Athletics director John Mack ’00, left, introduces new men’s hockey coach Ben Syer at an April 26 press conference.
Brett Tomlinson
Athletics director John Mack ’00 hopes the former Cornell assistant will ‘raise the floor’ for the program

Princeton introduced Ben Syer, a longtime Division I assistant who spent the last 13 seasons at perennial NCAA Tournament contender Cornell, as its next head coach of men’s hockey on April 26.  

Athletics director John Mack ’00 said the University was looking for a coach who understood the academic life of Princeton, valued the development of players as athletes and people, and had championship experience. “Frankly, I think we knocked it out of the park,” Mack said. “We are so excited about what the future holds for Princeton hockey.” 

Syer will begin his head-coaching career after a successful 2023-24 campaign in Ithaca. The Big Red finished 22-7-6 and lost by a goal to Denver in the NCAA Springfield Regional Final, falling one win short of the Frozen Four. 

“I’ve always enjoyed my experience coaching the Ivy student-athlete,” Syer said, explaining what attracted him to the Princeton job. “I’ve really enjoyed that drive that they show, but also the passion that they have to improve their craft.” 

Syer, who also coached at Quinnipiac during its rise to hockey prominence, stressed the importance of defense, which he said is a common trait of many of the nation’s top teams. Twelve of last season’s 16 NCAA Tournament participants ranked in the national top 25 for scoring defense, led by Cornell, which allowed 1.86 goals per game. 

When asked about how he plans to implement his defensive system, Syer pointed to having the right mentality and making basic but important sacrifices — backchecking, blocking shots — that help the defense and show a player’s commitment to being a good teammate. “The standard that we’re looking for, as a group and as a program, is that we want to be the hardest working and most relentless team in the ECAC,” he said, “not just on Fridays and Saturdays, but Monday through Thursdays, in the entire work week.” 

Princeton men’s hockey finished 10-16-4 in 2023-24 and tied for ninth in the 12-team ECAC. In nine seasons under previous head coach Ron Fogarty, the Tigers had a winning record just once (19-13-4 in 2017-18) and never finished higher than seventh in the regular season. But Fogarty’s team had postseason success in 2018, winning the ECAC Tournament as the league’s No. 7 seed and earning an automatic NCAA Tournament bid. 

Princeton’s best stretch in recent memory was from 2007-08 through 2010-11, under head coach Guy Gadowsky, who is now at Penn State. In that four-year span, the Tigers posted three winning seasons, reached the NCAA Tournament twice, and captured their first ECAC Tournament in a decade.  

Mack said he would like to see the Tigers contending for championships again. “The phrase I’ve used is raising the floor of our program,” he said. “That’s the goal. Hockey’s not a sport where you can just dominate year over year. … But if we can raise the floor of our program so that our down years, we’re finishing sixth [or] seventh, and in our best years, we’re competing for championships — that’s the standard here. And not just with hockey, but with all of our programs.”