Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXV, No. 8
Wednesday, February 23, 2011
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FROZEN SMILES: Princeton High boys’ hockey co-captains, Fraser Graham, right, and Dean DiTosto are all smiles as they accept the trophy after PHS won the Mercer County Tournament title last Monday with a 4-1 win over Notre Dame. Graham chipped in four assists in the victory as PHS improved to 17-4. The Little Tigers will go after another crown later this month as they start play in the state tournament.

With Graham Leading Offense, Goalie Berger On Fire, PHS Boys’ Hockey Tops Notre Dame for MCT Title

Bill Alden

When the Princeton High boys’ hockey team edged Notre Dame 5-4 in early January, Fraser Graham scored all five goals for the Little Tigers.

Last Monday, when the same teams met in the championship game of the Mercer County Tournament, Graham was held without a goal.

Still, the PHS senior star was the dominant offensive force on the ice, producing four assists as the second-seeded Little Tigers topped No. 4 Notre Dame 4-1 and improved to 17-4.

It was PHS’s first county crown since 2005 when it topped Notre Dame in overtime.

For Graham, not finding the back of the net at the Mercer County Park rink was no big deal. “Usually, I don’t score that many goals,” said Graham. “I got a few shots off and I saw that the best play to make was passing.”

While PHS had been prepared to face top-seeded and defending champion Princeton Day School, which ended up getting upset by Notre Dame in the semis, Graham and his teammates weren’t taking the Fighting Irish lightly.

“Before the game, we realized that we had to come out strong and play a good defensive game,” said Graham. “We couldn’t have any letdowns and we tried to play a full 45 minutes.”

The Little Tigers came out strong as Graham set up junior Will Greenberg for a goal three minutes into the contest. PHS doubled its lead late in the second period as Graham assisted on a Michael Irving tally. The Little Tigers put the game out of reach midway through the final period as Kirby Peck and Greenberg scored on Graham helpers.

While Graham was happy with the offensive output, he credited junior goalie Josh Berger as being the team’s key player in the triumph.

“We were able to get four goals and that is as big a cushion as Josh needs,” said Graham of Berger, who had 32 saves on the evening and was named as the tournament MVP.

“Josh played great, he bailed us out a bunch of times with some great saves. He only let up a goal at the end there; he deserved to be the MVP.”

Berger, for his part, acknowledged that he got into a zone at the MCT as PHS topped seventh-seeded WW/P-N 5-2 in the quarterfinals and then beat No. 3 HoVal 3-1 in the semis on the way to Monday’s title contest.

“I always feel like I get a little hotter during the Mercer County Tournament; every single game provided a new opportunity to come up big,” said the redheaded Berger.

“I just felt like this was my time to play big and I came up big. When opportunities present themselves, you have to take advantage and that’s exactly what I did.”

Notre Dame gave Berger plenty of opportunities to show his skills as it outshot PHS 27-10 over the last two periods of the game.

“Notre Dame came at us pretty hard; it was a pretty close game until the third,” said Berger. “We knew that we had to bear down on defense if we wanted to come away with a win. I felt if I could keep us in it, we could win. That’s my job.”

Berger’s job was made easier by having starred in last year’s MCT when PHS pulled a string of upsets before losing to PDS in the title game.

“The experience was a big factor in this game; we had been in this position before against a really good PDS team,” said Berger.

“Coming out against a team like Notre Dame that is hot and playing well; this was a similar situation and we felt a lot more comfortable. We had a lot of experience and we gained a lot of confidence from that.”

Berger enjoyed the experience of being named tournament MVP. “Being the MVP is a pretty big deal; it doesn’t hurt to get some recognition for your efforts,” said a grinning Berger. “I was pretty happy to receive it but I think everybody on this team deserves an MVP award.”

PHS head coach Tim Campbell would concur with Berger’s analysis. “It was a total team effort,” said Campbell.

“We finally crossed that hurdle of playing a full 45 minutes. We started out a little sluggish I would say but it didn’t take us long to get going.”

In Campbell’s view, Graham got the PHS offense going. “Fraser’s playmaking abilities are unparalleled,” said Campbell. “He is the best player in the county and I’d say he is one of the best players in the state. He is so smart and obviously very talented.”

Berger proved to be one of the best goalies around as he outdueled highly-touted Notre Dame netminder Steven Anderson.

“Josh was huge, absolutely huge,” asserted Campbell. “He deserves that MVP award. He closed out the first two games in the tournament for us singlehandedly. Tonight he was unbelievable.”

It was huge for PHS to break through with its first county crown in six years.

“We are the best team in the county,” said Campbell.

“Before we started tonight, we were the best public school. We were the best public school last year and now we are the best hockey team in the county. It is a nice validation.”

Now the Little Tigers are looking to build on their MCT performance to prove that they are one of the best teams in New Jersey as they make their first state tournament appearance since the 2006-07 season.

“It is a confidence builder without a doubt,” said Campbell, whose team will get its state tourney assignment later this week. “Regardless of how we are seeded or who we wind up playing, the momentum definitely will help us.”

Graham, for his part, believes PHS can do some damage in the states. “We have never been there before so we don’t know exactly what to expect,” said Graham. “We are just going to do our best and play our game and see how far that takes us. With Josh playing so well, we should get pretty far.”

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