PU men’s hockey team happily returning to ECAC

Merrimack losses make Tigers 0-7 outside of league

By: Bob Nuse
   After winning just three games last year, the Princeton University men’s ice hockey team figured to be better this year.
   And depending on which aspect of the Tigers’ season you look at, Princeton is better this year.
   In ECAC play, Princeton will take a 5-6 record into this weekend’s home games against St. Lawrence and Clarkson. But after suffering a pair of setbacks to non-league foe Merrimack this past weekend at Baker Rink, the Tigers are 0-7 outside the ECAC, leaving them a disappointing 5-13 overall.
   With nothing but ECAC games left on the schedule for the rest of the season, the Tigers are hoping they play more like the near-.500 team that are in league play and less like the winless non-league team.
   "We start league play against next weekend and hopefully everything will fall into place," senior Chris Owen said after the Tigers dropped a 3-0 decision to Merrimack on Saturday. "It’s been frustrating in these non-league games. We just have to stay focused and look forward to league play."
   This past weekend the Tigers had trouble on offense, generating just one goal and 27 shots on goal in the two losses.
   "I thought our effort was better tonight," Princeton coach Len Quesnelle said after Saturday’s loss. "We had some trouble executing the power play and that’s something we have to work on. I was surprised we had as few shots on goal as we did. We had 13 shots that just missed the net."
   The Tigers will return to league play on Friday having lost five of their last six games, with the lone win in that stretch having come against ECAC foe Harvard. Quesnelle and his team are both hoping the return to league play helps turn the season around.
   "We went out to Minnesota and we didn’t play very well," Quesnelle said of losses to Minnesota and Miami (Ohio). "Then we came back here and didn’t play well on Friday. It was a little better tonight, but we still have a long way to go.
   "It’s a grind. And after going through what we went through last year, we have to learn from it and get better."
   Having suffered through a 3-26-2 campaign a year ago, putting that kind of season behind a team is easier said than done.
   "It’s not easy to do," Quesnelle said. "It’s a day to day thing and we just have to prepare ourselves to play each night."
   Owen, one of the few seniors in the Tigers’ lineup, is confident Princeton can put last year behind it and continue to play better hockey.
   "This was just one of those games when things didn’t fall into place," said the senior, who has scored two goals this season. "If you look at what we’ve done in the league, we’re 5-6 and we’ve played better. We’re hoping to play better in the second half. All of our games are league games, so we have to focus on that.
   "We’ve only won one of our last six games, but that was a league game. Right now we have to get better offensively. We’re not generating as much offense as we’re capable of."
   With 34 goals in 18 games, the Tigers are falling short of what they would like to do on offense. But at the same time, the improving play of sophomore goaltender Eric Leroux (3.48 goals allowed per game) has kept them in most contests.
   "Leroux played a nice game," Quesnelle said on Saturday. "He made some good saves. We got caught a couple times in the first period and gave up a couple bad goals."