By Bob Nuse, Sports Editor
One day after their most disappointing loss of the season, the Princeton Day School boys ice hockey team bounced back with perhaps their most impressive win of the season.
On Monday, the Panthers let a lead slip away and dropped an 8-6 decision to Portledge, which cost them a shot at playing for a Mid-Atlantic Hockey League title. But one day later, PDS came through with an impressive 7-2 win over the Hun School in the state prep semifinals to earn their third berth in the state final in the last four years.
“To have a comfortable lead and blow it yesterday, I think the best thing that happened was to see them respond,” PDS coach Scott Bertoli said. “To have the early lead and be able to hold on to the early lead and push through, good for us for sticking to the game plan and pushing the score out with six or seven minutes to go.”
The Panthers were clinging to a 3-2 lead midway through the final period before a goal by Nic Petruolo with 8:31 left made it 4-2. The Panthers then added three power play goals in just over two minutes to make it 7-2.
With the win, the Panthers advanced to the state prep final against Morristown-Beard in a game that was scheduled to be played on Thursday at PDS.
“Getting a chance to play at home in the final is going to be great, especially to close out my senior year,” said Connor Fletcher, who helped the Panthers improve to 12-5-2. “The loss (Monday) and losing out on the chance to play in the championship of the Mid-Atlantic Hockey League really put the pressure on us to win today and end up playing for a championship. I give credit to the guys. Everyone responded like we needed to and came out with a win.”
PDS jumped out to a 2-0 lead in the opening period on goals by Colby Auslander and Keith Asplundh. Hun cut the lead to 2-1 on a goal by Jon Bendorf before the Panthers went back up, 3-1, on a goal by Tyler Coffey. The Raiders closed out the second period with a goal by Kyle Mandleur to make it 3-2 heading into the decisive third period.
“Twice we went from two goal lead to a one goal lead,” Bertoli said. “We scored the goal to push ahead and the same thing with Petruolo’s goal in the third period. They had put a lot of pressure on us. When they move Bendorf up front and (Frank) Vitucci up front you’re on the bench kind of holding your breath because those guys make plays and create scoring chances every time they are out there.”
After struggling a year ago with a young roster, the Panthers are back in the prep finals this year.
“It’s been a good year,” Bertoli said. “Had this game not worked out, I think you start to look at the fact that we were in a position (Monday) to keep ourselves alive in that Mid-Atlantic Hockey League championship and then to not have the chance to play in the prep championship game, given the success we have had this year, would have been really disappointing.
“For our seniors, think it’s great. This will be their third in four years and we have a very familiar opponent, Mo-Beard, coming in here on Thursday.”
Fletcher has been part of the youth to play in the final and now he’ll be the veteran that gets to lead a young team.
“I have been here since my freshman year and we’ve had kids like Ross Colton, Conrad Denise and those types of skilled kids,” Fletcher said. “Having to rebuild from last year and seeing everyone grow and fill those roles had been great to watch. I’ve been blessed to have kids like that come in every single day and work hard and just get better.
“Most of our team last year was freshmen and sophomores. Having everybody come back this year pretty much with that experience really helped us out and have that fire in our stomachs to have a successful season.”
While the final margin against Hun was five goals, the win did not come easily for the Panthers. It was 3-2 before they caught fire over the final eight minutes to win going away. Petruolo, Asplundh, Tyler Birch and Nick Day all scored goals in the final period to pull out the Panthers second win this year over the Raiders. Logan Kramsky made 24 saves to earn the win in goal.
“The kids all know each other,” Bertoli said. Ian (McNally, the Hun coach) and I are good friends. It has been a growing rivalry the last three or four years. He has done a great job with that program. They had a great team last year. They got off to a slow start but they were going well. It’s a good win for us and I am happy for our kids.
“We didn’t add much to the mix in terms of kids that play on a regular basis. It’s a lot of the same kids who are a year older and more experienced. Being forced to play a ton of minutes last year really helped that sophomore class. They are huge contributors for us.”
PRINCETON: Panthers skate into prep final
By Bob Nuse, Sports Editor