Young Guns Make Sudden Impact As PHS Boys' Hockey Starts 2-1
By Bill Alden
Coming into the season, Paul Merrow knew that his Princeton High boys' ice hockey team had some outstanding freshmen but he figured it would be a while before they made a major contribution.
Instead, PHS' young guns, featuring forwards John Ryan and Peter Tiefer together with goalie Shane Leuck, made a sudden impact as the club started its season last week.
In the Little Tigers' season opener on December 2 against Hightstown, Tiefer and Ryan both debuted with goals while Leuck was rock-solid in the net with 21 saves.
Building on that stellar start, Ryan scored twice and had two assists while Tiefer chipped in a goal as PHS topped WW/P-S 5-2 a day later.
Last Monday, PHS tasted defeat for the first time this season as they spotted Steinert a three-goal lead and then fought back valiantly before succumbing 4-3.
Merrow is pleased with how his freshmen have gotten out of the gate. "The freshman have gotten off to a surprisingly good start," said Merrow whose club went 11-8-3 last season.
"I knew they were good from how they played on our summer team and in preseason. They have a lot of talent but I thought it would take the month of December to harness things."
Up front, Merrow inserted Ryan and Tiefer into the first line and they have certainly lived up to that billing.
"They both bring a good thought process to the game," said Merrow in assessing the play of his two freshman forwards. "They know where to be on the ice."
Leuck has been equally impressive anchoring the Little Tigers' defense. "Shane started with two good games in goal," added Merrow in assessing his freshman netminder who had 27 saves in the win over WW/P-S. "The goaltending stands out as a highlight for us so far."
While the newcomers have drawn attention, Merrow credits his most experienced player, senior forward Matt Leuck, with being the glue holding the team together.'
"Matt is our senior captain and I have him playing between Ryan and Tiefer," said Merrow. "He's leading those guys, he's showing them the way."
Merrow is also getting good work from another veteran, sophomore forward Sam Finnell. "Sam started on the first line but we moved him back to the second line to play with Nick Brener and Peter Miller," explained the eight-year head coach.
"He's playing well. He needs to realize that he has two capable players with him and that he doesn't have to do everything."
The Little Tigers' mix of veteran leadership and precocious newcomers has the team playing with more intensity collectively."
"There is more intensity shift-to-shift," maintained Merrow, whose club has been getting good defensive work from Brad Carduner and Jon Forman. "When they have had a bad shift, they want to go out and make the next one much better."
The team's hot start has left Merrow with a problem he hadn't previously envisioned.
"We have to make sure that we don't get overconfident," said Merrow, whose club faces Westfield on December 12 at Baker Rink and then plays Nottingham on December 15 at Mercer County Park.
"I'm cautiously optimistic, every season has its ups and downs. We need to improve our defensive zone coverage. I think we'll be OK, nine goals in first two games is a good start. "
And if Merrow's young guns can build on their sparkling debut, the Little Tigers might be looking at a good finish.