Jack Berger comes from a hockey family. His new family at Princeton is reaping the benefits.
Berger is in his sophomore season as a forward on the Princeton Men’s Hockey team, and the St. Louis native has become one of the Tigers’ top players. It is no surprise considering how Berger and his four younger brothers have spent much of their lives playing the sport they love.
“It was a lot of fun,” Berger said. “We played roller hockey all of the time. It was great to have their support. We all go to each other’s games and my dad played, too. It’s a lot of hockey all of the time.”
Berger is still engrossed with hockey as he hopes to lead the Tigers to an ECAC title and he is off to an impressive start with his sophomore season. Through 21 games, Berger leads the Tigers in scoring with 17 points. He has tallied nine goals and eight assists and has become one of the league’s most dangerous players.
“It’s been a lot of fun,” Berger said. “I came in my freshman year and was kind of getting my bearings. This year, I came out and was given a lot of opportunities by Coach (Bob) Prior, which I really appreciate. I try and work hard every night and it’s been paying off.”
Berger benefits from a unique pair of linemates: Andrew Calof is a playmaker with dazzling skills while team captain Marc Hagel is part of the Tigers’ heart and soul. Both have been key contributors to Berger’s success.
“Calof can do such unbelievable things,” said Berger. “He’s so quick and he gets the puck to the net. Hagel is just incredibly reliable and he always gets the job done. You can always count on him.”
After a slow start this season, Berger and his teammates are beginning to move up in the ECAC standings. Princeton is 6-10-5 overall but has lost just once in its last six games. Over weekend, the Tigers blew out 12th ranked Colgate by 6-2 and the Tigers also rallied from a 3-0 third period deficit to earn a tie with ninth-ranked Cornell.
“We came out and wanted to outwork everybody on every shift,” Berger said. “We’re a great third period team. We never give up, which is a great quality about us. We just found a way to get it done.”
Berger came up with an impressive freshman season a year ago. He scored two goals and added seven assists while showing promise to the coaching staff. But popular head coach Guy Gadowsky left for Penn State in the off-season and some wondered how the Tigers would fare with a new coaching staff. Berger and his teammates quickly bought into Prior’s system and the sophomore has thrived under Prior.
“All of the coaches have been great,” Berger said. “They have a lot of passion and a lot of energy. I think everyone has done a good job adjusting. We believe in the system and we’re just going to come out hard every weekend and trust it.”
Berger grew up in a town where hockey’s popularity is on the rise. He followed the St. Louis Blues and began to develop his game. He played for Des Moines in the USHL during the 2009-10 season before heading to Princeton the following year.
“Hockey really kind of exploded in St. Louis when I was younger,” Berger said. “There are a lot of kids going into juniors now. The USHL was a great experience. There were great crowds in Des Moines. It’s a cool atmosphere in the rink.”
Berger took in some Princeton atmosphere during a campus visit before his freshman season. He realized immediately that Princeton would be a perfect fit for him: both on and off the ice.
“I really think there is a great culture here,” Berger said. “They really care about the students and the student athletes. There is a really great group of guys and we are a tight knit group. Everybody really cares and supports each other. It’s a good atmosphere and when you come in here, you can feel that.”
Berger and his teammates now have to put hockey on hold for two weeks as the Tigers are in the midst of their exam breaks, so Berger is hitting the books instead of opposing players.
“We get some time to focus on exams and get them out of the way,” Berger said. “I think everyone is excited and we’re going to go into the break on a positive note and come out of it with a lot of fire and be fresh.”
Once exams are over, the sky may be the limit for Berger and the rest of the Tigers.
“We’ve got to get hot at the end,” Berger said. “The way we are playing, anything is possible. We are excited about what could happen with us the rest of the way.”