By Bob Nuse
Chris Cecila is one of those defensive players who really enjoys the aspect of playing defense.
A junior on the Princeton Day School boys’ ice hockey team, Cecila has moved into a more prominent role this season for the Panthers. He’s a key cog on a defense that has allowed just five goals in three games this season.
“I started to play a lot at the end of last year and it has sort of carried on into this year,” said Cecila, who also scored a goal as the Panthers topped Morristown-Beard, 13-2, on Dec. 3 at Lisa McGraw Rink. “We haven’t really needed it through these first few games, but I like to think of myself as a shutdown defenseman. I like to be a guy that they can count on to lock up when they need it.”
After opening the season with a 2-1 loss to St. Joseph’s of Pennsylvania, the Panthers bounced back with a 6-1 victory over Gloucester Catholic before topping Morristown-Beard School. The Panthers topped Portledge, 3-1, on Dec. 5 before falling to Delbarton, 4-0, on Tuesday.
“We have a two-game winning streak now,” Cecila said after the win over Mo-Beard. “It is going pretty well for us now. It is starting to click after having a bit of a slow start against St. Joe’s last Tuesday. We played well in that game but we just couldn’t find a way to score. Now we’re finding a way to score and it is going well. We’re getting scoring all around and everyone is starting to score.”
In the victory over Morristown-Beard, everyone seemed to get into the act on the offensive end of the ice. Ty Eastman scored three goals, while Luke Antonacci, Birch Gorman and Stephen Gorelenkov added two goals apiece. Coby Auslander, Alex Allen, Trevor Mackles and Cecila each scored a goal.
“We love to see that people can step up when they need to step up,” said Cecila, a Lawrenceville resident. “I am really liking the way the outlook is looking for the season after seeing everybody play. I think we’re going to be pretty successful. We’ve been pretty successful with a tough schedule in the past. I feel like we have only gotten stronger this year. We lost a few key guys but guys are really stepping up this year and there has been a big improvement across the lineup.
“I’ve scored in the past two games, which is new for me because I only had one goal all of last year. It’s a pleasant surprise. I feel like I have gotten a lot better in the offseason. I feel like I am more prepared for this season and I have had time to develop.”
Any scoring the Panthers receive from Cecila is an added benefit. He’s a defensive defenseman first and foremost when he is on the ice.
“I think Chris’ strongest attributes are his ability to defend and he has an edge to him,” PDS coach Scott Bertoli said. “I think he takes pride in being a defensive defenseman. But he does have some offensive ability. If you put him in situations like last week against Gloucester or today he anticipates well and reads it well and knows when to shoot the puck. He has some offensive creativity. So when the opportunity presents itself he is not afraid to get involved and make plays.
“He has that edge to him and that willingness to play in his defensive zone. And he, more so than most kids that we have had here, gets very upset when he gets scored on. He recognizes that we take pride in that and he definitely does not want to give anything up.”
Outside of high school, Cecila has been playing up against older competition the past few years, first with the Virtua 15U team and now with the Princeton Tigers 18AA.
“It really think it benefitted me to play against the older, bigger players to prepare for the high school season,” Cecila said. “I’ve grown now. A few years ago I played 16U when I was 14 and that really helped me for high school hockey because it introduced me to some of the bigger guys when I was a freshman.”
His play this year has helped the Panthers to a nice start to the season.
“The first game of the year was disappointing in that I thought we played relatively well and I thought we generated a lot of offensive opportunities,” Bertoli said. “We outshot St. Joe’s almost three to one and out-chanced them pretty badly, but we just couldn’t score. The difference between that game and the last two games is we scored early.”
The convincing win over Mo-Beard should help the team’s confidence going forward.
“We have a lot of young guys stepping up and they are looking really good,” Cecila said. “I am excited for this season and seeing where this team can go.”