The men’s hockey team is off to a blazing start, its best since 1930–31, when the United States was in the midst of an economic depression and an unpopular president inhabited the White House. The No. 8-ranked Tigers seem fated to play well in tough times as well. Through early January, they had won four of their last five games and sat in first place in the ECAC Hockey standings.
The Tigers (13–3, 8–2 ECAC Hockey) excel on both ends of the ice, boasting the best defense and best offense in their conference. Goalie Zane Kalemba ’10 ranks among the top five goalies in the nation, and Princeton has received balanced scoring from each of its four lines.
The players attribute their success to the guru behind the bench, Guy Gadowsky, whose teams have improved in each season since he became head coach in 2004. Before he arrived, the Tigers had finished last in the conference for two straight years. Last season, in Gadowsky’s fourth year as coach, he led the Tigers to an ECAC Hockey title and a berth in the NCAA tournament, the team’s best finish in 10 years.
Gadowsky has brought to Princeton an up-tempo, high-scoring offense. Despite the offensive mind-set, it should be no surprise that Princeton also is strong defensively (13 goals allowed in 10 conference games) because the system relies on constant pressure. Forwards attack opponents in the defensive zone, sparking the team’s transition game.
“It’s our goal to be the best back-checking team in the NCAA,” said junior defenseman Brad Schroeder. “Coach [Gadowsky] really stresses that all three forwards have to back-check as hard as they can every time. When we get the puck, we explode.”
The key theme in the offensive zone is putting pucks on net. Princeton leads the country in shots per game with an average just shy of 40. “We try to get pucks to the net, and also get our bodies to the net as well,” said senior captain Brandan Kushniruk.
In conference play, Princeton has just two blemishes: a 1–0 loss to No. 10 Cornell in the home opener Nov. 7, a contest in which the Tigers outshot the Big Red, 43–19; and an uncharacteristic 4–0 loss to No. 20 Dartmouth Jan. 4. Those also are the only two games in which the Tigers scored fewer than two goals.
The first half of the season included an eight-game win streak — Princeton’s longest in more than 75 years — that spanned three weeks and six games away from Baker Rink. The streak ended Nov. 29 with a 6–4 loss to unranked Mercyhurst in the finals of the Rensselaer Tournament.
Andrew Robinton ’04 is a freelance writer who lives in New York City.