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Princeton Coach Fired After Two Straight Last-place Finishes

By Ken Schott

Schenectady Daily Gazette, March 10, 2004

Two tough, close games against Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in the first round of the ECAC tournament weren’t enough to save Princeton coach Len Quesnelle.

Quesnelle was fired Monday after four years as the Tigers’ head coach. The firing came on the heels of the Tigers’ second consecutive last-place finish. Princeton closed out the season on a 17-game winless skid (0-15-2), including two one-goal losses to the Engineers over the weekend. The Tigers lost, 5-4, Friday, and, 3-2 in overtime, Saturday.

He is the first ECAC coach to be fired after the season since 1999, when Harvard dismissed Ronn Tomassoni.

The last two seasons have been difficult for Princeton. Last year, the Tigers were 3-26-2. This season wasn’t much better, as Princeton finished 5-24-2. The Tigers’ last win came Dec. 16, a 2-1 decision over Harvard. They were 0-15 in Saturday games.

"Len has been a very loyal member of the Princeton hockey program and Princeton athletic department for many years," Princeton athletic director Gary Walters said. "It’s not easy to make a decision like this, but we felt it was necessary for a change."

Quesnelle, a 1988 Princeton graduate, was a defenseman for four seasons. He served 12 years as an assistant under Don Cahoon, and took over the Tigers when Cahoon was named Massachusetts’ head coach in 2000. Quesnelle compiled a 29-84-11 record in four years.

"I don’t think you are ever prepared for it," Quesnelle told the Trenton Times. "I do know one thing, I don’t have any regrets with the time and effort and energy I put in."

"As bad as [the winless streak] looks, there were plenty of opportunities for us to win during that stretch. There were some good efforts. We had 17 freshmen and sophomores. At times, it looked like we were ready to turn the corner."

The Tigers almost forced a third game against the Engineers. They had a 2-1 lead late in the third period, but Scott Basiuk tied the score with 2:23 left, and Ben Barr won it 1:38 into overtime.

Some of the players interviewed by the campus newspaper The Daily Princetonian weren’t taking Quesnelle’s firing hard.

"I’m not too surprised about when it happened," sophomore goalie Eric Leroux said. "Last year, the idea was tossed around."

Said sophomore defenseman Brett Westgarth: "I can’t say that it took me completely off guard. We didn’t do what we could have done, and eventually, someone had to go."

Economakos honored

RPI forward Nick Economakos was named ECAC player of the week Monday.

Economakos helped the Engineers sweep Princeton in the first round of the ECAC tournament with a five-point weekend. He scored the game-winning goal and added two assists in Friday’s 5-4 victory. Economakos scored the first goal of Saturday’s game, and assisted on Ben Barr’s overtime winner in a 3-2 triumph.

Retro look

The Clarkson team that beat Union in the first round of the ECAC tournament looked different than the one that played at Messa Rink last month.

Instead of being a slow, plodding team, the Golden Knights showed tremendous speed and offensive creativity. It was reminiscent of the Clarkson teams of the early- to mid-1990s, when players such as Hugo Belanger, Craig Conroy, Todd Marchant, Scott Thomas, Marko Tuomainen and Todd White put fear into the opposition with their offensive play.

Clarkson coach George Roll helped recruit many of those players when he was a Knights assistant from 1988 to 1996. He wants the Knights to return to those days of offensive prowess.

"The players will tell you we’ve allowed our guys to be creative offensively," said Roll, who is in his first season as Clarkson’s head coach after seven years as Oswego State’s hockey coach. "That’s what we want to get back to. We want to play an up-tempo style."

"We’ve given the guys the green light to do offensively what their abilities allow them to do. We do stress defense, obviously. But [offensive] hockey is the type of hockey we want to play at Clarkson."

First-round review

Here’s a quick look at the two first-round series that took place outside of the Capital Region.

Tenth-seeded St. Lawrence upset No. 7 Yale in two games, winning both by scores of 4-3 in overtime. Stace Page scored the game-winner in the opener, and Rich Peverley won it in Game 2.

Yale goalie Josh Gartner was given a butt-ending major and game disqualification early in the second period of Game 1. He was suspended from Game 2. Senior Peter Dobrowlski made 38 saves in relief of Gartner.

Sixth-seeded Harvard dispatched 11 th-seeded Vermont in two games by scores of 3-0 and 5-3.

Goalie Dov Grumet-Morris made 19 saves to earn the shutout in the opener. Brendan Bernakevitch and Rob Fried each had two goals and an assist in the second game.

The picks

After a 3-1 record in the first round, here are the picks for the quarterfinals:

No. 6 Harvard (14-14-3) at No. 3 Brown (15-9-5)

Both teams have had strange seasons.

The Crimson, the preseason choice to win the regular-season title, were inconsistent throughout the year. The Bears were poised to finish first, but an 0-4-1 stretch that saw them get shut out three times knocked them into third place.

Brown won both meetings during the season. Can it win two more times? The pick: Brown in three by scores of 1-2, 3-2 and 3-1.

No. 9 Clarkson (15-16-5) at No. 2 Cornell (15-8-6)

The Knights were solid in their sweep of the Dutchmen. The Big Red played through a number of injuries, and nearly won their third straight regularseason title.

Clarkson’s suddenly highpowered offense will be tested against the stingy Cornell defense. It will be a test it won’t pass. The pick: Cornell wins in two by scores of 3-1 and 2-0.

No. 10 St. Larence (13-19-6) at No. 1 Colgate (19-10-5)

The Saints, who had won just two road games during the regular season, pulled off the upset by winning twice at Yale.

They’ll face a Colgate team that won its first regular-season title since 1990. Winning even once will be difficult for St. Lawrence. The pick: Colgate wins in two by scores of 4-2 and 5-1.

No. 5 RPI (21-13-2) at No. 4 Dartmouth (12-8-9)

The Engineers had a surprisingly tough series against 12 th-seeded Princeton. They needed a late goal in the third period of Game 2 to send it into overtime before winning.

They go to Dartmouth, where they haven’t won since Nov. 13, 1998. RPI is 0-6-1 in its last seven games at Thompson Arena, which includes a sweep by the Big Green in the first round of the 2001 tournament.

Dartmouth earned the fourth seed by a point over RPI. The difference proved to be Dartmouth’s 4-3 win Jan. 30 at Thompson, a game in which the Big Green scored two late goals after the Engineers’ Kevin Croxton missed an open net moments before the comeback. The pick: Dartmouth in three by scores of 3-2, 2-3 and 4-2.

Women’s tournament

The ECAC women’s tournament gets under way this weekend with four quarterfinal series.

Harvard and St. Lawrence tied for first place with 30 points, but the Crimson won the head-to-head tiebreaker to earn the top seed. The Crimson (25-3-1) will host eighth-seeded Cornell (7-19-2), while the No. 2 Saints (24-7-1) get No. 7 Colgate (15-15-3).

In the other matchups, third-seeded Dartmouth (22-5-2) hosts sixth-seeded Yale (12-14-3), while No. 5 Princeton (20-9) visits No. 4 Brown (16-10-2).

The winners advance to the championship round March 20-21 at Union.