Princeton Wins One For Its Skipper
by Joe Meloni/CHN Staff Writer
CAMBRIDGE, Mass. Derrick Pallis stood alone at the blue line. He waited for a second, while his teammates repositioned themselves. Harvard's penalty killers reacted in kind, heading to the net front to keep goaltender Steve Michalek's eyes clear and close down any passing lanes Pallis may have.
One of the four Crimson skaters on the ice arrived a second too late. By the time he reached Pallis, the score was already, 4-2. Pallis' shot from the midpoint found its way through the throng in front of Michalek with a little help from the stick of Princeton forward Eric Carlson.
About 12 minutes later, the game ended with Princeton earning its first two points of the long ECAC season with a 4-3 win over Ivy League rival Harvard at Bright Hockey Center. Tiger coach Bob Prier picked up his first win as a collegiate head coach on the night in perfect fashion. Looking back to Carlson's goal — the one that started on Pallis' stick — it was perfect bit of coaching and preparation that put the Tigers in position to score that goal.
Drawing on what little scouting he had on the Crimson, he noticed a particular trait of its penalty kill he believed his club could exploit.
"That's something we picked up on. (Harvard) likes to attack the guy at the half boards (on its penalty kill)," Prier said.
With freshman Colin Blackwell serving a minor for holding, the Tigers' power play went to work on the potential soft spot in the Crimson. Off the breakout, Princeton worked the puck to junior Eric Meland, parked at the left half wall. Almost immediately, Harvard junior David Valek bolted for Meland, patiently waiting to draw the attacking penalty killer.
Meland's pass landed on Pallis' stick perfectly, before the senior sent it toward net. Just as Prier and his staff saw it. Just as his players practiced it.
The Tigers' second goal second goal came from a similar scenario — a flawless breakout, solid puck movement and a clean look for a triggerman stationed at the midpoint. This time, it was senior captain Michael Sdao with the perfect look and even better shot.
Against Quinnipiac on Tuesday, the Tigers' power play struggled with the aggressive Bobcat penalty kill. QU coach Rand Pecknold favors an aggressive unit that heavily pressures the puck at all times, especially when it kicks back to the point. A single hesitation or poor pass can lead to a breakaway or odd-man rush the other way and an easy shorthanded goal — like QU's Scott Zurevinski scored in the first period on Tuesday.
Friday night, the Tigers met a group that prefers to pressure along the walls. While the Crimson played with an edge on the penalty kill, the safer system let the Tigers unleash one their strengths.
"They weren't as aggressive up top as Qunnipiac was when we played them on Tuesday, so we were able to get good puck possession and take advantage of shooting lanes and getting shots through," Sdao said. "[Carlson's] goal was a great example, too."
Just like Carlson's tip-in of Pallis' shot. Sdao's goal came from smooth work along the boards, a booming shot and a screen, this time set by Jack Berger.
Desperate to get their new coach his first career win and shift the direction of their season in its early weeks, the Tigers showed Prier everything he wanted to see Friday night. They moved the puck well, and they did it confidently. They played aggressively, and they did it with poise.
And they made themselves available on the power play, and they scored when they did it.
It's only one win against a team playing in its first regular season game of the season, but it's a win. Dartmouth's up next Saturday night. Prier will likely point a few things out about the Big Green that his players can take advantage of. There's only so much any coach can do, though, and no one knows that better than Prier.
"At the end of the day," the coach said on Friday, "it all comes down to the execution of our guys."