When coach Guy Gadowsky took over at Princeton in 2004, he inherited a team that struggled to score goals. The Tigers had 50 goals in ECAC Hockey play during the 2003-04 season, second only to Union’s league-worst 46.
Slowly, but surely, Gadowsky changed the culture of Princeton hockey. Now, thanks to an up-tempo offense, the 15th-ranked Tigers are on the verge of doing something they haven’t done in 10 years — winning an ECACH tournament title.
The second-seeded Tigers
(19-13) face eighth-seeded Colgate (18-16-6) in Friday’s first semifinal at
4 p.m. at the Times Union Center. The winner plays for the championship Saturday at 7 p.m. against either No. 3 Harvard or No. 5 Cornell, who meet in the second semifinal Friday at 7 p.m.
Prior to arriving at Princeton, Gadowsky was head coach at Alaska-Fairbanks of the Central Collegiate Hockey Association for five seasons, when the Nanooks experienced a similar turnaround. Alaska-Fairbanks had five straight 20-loss seasons before he arrived, but in his third season, Gadowsky guided the Nanooks to a 22-12-3 record, and they hosted a CCHA playoff series for the first time.
When Gadowsky arrived at Princeton, he began the process of improving the Tigers’ offense. In his first season, the Tigers were sixth in goals scored in ECACH play with 59. In season two, they were seventh with 62 goals, and last season, Princeton finished tied for fourth with Dartmouth, scoring 69 goals.
This season, the Tigers were the top-scoring team in league play with 78 goals. Junior forward Lee Jubinville became just the third Princeton player to win the league scoring title, showing 10 goals and 21 assists in 22 ECACH games.
“I don’t know what went on before I got here,” said Gadowsky, who is a candidate for the Tim Taylor Award as the ECACH’s top coach. “I think I was just very, very fortunate to come in at a time where guys like [defenseman] Mike Moore, [forward] Landis Stankievech and [defenseman] Kyle
Hagel, were coming that have extreme great character.”
The Tigers slowly made their way up the standings. After finishing 10th in Gadowsky’s first year, they tied for ninth in 2005-06 and tied for sixth last season. Their second-place finish this season is their best since placing fourth in 1998-99, the last time they reached the semifinals.
“I don’t know if it’s being patient,” Gadowsky said. “We’ve been fortunate to get some very good players who have synergy together, and that doesn’t always happen. When you get chemistry between skilled players, the result is good offense.”
Jubinville, junior forward Brett Wilson and sophomore forward Cam MacIntyre have sparked the offense, which has scored 104 goals overall. Jubinville, a candidate for ECACH Player of the Year, has 12 goals and 26 assists in 31 games. He isn’t surprised that the up-tempo game is working.
“Looking at the recruits [Gadowsky] has brought in over the past couple of years, he’s brought in talented guys who can obviously skate well,” Jubinville said. “Obviously, he likes the up-tempo game. Guys have bought into his system and our style of play. It’s come around, and it’s working right now for us. It’s a ton of fun to play in that style. I definitely enjoy it.”
Wilson has 14 goals and 20 assists in 31 games. He leads the team with five game-winning goals and five power-play goals. MacIntyre has 12 goals and 17 assists in 28 games.
“Ever since I got here, I’ve known it was going to work,” Wilson said. “It just happened a little quicker this year. It’s just one of those things where, all of a sudden, it started working. After Christmas, we went on a 12-2 run before going into the playoffs.”
Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute coach Seth Appert likes the way Princeton plays — it’s the kind of style he is trying to bring to the Engineers. He hopes the RPI fans go to the TU Center this weekend to watch Princeton play, because it will give them a glimpse of how Appert is trying to build the Engineers.
“I think there are certain similarities in what we’re trying to do, and what they’ve already accomplished,” said Appert, who just completed his second season as RPI’s head coach. “I would consider it a great compliment if our team played at the pace and at the intensity level that Guy Gadowsky’s team plays at. I love the way they play.
“I don’t think we’re going to be a carbon copy in terms of how we like to play and how they play. But at the same time, I have great admiration for their style, their commitment an intensity level within their style.”