Improved depth, top-end talent give Princeton chance to move up

Give Princeton coach Bob Prier credit. The Tigers had a myriad of injuries last season and dressed only 16 skaters in their final game of the year, a 7-3 loss at Yale in the ECAC Hockey first round.

But Prier isn’t about to use that as an excuse for Princeton, which tumbled to 11th place after finishing sixth by virtue of a tiebreaker two years ago.

“We’re much healthier; every team goes through that,” Prier said of the Tigers’ injuries. “It’s not something that we used as an excuse. If anything, a lot of guys got to develop at an accelerated pace. We’re looking forward to getting going with a little more depth.”

Princeton’s depth may be improved this year but there’s no denying the Tigers’ top-end talent, led by junior forwards Andrew Calof (17-14–31) and Jack Berger (10-12–22), along with senior forward Rob Kleebaum (13-8–21) and senior defender Mike Sdao (10-10–20).

“We’re going from the youngest team in the league to a veteran squad,” Prier said, noting the Tigers’ 10-member sophomore and junior classes.

In net, Princeton returns senior Mike Condon and junior Sean Bonar. The pair split time last season and will look to help improve a Tigers’ defense and penalty kill that ranked near the bottom of the nation last season.

Princeton’s returning veterans are joined by a five-member freshman class, including New Jersey native Mike Ambrosia, who Prier said could contribute immediately as a top-six forward.

Prier said he is more comfortable in his second year as head coach, and that, coupled with a healthier Tigers team, could lead to better things this time around.

“Last year was a blur,” Prier said. “I do feel that I really have a better handle on things. I know what to expect a lot more going into this year.”

About the Tigers

2011-12 overall record: 9-17-7

2011-12 ECAC record: 6-12-4 (11th)

2012-13 predicted finish (coaches’ poll): 11th

Key losses: F Mark Hagel, D Derrick Pallis

Players to watch: F Andrew Calof, F Jack Berger, D Mike Sdao

Impact rookies: F Mike Ambrosia, F Kyle Rankin

Why the Tigers will finish higher than the coaches’ poll: Either Condon or Bonar has a breakout year, helping anchor a greatly improved Tigers defense. Calof and the rest of Princeton’s talented forwards put up points in bunches.

Why the Tigers will finish lower than the coaches’ poll: The defense and penalty kill stay the same, or worse, drop off farther. Injuries hit Princeton for the second season in a row.