Last winter, the Princeton Day School boys’ hockey team prospered as it battled through a daunting schedule that included the likes of Lawrenceville, Moses Brown (R.I.), St. Augustine, and the Pingry School, among others.
After going 18-5-1 against such competition, PDS is pushing the envelope this season as it seeks to further raise its profile in New Jersey hockey circles.
“We are going to be playing a tough schedule, a third of the teams we are playing are either boarding schools or have PGs,” said PDS head coach Scott Bertoli, noting that his team will be taking part in such high-level events as the Barber Tournament in Massachusetts, the Hill School tournament, and the Empire Cup.
“The kids want to compete against the best. We are not going to surprise anybody this year.”
Bertoli is cautiously optimistic that his team can hold its own against the challenges it will face.
“The guys know that the greater community is excited about the team,” said Bertoli, whose team hosts Malvern Prep (Pa.) on November 29 in its season opener.
“We are returning our four top scorers, four good defensemen, and we have a starting goalie back. I am excited but a little apprehensive. There are heavy expectations surrounding this team, many of them self-imposed.”
The return of stellar senior goalie Connor Walker gives PDS the foundation to meet its expectations.
“Connor is one of the top kids in the state record-wise,” noted Bertoli. “I think he went 11-1 as a sophomore and was something like 14-3 last year. He is about 25-4 the last two years. He is a senior and he is confident. He is bigger and stronger. He is a competitor and wants to be in there every night. He will start every game unless he tells me otherwise or he gets hurt.”
Walker will have to be sharp as the Panther defense is a work in progress with the loss of Tyler Olsson to graduation and the absence of Bump Lisk, who is playing junior hockey this winter.
“I think the defense was our strongest point last year; the kids got involved in the offense and did a lot of good things for us,” said Bertoli.
“The biggest concern is losing Tyler, he was a big, strong kid and was the first one out for our penalty kill. C.J. [Young] can play well and I think Eddie [Meyercord] can too. We need the guys to have puck possession and play well in the neutral zone.
In Bertoli’s view, the battle-tested trio of Taran Auslander, Grahame Davis, and Meyercord must play well this winter for PDS to hold the fort.
“Taran, Eddie, and Grahame are seniors and they need to be leaders,” asserted Bertoli.
“They need to play on the power play and the kill and to play extra shifts when we are going with four. We are going to be playing some bigger and older teams and they need to withstand whatever
the teams bring against us. I am trying to instill confidence in them so they will play like we did last year.”
Bertoli is confident that his group of forwards will be productive this winter. “I think we are going to be outstanding up front; I think that is going to be our strength,” maintained Bertoli.
“I don’t think there is a group of centers better in the state than Conrad [Denise], Ross [Colton], and Cody [Triolo]. The biggest challenge to is to juggle the wingers with them and figure out who will contribute the most. We will have three lines who can score independent of each others.”
Luckily, Bertoli has some good pieces to work with in formulating his lines. “Rob Colton was our leading scorer last year,” said Bertoli.
“Sean Timmons had a shoulder injury last year and I am expecting him to have a breakout year. He has a physical edge to his game that we have been waiting to see. Lewis Blackburn, John Egner, and Connor Bitterman are kids that I expect to step in and contribute. They are juniors and seniors and they know what is going on.”
In order to have another big year, the Panthers are going to have to go hard
“We need to show up with the right attitude and work ethic,” maintained Bertoli.
“As long as we are ready to compete, we will get our share of wins. The effort is the key.”
So far, Bertoli is getting the right effort on a daily basis. “I am seeing it every day; we have some experienced success and the kids want to feed off of that,” said Bertoli.
“They want to recapture that. We have eight or nine seniors and they want to step up. We have 14 or 15 players back with the same system and most kids in the same roles. They want to play against the best and build on what we did last year.”