Matt DiTosto admits that he misses playing with older brother, Dean, on the Princeton High boys’ hockey team.
“My brother was a big loss,” said the junior forward, referring to the graduation of sibling Dean, a star defenseman and two-time team captain. “His loss affects our defense a lot and the leadership as well.”
As an assistant captain for this year’s PHS team, DiTosto is trying to apply some of the leadership lessons he learned from his brother.
“I am leading by example which is probably the best thing,” said DiTosto. “It is always good to stay positive going into a game but you don’t overlook an opponent. If you have any teammates who are feeling down or joking around that is not good; you have to get everyone focused on the game.”
DiTosto has been having a positive impact offensively, emerging as a top offensive threat for PHS, leading the team in scoring with 28 points on 11 goals and 17 assists through the first 12 games.
“I don’t really think about me leading the team in scoring,” said DiTosto. “I try to think about how well the team is doing. We are not really at where I hoped we would be; I feel like we are a pretty skilled team.”
DiTosto joined sophomore teammate Mike Wasson on the Mercer Chiefs club team to help improve his skills.
“That was a step up from my old travel team,” said DiTosto. “It is triple-A level and it is much harder competition. Playing that has developed my hockey sense a little better. My puck work with Mike is obviously really good.”
Last Friday, DiTosto put in some good work, notching a goal and two assists as PHS cruised to 12-1 win over Nottingham.
“These games are dangerous for us because if someone gets hurt, it will affect a much harder game,” said DiTosto, reflecting on the victory which improved PHS to 8-4-2.
“In these type of games I like to get goals for kids that don’t always see ice time. That is just a good thing to do.”
It was also good for PHS to bounce back from a disappointing 5-2 loss to Hopewell Valley four days earlier.
“I felt like we didn’t have our best effort against Hopewell,” acknowledged DiTosto.
“We had a really good practice session on Thursday and to come out and get a win, no matter how you get it is always nice after a bad loss.”
While PHS head coach Tim Campbell liked the way his team took care of business, he knows that one-sided games have limited value.
“I have never been a big fan of these games but it is a good opportunity to work on things that we need to work on,” said Campbell, who got two goals apiece from Connor McCormick, Gabe MacGregor, and Will Greenberg in the win over Nottingham with Kirby Peck, Jack Andres, Chris Munoz, Kevin Quinn, and Danny Kingsley also finding the back of the net.
“Early on, we had a couple of different forechecking systems that I wanted to work on. In all honesty; I am adverse to 10-goaling people. I try to avoid that but there comes a point where the games just needs to come to an end. It was really nice to see a few of our guys get their first goal; we had three first goals of careers tonight. That’s always fun to see, the guys enjoy that.”
Campbell has enjoyed seeing DiTosto mature into a star. “Matt has made a lot of progress physically,” said Campbell.
“He’s always had a lot of raw physical talent; he has gained a lot of confidence over the years playing with his brother and playing with Fraser [Graham] last year. He is only a junior so he leads by example for the guys below him.”
PHS needed that leadership as it looked to rebound from the loss to Hopewell.
“It was a wake-up call; we had a practice last night that was probably the best practice of our entire season,” asserted Campbell.
“We were full speed, communicating, concentrating, passes were tape to tape. It was night and day. I have been banging my head against the wall, trying to figure out what the formula is with these kids, trying to get them mentally prepared for big games.”
In Campbell’s view, the Little Tigers have what it takes to do well in the big games ahead.
“Something I mentioned to them in the locker room tonight was that we have hit our stride at the end of January and into the postseason which is fine but we need to do that,” said Campbell, whose team plays WW/P-S on January 25 at the Mercer County Park rink before facing Cranford High on January 27 at Baker Rink.
“We need to continue that on a consistent basis. It is just frustrating when we give away games that could help us with seeding and things like that but it is what we have to work with.”
DiTosto, for his part, believes the Little Tigers can repeat history and produce another stellar stretch run.
“Usually this part of the season we start to pick up our game a lot more and that’s what I am hoping,” said DiTosto.
“We can get some wins in our last games to get a good seed for the MCT and the state tournament as well. So getting wins, no matter how we do it, is what I am focusing on. I am trying to make sure that everyone stays positive.”