Princeton hopes pieces fit together better this time

Last year

Just when coach Guy Gadowsky’s Princeton machine appeared poised to declare its dynasty, the gears began to grind.

Defending Dryden Award-winner Zane Kalemba was never himself in net, the relentless offense finished a mere sixth in the league in scoring, the defense finished ninth in goals-against, and injuries were the culprit. From the preseason onward, Gadowsky’s roster was consistently in a state of chaotic flux.

A third straight 20-win season — it would have been the third in Gadowsky’s six years behind the Tigers bench — was not to be, as a 3-2-0 start evaporated into an 0-6-1 fog. Small but significant 3-0-1, 4-1-0 and and 2-1-0 runs boosted Princeton into the final home-ice slot for the playoffs, but unassuming Harvard rolled into the Garden State and rocked the Tigers in straight sets: 4-2, 3-0.

The assets

One thing the southernmost team in the conference has going for it is a fresh start. Last year was a wreck in all sorts of ways — most of them literal — and the returning striped ones will all appreciate a clean sheet and a spotless record when they open with Dartmouth on Oct. 29.

“We have three returning senior defensemen in Taylor Fedun, Cam Ritchie and Matt Godlewsky, all of whom we expect big years from,” Gadowsky said of his roster. “We’ll have a lot of good competition in net, with three goaltenders, all three that we feel could be starters in this league.

“For offense, I think a lot of that is going to be a question of how our seniors do. Mike Kramer, Matt Arhontas, Kevin Lohry and Sam Sabky have shown flashes in the past; they could be top offensive players in this league, and it’s just a matter of seeing if they can put together consistency. They should share the bulk of our offense.”

Gadowsky also likes what he sees out of a couple of non-seniors who glimmered despite the general gloominess last spring.

“From last year, the way the year ended, we have high expectations for [junior forward] Marc Hagel, as well as sophomore defenseman Michael Sdao.”

The weak links

Let’s face it, the team lost its top two scorers and an elite-level goalie … and they didn’t even fare so well with those players last year. Princeton needs a number of players to step in at critical junctures to keep the team on track, both on the ice and off. It’s easy for a team to fall apart due to small but system-wide failures; it’s much harder for a team to succeed by breeding opportunistic units that will come through when needed most.

The Tigers never really had a chance to prove themselves last year, and they’re a bit of an underrated unknown at this point. A few things are certain, though: They don’t have anyone who has proven much of anything yet.

Prediction

As just noted, Princeton is a hard team to gauge because it was never a complete unit last year. That said, the program will need some impressive performances by a number of different players in order to make up for what was lost last season — players lost to graduation, sure, but also confidence lost to injury and inconsistency. Yet another unknown team; may as well pencil them into the Great Home-Ice Hunt.

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