While Scott Bertoli wasn’t happy to see his Princeton Day School boys’ hockey team fall to Kents Hill in the opening round of the Barber Tournament in mid-December, he liked the way his players bounced back from the setback.
After the 4-1 loss to Kents Hill (Maine), the Panthers went on to top Portsmouth Abbey (R.I.) 8-1 and then defeat St. Mark’s (Mass.) 6-2 to earn third place in the tournament which takes place in Middlesex, Mass.
“The first game was a wake-up call, it was the first real physical team that we had faced, and they presented challenges we hadn’t faced,” said PDS head coach Bertoli.
“We expected a shot at winning the tournament and that obviously wasn’t going to happen. The biggest thing was to put that one behind us. We had a game less than 12 hours later and we showed up and played hard. We got back to playing our game. We played well, we took a 3-0 lead and won handily. We then faced St. Mark’s. We had played them the last two years and it was a pretty heated game. Cody Triolo, Rob Colton, and Sean Timmons really stepped up. They played physically and showed the younger guys that we don’t need to be pushed around. They pushed back.”
In its last action of 2012, the Panthers demonstrated a similar resilience as they came back from a 2-0 third period deficit to top visiting Morristown-Beard on December 19.
As PDS hit the ice for that game, Bertoli could see that his players were suffering the after-effects of their big weekend in New England.
“We had three games in 20 hours, we had two light days of practices but I could tell that the guys were banged up and had tired legs,” said Bertoli. “We were tired, sluggish and we made a couple of mistakes.”
In the intermission after the second period, Bertoli gave his players some words of inspiration to help them shake off their fatigue.
“I told them that this win would feel better than all of the others,” recalled Bertoli.
“It would be the most satisfying because we had to struggle, overcome adversity, and battle back. I told them they had to go out and play hard for 15 minutes and the kids bought into that. I told them we had to play with a little adversity; things aren’t always going to be easy this year.”
The Panthers overcame adversity with aplomb, surrendering a goal to fall behind 2-0 before reeling off three straight tallies to pull out a sweet victory.
“They got the first goal and then the guys dug in and really competed hard,” said Bertoli, who got goals from seniors Rob Colton, Taran Auslander, and Cody Triolo in the rally which lifted the Panthers to a 9-1 record.
“Rob scored on a beautiful goal. Then we got a power play and it was like they were on the ice alone, the way they were moving the puck. Taran got a nice backdoor goal. It was so fitting that Cody got the game winner. It is nice to see a kid get rewarded for his hard work. He competes harder than anyone every time he is on the ice. I could see in the tryouts before the season that he had gone to a whole other level. He is a leader on and off the ice.”
Even though the Panthers boast a sparkling record, Bertoli knows that his team is going to have to play at a higher level to keep rolling.
“We have a much tougher schedule; we have some big games right after the break,” said Bertoli, whose team opens 2013 by hosting public school power Kinnelon on January 3 and the Hill School (Pa.) on January 9.
“The kids are looking forward to competing at that level. We are playing Hill, LaSalle, and Lawrenceville. It is a tough stretch and the kids have to execute even better than we have in the first third to be successful.”
In Bertoli’s view, his players possess the right mindset to succeed in the face of those challenges.
“They are a committed group, they have a lot of pride in how they compete and they take a lot of pride in the program,” said Bertoli.
“They show up, compete, and work hard. They are not going to win every game and they are going to make mistakes, but it is how you rebound and how you carry yourself when that happens. I told them if they work hard and compete, good things will happen.”