In recent years, the Princeton High boys’ hockey team has displayed a penchant for peaking as the season heads into January and February.
Going 0-2-1 in its last week of action in 2012, PHS didn’t look like it was primed for one of its patented stretch runs that has seen the program make the last three championship games of the Mercer County Tournament.
But the Little Tigers have come alive in the New Year, posting wins over WW/P-S, Hopewell Valley, and Wall to get 2013 started with a bang.
PHS head coach Tim Campbell believes his team is headed in the right direction.
“We are healthy and back to full strength so we have crossed the first obstacle,” said Campbell, whose squad improved to 6-4-1 with a 5-1 win over Wall last Friday at Baker Rink.
“With the postseasons this group of guys has had the last three years, they understand what it takes. They know we are not going to win every game. When you get to this point, you need to learn from your mistakes and learn what it takes to be successful. They are putting those lessons to use. I would rather go through some bumps and bruises in the beginning in order to be playing our best at the end.”
The return of senior star Matt DiTosto from a hand injury puts the Little Tigers in a stronger position.
“Obviously, Matt brings another skill set,” said Campbell of DiTosto, who tallied a goal and an assist in the win over Wall with Connor McCormick scoring two goals.
“It brings a confidence, every player knows that we are at full strength. He is a playmaker, not just a goal scorer. The past is the past, he missed a few weeks. I told him he can still mold his senior year and make it into what he wants it to be.”
The Little Tigers gained confidence from their win over HoVal on January 14 which saw them score three unanswered goals in the third period to pull away to victory in a game that was knotted 3-3 after two periods.
“They did what they needed to do,” said Campbell, who got two goals apiece from DiTosto and Jack Andres in the win over the Bulldogs with Spencer Reynolds and John Reid chipping in one goal apiece.
“I can tell them until I am blue in the face but they have to do it. Going into the third period tied, we have seen times where we got lit up for five goals and other times when we have gone out and won the period. It is a confidence builder because the next time we are in that situation, they know we can do it.”
Building on the HoVal win, PHS produced one of its best efforts at both ends of the ice in the victory over Wall.
“This past Friday was one of the best games we have played in the last two years,” asserted Campbell, whose team jumped out to a 2-0 lead in the first period and was ahead 5-0 heading into the third period. “Going into the third period, that was a five-goal game. We took care of business, you learn what it takes to win.”
Campbell pointed to forward John Reid as an example of a player who is learning quickly. “John Reid has played well this past week,” added Campbell.
“He is only a sophomore and he is doing things that he hasn’t done before. He is not only scoring but doing things that don’t show up on the scoresheet. Against HoVal, we got a shorthanded goal and John made the goal through his hard work even though he didn’t get the credit. The last two games are the best games he has played for us.”
In Campbell’s view, his squad needs to produce that kind of work ethic on a consistent basis.
“We need to play small ball and do the little things like winning shifts, winning periods, and playing well in two-minute chunks” said Campbell, whose team faces Nottingham on January 25 at Mercer County Park before playing Cranford High on January 28 at Warinanco Park in Elizabeth.
“It will help for things like seeding in the county and state tournaments. The focus right now is on the county tournament because one thing builds off the other. The league is balanced; nobody can take anything for granted. Doing well in the county tournament has given us momentum in the states.”