5FW Game Coverage: Evaluating The 2012-13 Princeton Tigers Men’s Hockey Team

The Trentonian was the only media outlet present at the NCAA Princeton Tigers men’s hockey team’s exhibition game against the Guelph University Gryphons on Saturday afternoon at Hobey Baker Rink. The Tigers were without upperclassmen Jack Berger, Andrew Calof, Kevin Ross and Rob Kleebaum (Kevin Liss and Kevin Mills were also scratched) but it still gave a pretty good indication of what kind of team Princeton would have this season.

Back-to-back losses to a Canadian university team do not paint a pretty picture as to how the regular season will play out in a talent-laden ECAC this year.

An estimated 250 fans showed up to see Princeton lose to the Gryphons, 6-5. Guelph features a lot of players with OHL experience as well as Andy Bathgate, who had played two games in the AHL before returning to school to continue his education…you’ll see a feature on Bathgate very soon on here.

As for the Tigers side, I watched the game without having to do a game story for the paper, meaning I was able to focus solely on player evaluation. I took a lot of notes, but without even delving into those, I can tell you that freshman forward Jonathan Liau really stood out to me.

Jonathan Liau was one of several standout Princeton players, despite a 6-5 exhibition loss to the Guelph Gryphons (Photo: Mike Ashmore)

Liau, a Burbank, California native, joined the Tigers after playing for Penticton of the BCHL, which also produced Princeton’s starting goalie, Sean Bonar. Listed at 5-foot-9 and 175 pounds, Liau is an undersized spark plug who always seems to be moving. He showed relentless puck pursuit, and was also in the right place at the right time for his goal, which pulled the Tigers back to being down just two goals.

Liau does over pursue the puck on occasion, which can leave him out of position, but he does have the speed to fill a lane quickly if that should happen. He is still a work in progress, as was shown by a very careless turnover into the slot in his defensive zone and some issues in finding an open man in the offensive zone while trying to create, but his skill set was very much so on display on Saturday. He was also very strong on the draw, winning 12 of the 13 faceoffs he took.

In NHL circles, Princeton defenseman Michael Sdao might be the player that people are most interested in reading about given that he’s the only player on the team who’d been previously drafted. Sdao, who was selected in the 7th round of the 2009 draft by the Ottawa Senators, was frustrating to watch at times, as has been the case for the majority of his four years with the Tigers. The biggest player on the Tigers at 6-foot-4 and 220 pounds, Sdao often doesnt play to his size and can be too easily moved off the puck. He does have a hard shot that he can get off effortlessly from the point, and he did show good patience in trying to find a lane for a hard wrist shot in the second period. But his physicality can often be misguided — he took another penalty on Saturday, which has been a staple of his tenure with the Tigers — and his attempt to step up and make a hit in the neutral zone was easily avoided, leaving him well out of position for an odd man rush. He also had a miscommunication with Eric Meland in the defensive zone, when Sdao stopped skating and the two collided, eventually leading to a penalty against the Tigers.

Defenseman Alec Rush had a strong game, and the junior defenseman ended up scoring two of the five goals that Princeton tallied. He was not at all hesitant to put the puck on net and was relatively unnoticeable in his own end, which is a compliment.

Junior forward Andrew Ammon also showed noticeable improvement from the last time I’d seen him. Although a few of the notes on him were negative — he had a careless tripping penalty late in the game and made an ill-advised pass in his own end with a man clearly in his lane — I was impressed with his play at both ends. Like Liau, his puck pursuit was very evident…but his hockey sense was on display as well, as he tied up an obvious passing target in the defensive zone to thwart a one-time attempt. He was also strong on the puck while trying to wait for help in the corner offensively, and was particularly adept at trying to take advantage of line changes, rushing up the ice up the left side to try to create offense without leaving himself vulnerable to an opportunity going the other way.

Bonar played relatively well, likely better than the four goals in 40 minutes in the box score would indicate. His defense was burned by the Gryphons speed on numerous occasions, especially up the outside, and Bonar was peppered with 35 shots in those 40 minutes as a result. He was in perfect position to make a reaction save in the early going, and also did well to stay with a shooter through his last move on a breakaway, making the pad save. He also showed good rebound control on shots where he could control them, putting long shots into the corners when possible.

Ryan Benitez, who replaced Bonar after 40 minutes as appeared to be the plan from the get go, was never really tested enough to evaluate. The sophomore was beaten short side while shorthanded on a fantastic move by James Merrett, with the puck sailing over Benitez’s shoulder…a goal like that can’t happen, but there wasn’t much he could have done. And the game-winning goal was a 2-on-1 circle to circle passing play where he had no chance. It was hard to evaluate him based on seven shots in 20 minutes, and it’ll likely be hard to get another look at him all season with Bonar and senior Mike Condon serving as the two go-to goalies this season.

Mike Ashmore, mashmore98 AT gmail.com

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