PHS Boys' Hockey Shows Resilience; Goes Overtime to Advance in States
By Bill Alden
As the Princeton High boys' ice hockey team headed into the third period of its Public state tournament opener last Thursday with Morris Hills knotted at 3-3, PHS head coach Paul Merrow had a distinct sense of déjà vu.
Just six days earlier, the Little Tigers had headed into the third period of the Mercer County Tournament (MCT) championship game locked in a 2-2 tie with Notre Dame. PHS came through that night to take the MCT title in a 3-2 overtime thriller.
"Here we go again," said Merrow, recalling his thoughts as his club fought Morris Hills in the third period of the contest which was played at the Mennen Arena in Morristown. "It was give a goal, get a goal. We were always coming back."
With two minutes left in regulation, PHS trailed Morris Hills 5-4 and was staring elimination in the face. "I told them this was it," said Merrow, who pulled goalie Shane Leuck to get an extra skater on the ice. "You might have two minutes left in the season."
Showing the resilience that has characterized the Little Tigers all winter, Peter Teifer scored with 1:06 left in the third period to tie the game at 5-5 and force overtime.
In the extra session, PHS gave more evidence of its grit. Goalie Leuck made a dazzling save on a breakaway and then PHS' top line took control. Swooping down the ice on a 2-on-1, Teifer passed the puck to Sam Finnell, who banged home the game-winner 8:11 into overtime.
In reflecting on the win which lifted PHS to a 19-4-1 record, Merrow praised his players for how they've taken care of business over the home stretch of the season.
"They know what's expected of them," added Merrow, who got a goal apiece from Teifer, Finnell, John Ryan, Nick Brener, Derek Bronsteen, and Brad Carduner in the victory over Morris Hills. "They know it and they pull together. They have been playing loose since the Mercer County Tournament. We're playing just good enough to win."
Merrow credited Teifer with giving his team a special spark in recent play. "Peter has been solid," said Merrow of the sophomore forward who had three assists to go with his game-tying goal last Thursday. "We've been breaking the first line at times and he's been scoring by himself on the second line."
The PHS defense also came up big when it counted. "Shane has been so solid," said Merrow referring to goalie Leuck, who recorded 17 saves last Thursday. "Christian McCracken and Brad Carduner have been playing really good defense and helping with the scoring."
PHS, the 20th seed in the state tournament, will play No. 4 Chatham on March 9 at the Mennen Arena for a chance to advance to the state quarterfinals. Merrow, for his part, believes his team has nothing to lose.
"They feel like they are up to the challenge," asserted Merrow. "We're playing with house money now. We just need to do our best and see what happens."
If PHS can keep up its clutch play, Merrow may have some more pleasant visions of déjà vu.