Jeff Froccaro. Chris White. Luke Armour.
Those are the big asset losses for Princeton heading into 2014. Virtually every major contributor from 2013 is back for the Tigers, including Tewaaraton candidate and human weapon, Tom Schreiber. Princeton was stronger in 2013 than their 9-6 record last year indicated, and the Tigers are evolving into a team that a lot of folks like as an undervalued team entering the sunrise of the season. There is one lingering ceiling-limiter, though: Princeton has a huge question mark in the cage.
With the departure of Tyler Fiorito after the 2012 season (a four-year starter for the Tigers), Princeton vacillated between Matt O'Connor and Eric Sanschagrin in the circle during 2013. Neither keeper played particularly well: Sanschagrin held just a 47.8 save percentage and O'Connor held a somewhat prettier 51.7 save percentage. Those rates, however, carry an extra degree of "Yeesh!" when looking at Princeton's overall goaltending situation from last season:
|Saves per 100 Defensive Opportunities||31.11||44|
|Team Save Percentage||50.49%||45|
|Shots per Defensive Opportunity||1.12||37|
|Raw Defensive Shooting Rate||27.21%||23|
|Defensive Assist Rate||20.00||49|
|Adjusted Defensive Efficiency||29.97||23|
|Strength of Schedule: Opposing Offenses Faced||31.31||16|
An increase in ball-stopping would go a long way toward cementing Princeton as a legitimate contender in the coming season, but goalkeeping doesn't exist in a vacuum. Crease play is often heavily dictated by defensive field play; only the truly exceptional stoppers can succeed in impossible circumstances (and even they need some help). Looking at Princeton's defensive profile from a season ago, the Tigers' goaltending situation could possibly improve if Princeton limits off-ball action. Part of Princeton's high defensive assist rate is attributable to an inability to actually stop the assisted shot, but part of this is also attributable to Princeton's field defense allowing opposing offenses to create those assisted opportunities. A goalkeeper is often only as good as the shot he sees, and O'Connor and Sanschagrin saw too many shots from preferable situations for the opposition. The Tigers' were a field defense in transition last year, plugging parts into the machine that have not fit in the past. A year of experience -- especially in identifying off-ball movement -- should benefit both the field unit and the goalkeeping crew charged with erasing those opportunities.
The Tigers aren't far from playing exceptionally, but without some increased performance on the line (and with help from the field defense proper), Princeton's brass ring potentially remains out of reach.