As a grade schooler, Conrad Denise went all out as a fan at the Princeton Day School Invitational hockey tournament.
“My whole life, I remember these weekends,” said Denise, whose older brothers John Garret and Will were PDS standouts. “I painted my face blue and white; I spray-painted my hair.”
While Denise had the pleasure of seeing his brothers taste victory at the annual tourney, he suffered through painful losses in the finals the last two winters as he started his career at PDS.
Last weekend, the junior forward took matters into his own hands as PDS broke through for its first title at the invitational since 2007.
On Friday, Denise scored two goals as PDS topped DeMatha Catholic (Md.) 7-2 in the opening round and then contributed a goal and an assist a day later as the Panthers defeated defending champion Moses Brown (R.I.) 5-3 to win the title.
“It is definitely a big deal for me to win the tournament,” said a grinning Denise.
It was definitely sweet for PDS to turn the tables on Moses Brown. “We lost to them last year in the finals so it was a chip on our shoulder that we had,” said Denise, reflecting on the win which improved PDS to 5-0.
“There are some new guys in the room but they understood. We were happy to get the job done.”
Denise was happy to give the Panthers a lead in the championship game, scoring five minutes into the contest.
“We have been known in the first games for really getting off to good starts which is something that we haven’t always been able to do in the past,” said Denise.
“That is definitely something that helps us; getting off to an early lead and then just getting into a groove and taking control of the game.”
The Panthers lost some control as they were clinging to a 3-2 lead heading into the third period.
“The games are going to get chippy; it was going back and forth,” said Denise.
“The play was definitely picking up; we knew what we had to do. We were in the locker room and we were making sure that the young guys and the new guys knew what they had to do. We are just happy to pull out the win.”
PDS head coach Scott Bertoli likes the way Denise is getting it done. “Conrad is just a smart two-way hockey player; he is very passionate about hockey and PDS hockey,” said Bertoli.
“I know he has to make some sacrifices with his travel team to be here and play with us and we all appreciate that. We know what it means to him; the kid just bleeds blue and white. It is pretty evident today that this meant a lot to him.”
Bertoli appreciates the scoring punch he has at his disposal this season. “We have three very capable lines; we have 10 forwards who we play regularly and that can all score and contribute,” said Bertoli, who also got goals from Lewis Blackburn, Robert Colton, Dallas Derr, and Connor Bitterman in the title contest.
“We play good two-way hockey and when we do that, we control the tempo of the game. We are a quick team; we get to pucks. It is fun.”
The addition of the Colton brothers, junior Robert and freshman Ross, has helped PDS pick up the tempo.
“Robert gets it done at both ends of the rink; he adds a physical element that we really haven’t had in a while,” said Bertoli.
“He is not the biggest guy in the world, he like Garret Jensen [PDS senior captain] doesn’t back down from anyone. They are out there to initiate. I have him out there playing the point on the power point which he has never done before but he is doing a great job. And then Ross, he is arguably the most talented kid on the ice every time he suits up. He is just a dynamic offensive player. He is very adept at reading plays and creating scoring opportunities. All that being said from the offensive side, he kills penalties. He is very responsible defensively; he really has a good understanding of the game.”
PDS is also getting solid play at the defensive end. “The one other big thing that has evolved is the play of our defensemen; we possess the puck far more and with more confidence and with more efficiency than we have ever done,” asserted Bertoli, noting that the quartet of Tyler Olsson, Taran Auslander, Grahame Davis, and Ed Meyercord stepped up Saturday with Bump Lisk and C.J. Young not available.
“We do a lot of things on the breakout that we haven’t ben able to do before and it just has to do with the quality of our defensemen. They are willing to make plays. They are willing to get our forwards pucks on the rush and that makes a difference. As a forward, it is fun to play in transition and our defensemen are allowing us to do that.”
In Bertoli’s view, the team could have a fun winter if it plays with a little more discipline.
“I told these kids and it seems like every time I walk into that locker room, we talk about the first period and a half and say it is the best hockey I have seen,” said Bertoli, whose team will look to keep rolling this weekend when it competes at the Barber Tournament in Massachusetts.
“That was the same case today. In the first period and a half, we dominated play. We control the game and, for whatever reason, we get into penalty trouble. It gets us out of our rhythm. We are working through that. Once we resolve that issue, I like our chances in most games.”
Denise, for his part, believes the Panthers have found a good rhythm. “I am so proud of our organization and how much we have improved since my freshman year,” said Denise.
“It means a lot to me and it means a lot to my family. I am just really happy that the team is doing so well.”