Princeton Rolling Into Potential Magical Territory
by Adam Wodon/Managing Editor
PRINCETON, N.J. An actual cheer heard Saturday night:
"Our masters program is better than yours."
Only in the Ivy League.
This was, of course, an understandable reaction after being pelted with chants of "Safety School." Princeton is among the select few that can get away with that, and Cornell fans aren't used to it. So they whipped the ole' "our masters program is better than yours" cheer. These are the same fans that cheer "grade inflation" when playing Harvard (and also throw fish at them). It may be true, but still ...
Cornell fans aren't used to a lot of things. For instance, their team may not get a first-round bye in the ECAC playoffs. And Cornell fans — who usually fill at least half the building at Princeton's Baker Rink — aren't used to coming in there and losing.
But, when it comes to Princeton, a lot of teams can say the same thing this season.
With this weekend's home sweep of Cornell and Colgate — matching an earlier road sweep of those teams — Princeton has won six of seven, and is 11-2 since the New Year, and may very well be writing a ticket for its most magical season ever. It's a big turnaround since getting routed at home by Notre Dame just before Christmas. (That's a rematch worth seeing.)
At 17-10 overall, the Tigers are closing in on the most wins in school history, which came in Don Cahoon's next-to-last season, when Jeff Halpern was a senior. That team went 20-12-2 and barely missed qualifying for the NCAA tournament as an at-large team. When Princeton made the NCAAs a year earlier, and won its only ECAC tournament, the team finished sixth in the ECAC standings (though it actually held the final at-large Pairwise slot with the tourney win).
This season, Princeton is one point out of first place with one league weekend to go. And since it plays at first-place Clarkson next Friday, the Tigers have destiny in their own hands.
In fact, at the moment, Princeton sits No. 12 in the Pairwise, the objective criteria system used by the NCAA to select and seed the tournament field. Its margin of error is slim, but the Tigers control their own fate.
Last season, Gadowsky — in his third at the helm — took a team that had fallen on hard times after Cahoon left for Massachusetts, and reached 15 wins. It was similar to Gadowsky's climb at his first head coaching job, at Alaska-Fairbanks, where in his third season there he got the team to 22 wins, and just missed qualifying for the NCAAs.
Unlike in Fairbanks, however, where the Nanooks dropped off in Gadowsky's next two seasons, the Tigers have built upon the improvement in his fourth year. They are playing an entertaining style of hockey — offensive at the right times, but with big, strong forwards that can play physical when necessary; and a strong, mobile defense.
The forward line of Lee Jubinville, Brett Wilson and Cam McIntyre has taken off this season, and are the team's top three scorers. None of them are seniors, and McIntyre is only a sophomore.
Wilson scored the game winner Saturday, while Jubinville had a number of good chances, including setting up what seemed to be Princeton's third goal. Unfortunately, the referee never saw the puck go in the net, and despite fierce protests and a tongue lashing from Gadowsky (who had gone back to watch the video), things stood at 2-1.
Despite that setback, Princeton held on in a tremendously-entertaining third period.
A potential All-American in the making is defenseman Jody Pederson. Also just a sophomore, Pederson scored a nifty goal to open the scoring, and made a number of smart defensive plays. At plus-9, he is second on the team amongst defensemen, behind freshman Taylor Fedun's plus-10. Pederson is a 6-foot-3, 215-pound force from British Columbia, while Fedun goes 6-0, 190 from Edmonton. You can see the trend towards Western Canadians for Gadowsky, an area he knows well as an Edmonton native.
All this and a Rhodes Scholar too, senior Landis Stankievecz. Two years ago, the Tigers had the Hockey Humanitarian Award winner, in goalie Eric Leroux.
And now those feats are beginning to be matched by the ones on the ice.
Just apparently not by their masters program.