After a stunning championship run in the ECAC Hockey playoffs, Princeton men’s hockey came to its March 24 opener in the NCAA Midwest Regional looking to make history with its first NCAA Tournament victory. But Ohio State denied the Tigers, winning 4–2, despite 24 saves from Princeton goalie Ryan Ferland ’21 and last-minute goals by Matt Nelson ’18 and David Hallisey ’18.
“The pain and feelings are temporary for our guys,” Princeton head coach Ron Fogarty said afterward. “They’ve done something special. They don’t have that feeling right now, but soon they’ll be able to look back at this game and realize they did something spectacular for Princeton University.”
The season went from good (a 13–12–4 regular-season record, a No. 7 seed in the ECAC draw) to spectacular in a few short weeks. After sweeping Brown in the opening round of the ECAC playoffs, the Tigers knocked out second-seeded Union on its home ice. Then in the ECAC final four in Lake Placid, N.Y., Princeton skated past top-seeded Cornell, 4–1, and outlasted third-seeded Clarkson, 2–1, in overtime. It was the Tigers’ first ECAC crown since 2008.
Fogarty, in his fourth season with the Tigers, said the coaches could feel a breakthrough coming when the team “started to manage the puck better and play 60 minutes of smart hockey.” Princeton emerged as a nationally ranked offense, led by Max Veronneau ’19, who broke a 58-year-old school record for points in a season with 55, one better than John McBride ’60’s 54 in 1959–60. Ryan Kuffner ’19 was close behind with 52 points.
Nelson, a graduating defenseman, said the last four years have seen a transformation in the team’s outlook. “I think we can play with and beat any team in the country,” he said, “and that’s going to be the standard moving forward.”
Of the NCAA Tournament appearance, Fogarty said, “It’s fun to get here. I know it’s going to be a contagious feeling for our three classes who are returning and they’ll pass that on to our incoming freshmen, and we’ll be here again for sure.”