre (who was injured much of last year), in my mind, might be the most effective forward in the league. He’s big, he’s got amazing hands, he’s tough, he scores, he’s got a nose for the net; he does so many great things. I think he makes a huge difference for us when he’s in the lineup.
“There are a number of other players that contribute offensively but also contribute all over the ice: Mark Magnowski, Kevin Kaiser, Matt Arhontas, Kevin Lohry; you can name a ton that have really logged a lot of important minutes for us in the past and will obviously have to do that for us in the future as well.
“You never know in terms of injuries, but it was a goal of ours to get production from all four lines, and I certainly am optimistic that that’s going to happen again.”
The Tigers didn’t lose a single blue-liner from last year’s squad, creating a formidable obstacle for anyone hoping to test Kalemba.
“We played with seven D all last year and we’re bringing another one in in Michael Sdao, who’s a very big, strong, tough defenseman and he’s going to add to our defensive corps,” Gadowsky said. “That’s one area that I think we can feel somewhat confident in, in that we have a lot of experience back there. In the past few years we were very young at defense and now it seems that we’re quite experienced, so that’s one area that we feel confident in.”
Finally, but certainly not to be overlooked, “we have two excellent athletes that are here with (Kalemba): Both Alan Reynolds and Michael Condon are great athletes who have put up tremendous numbers in net on their own,” Gadowsky said. “We have a lot of faith in Zane, as obviously we should — he’s earned every bit of that and deserves every bit of that — but our goaltending situation as a whole is, in my mind, as good as it’s ever been here.”
Are Condon and Reynolds legitimate threats to take a few games off Kalemba’s docket?
“Yes, they are. Absolutely, they are,” assured Gadowsky.
But not everything is completely smooth in Princeton; the incoming class is already hampered by a couple of injuries.
“James Kerr and Will MacDonald have had knee surgery over the summer and won’t be ready for us right away,” Gadowsky said. “But we do expect immediate contributions [from the class]. We already talked about Michael Sdao, we have the other forwards with Eric Mellon and Rob Kleebaum … they’re going to be called upon to make immediate contributions for sure.”
As for the sting of last year’s heartbreak, it’s anything but old news for this year’s team.
“We certainly haven’t forgotten about it,” Gadowsky said. “Just going through it doesn’t mean you’ve learned a lesson, so I’m optimistic to see that we have learned how to handle those situations and I hope we get in a lot more experiences like that that will prove that we did learn something. It’s nice that the one aspect of [losing only three players] from that game … [is that] the majority of guys in our locker room went through that, and I think that can be a benefit.”