The Princeton hockey team's nickname is the Tigers. Call the Tampa Bay Lightning
's Jeff Halpern
a Princeton Tiger "pioneer."
In the long history of the prestigious Ivy League university and ECACHL hockey program, only eight Tigers alums have played at the NHL level, including three currently -- Philadelphia's Darroll Powe
, Anaheim's George Parros
While Parros became the only Princeton alum to win the Stanley Cup in 2007, no other former Princeton player comes close Halpern's 10-year career on the big stage.
"George (Parros) was the next guy to play here after me because of the character he is off and on the ice," said Halpern. "It's amazing one of the toughest guys in the League is a Princeton guy. The fact that he won a Stanley Cup has given Princeton a face."
"Now you have Darroll Powe
(Philadelphia) and Kevin Westgarth
(Los Angeles) coming into their own.
If Parros has given Princeton a face, Halpern has given it a legacy.
Parros, in his fifth NHL season, has played 270 games. Powe is in his second season with the Flyers, while Westgarth played nine games for the Kings last season, but has been in AHL Manchester all this season.
Halpern, an NHL mainstay for a decade, has 130 goals and 310 points in 687 games. Tampa Bay is his third team; he broke in with Washington in the 1999-2000 season.
"The university does its job academically," said Halpern, who got his degree in economics. "What's happening now is more guys are coming in and can see a hockey career out of playing there. (Current coach) Guy Gadowsky
has instilled an attitude that is creating NHL kind of players."
Halpern's Tiger-in-the-tank attitude was instilled by a coach nicknamed "Toot."
"I graduated high school and didn't have a lot of interest in Division 1 colleges," said Halpern, who grew up in Potomac, Md. "I spent a year in Stratford, Ont., in Junior B, and had a few other colleges come in that year. I chose Princeton and loved the coach at the time, Don ("Toot") Cahoon. Loved the campus but enjoyed him and the guys on the team -- a lot of Canadian guys. It was all a good mix."
Cahoon, a former BU player and Massachusetts kid, guided Princeton to its most successful run in program history (hockey began in 1900) during his tenure, from 1991-2000 before leaving to become coach at the University of Massachusetts.
"This is a credit to any coach that can do it," said Halpern, who captained the Tigers in 1998-99, his senior year, "but Toot was able to have his teams portray his attitude. We didn't have a great team the first year, but my last three years I'd say we were an outreach of his persona and attitude. The guys embraced that and were encouraged by their success when they did it.
"Anybody who knows Toot knows he's a competitor to the end. He fights for anything he gets and works hard at anything he does."
That's a fitting summary of Halpern's NCAA and NHL career, which is rooted on a campus in central New Jersey.
"I loved the hockey experience there," he said. "The rink (Baker Rink) is right on campus, such a good group of guys. There were eight in my class (and) we hung out at the rink, did everything together. It gave me a chance to grow as a player. The school side was hard and you need to put your time in. But my best memories are in the locker room with my teammates and playing for that team."
Halpern's two most memorable college games include the one he'd most like to remember -- and one he'd like to forget.
"The university does its job academically. What's happening now is more guys are coming in and can see a hockey career out of playing there. (Current coach) Guy Gadowsky has instilled an attitude that is creating NHL kind of players."
-- Jeff Halpern
"The (ECAC) championship game when we beat Clarkson was the game I'll remember the most," said Halpern, recalling the win that sent the Tigers to their first NCAA Tournament appearance. "The best memory I'll take out of my four years."
A week later on March 27, 1998, the Tigers took on mighty Michigan, led by goalie Marty Turco
"Then Michigan," said Halpern. "I actually put the game-winning goal in our own net (in a 2-1 loss). It was a harmless play -- they were changing and there was a guy going down the wing. I just kind of threw it to the front of the net. When I went to skate with it to get it on my backhand, it hit my foot and rolled toward the net. Right before the goalie stopped it, it hopped over his stick and kept rolling into the net.
"Michigan went on to win (the national title) that year, but our team could have surprised a lot of teams. We threw everything we had at them in the third but came up short."
A few months later, before his senior season began, Halpern was invited to the Capitals' summer camp -- and again after he graduated.
"Still had (playing pro) in the back of my mind after what was talked about at the end of that summer," said Halpern, who left Princeton after scoring 50 goals and 97 points in 69 games in his final two seasons.
"Washington was a place I wanted to play for a couple of reasons," said Halpern, who became the first D.C.-area native to play for the Caps. "One was it was a team I grew up liking; more importantly, they were going through a bit of a turnover and I thought I had a good opportunity to play there. They weren't going to re-sign Joe Juneau, Dale Hunter
retired after that year, they made a few trades. It was a place I could go to and play."
Play he did, with 18 goals and a plus-21 rating in 79 games in his rookie season.
Halpern played six seasons in Washington, then signed a four-year contract with the Dallas Stars
in the summer of 2006. He was traded to Tampa in the Brad Richards
deal during the 2007-08 season.
Halpern also captained the U.S. team at the 2008 World Championships. He's played in five World Championships and the 2005 World Cup.
Leadership and durability factor most in Halpern's professional run. Along with a steady dose of appreciation for where he is.
"I had two big injuries on each knee," he said about those suffered in 2002 and in the '08 World Championships. "Those were hiccups in this run. For me, the longevity is from working as hard as I can to stay a part of this.
"But I think the biggest thing is my approach that my job can be taken away at any moment, from Day 1. This game is so enjoyable. I always say the best thing about the NHL is you get to continue your youth. And get to do it for a living. I know the players who have moved on, they miss being in a room with the competitive atmosphere of the season."
What's in the crystal ball for the 33-year-old Halpern?
"I'll continue playing as long as I can," he said. "Right now I feel the best since my injuries. ... I'd love to coach and continue somewhere in the hockey world in some way."
Likely with a pioneering role of sorts.