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Princeton Tigers under-16 youth hockey players hoist the district tournament banner March 20. From left are Nick Aubry, Jacob Senkewicz, Tyler Birch and Nolan Banfitch. Below, players and coaches sprawl on the ice with their championship banner.
The Princeton U-16 youth hockey team players and coaches sprawl on the ice with their championship banner.
The Princeton Tigers under-16 youth hockey team followed up its championship in the N.J. Youth Hockey League regular season by capturing the Atlantic district championship tournament in the Atlantic Amateur Hockey Association on the weekend of March 19-20 at Mennen Arena in Morristown.
The district covers more than 60 teams from all of New Jersey and northeast Pennsylvania. The top six teams — three from the New Jersey and three from Delaware Valley hockey leagues — competed in a round robin in which each team played three games, with the top two vying for a spot in the final.
The Tigers won their opening game against third-seeded Valley Forge Colonials, 5-3. Up next for the Tigers were the number-two seed Quakers and Princeton lost, 4-1, in a rematch of the Silversticks final that Princeton pulled out in overtime.
In order to advance to the district final the Tigers needed to knock off the Delaware Valley Hockey League’s top seed, the Wilkes-Barre Penguins. Princeton outdueled the Penguins and handed Wilkes-Barre only its second loss of the season.
That victory earned a rubber match against the Quakers, and the Tigers went on to dominate the Quakers and win the title.
Two weeks earlier, after winning Silver Sticks regional and finishing the league season with only one defeat, the Tigers entered the NJYHL playoffs as the number-4 seed in an 8-team field.
On March 5, Princeton pulled out a 2-1 victory over the fifth-seeded Bayonne Rangers with goals from Montgomery defensive standout Alex Advani and Jake Senkewicz, whose game-winning tally came on a feed off an end-to-end rush by defenseman Max Garlock. Goalie Nolan Banfitch stopped 17 of 18 shots.
Later that evening, the Tigers took on No. 1 seed and undefeated Brick. After a 2-2 tie in regulation and one overtime, the game was still undecided. In the second overtime (with teams playing 3 on 3) the furious action ended when Jake Senkewicz tallied his second of the game, this time via a pass from captain Tyler Birch and two-way defenseman Chandler Habig from a bad angle.
It was Brick’s first loss.
The final the next morning, March 6, pitted the Montclair Blues versus Princeton Tigers. Montclair had knocked off the second-seeded Flyers Youth in overtime to earn a spot in the final.
Princeton got out on top and Montclair played furiously from behind. The Tigers blocked shots and sacrificed the body to hold the Blues at bay. Two goals from game MVP Dante Aralihali gave the Tigers a two-goal lead in the third, but Montclair got within one late in the final period.
After a mad scramble in the Princeton zone, the Tigers gained control of the puck and Senkewicz sent it the length of the ice into an empty net with seconds on the clock to seal the Tigers championship, 5-3.
“This year’s Princeton team is not blowing teams out,” said assistant coach Blaine Banfitch of Hillsborough. “They are pulling out one-goal games and overtime victories time and time again. They’ve shown the tenacity, grit, determination, heart and teamwork of true champions.”
Team members Nolan Banfitch and Frank Bason are Hillsborough residents. Nolan, a junior, is playing high school hockey for Saint Joe’s Metuchen with Jacob Sanciewicz (a junior from Neshanic Station). Frank Bason, a sophomore, is attending Hillsborough High School.
On the team are Vincent Zhang of Bridgewater; Max Garlock and Wei Wu of Princeton; Paul Tedeschi, Alex Advani and Dante Aralihali of Belle Mead; Joe Caputo and Luke O’Shea of Monmouth Junction; Chandler Habig, Logan Harris and Matthew Farley of Skillman; Nick Aubry of Annandale, Nolan Banfitch and Frank Bason of Hillsborough, Madeline Birch and Tyler Birch of Plainsboro, Erik Szanto of Whitehouse Station, Jake Senkewicz of Neshanic Station, Nick Bianca of Manalapan and Paul Argiriou of Cranbury.
HILLSBOROUGH: U-16 Tigers youth hockey wins district title
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