As the Princeton Day School boys’ hockey team topped Morristown High 3-0 last week, senior defenseman Taran Auslander displayed how much he has evolved as as a player over his high school career.
Auslander triggered the Panther offense, scoring a power play goal in the first period and assisting on an insurance tally in the third period. Throughout the January 22 contest, Auslander’s steady play on the blue line helped the PDS defense stifle the Colonials.
In reflecting on his performance, Auslander acknowledged that he has come a long way over the last four seasons. “Since freshman year, I have gained a lot more confidence,” said Auslander.
“Playing with these incredible players, my skills have progressed and I have become confident with the puck. I feel like if something doesn’t go right I will have four other people on the ice to back me up and a great goaltender [Connor Walker].”
Auslander credited his teammates with setting up his goal in the Morristown win. “It was pretty much just what we drew up, it was a great play,” recalled Auslander.
“Rob [Colton] is walking across the middle and feeds it back to Conrad [Denise] who throws it to Ross [Colton] on the goal line. I really have the easiest job; I just get to stand there and put in a beautiful pass from Ross.”
The Panther power play has been a key factor in the team’s success this winter.
“We are clicking very well; we work on the power play a lot in practice,” said Auslander, who got another goal as PDS beat previously undefeated Notre Dame 4-0 last Friday to improve to 15-2.
“We are really good friends and it definitely helps. I feel like we all know where each other is going to be on the ice. We have gone through it so many times, it is becoming natural.”
On the defensive end, PDS is displaying a similar cohesion. “The defense definitely had a good game today, we are moving the puck well,” said Auslander, who also serves as an assistant captain for the Panthers.
“Connor Walker stood on his head like always; he made a couple of big saves in the second period to keep us in there. Our defense has been playing solid, we are coming together as a unit. We are working together on passing and just playing solid in our defensive zone because we know with the forwards that we have, we are going to score.”
PDS head coach Scott Bertoli is excited by the good work he is getting from Auslander.
“I think with Taran it is all about confidence and he is playing with a ton of confidence,” said Bertoli.
“He is playing with that first power play group for a reason. I think he finally believes that he belongs out there. He scores a gorgeous goal tonight on the first one and he has an unbelievable assist to Ross [Colton] on the second one. I would argue that he didn’t make those plays two months ago and he definitely didn’t make that play last year. All the credit to him.”
Bertoli credits Auslander with growing as a person as well as a player. “He is captain, he is a leader back there,” added Bertoli.
“He has really embraced that role. He is the guy you want out on the ice in every situation and at the end of games. Good for him, he is a senior and he deserves to be in that situation. As coaches, you are just happy to see a kid and watch his game evolve and play at the level he is playing at this year.”
The Panthers displayed a high level of hockey against Morristown as they produced a brilliant start.
“That was one of the best first periods we played all year; we were dominant at times,” said Bertoli.
“They were lucky it wasn’t 3, 4, or 5 to 0. We had the chances, the puck movement, and the support in the offensive zone was there. As a coach, you sit back and just roll the lines in a situation like that.”
While PDS hit a bump in the road with a 5-4 loss to Lawrenceville on January 16, the Panthers are not looking back.
“You are not going to win every hockey game,” said Bertoli, whose team hosts Portledge School (N.Y.) on January 30 before playing in the state Prep semifinals on February 5.
“I like the fact that we put the Lawrenceville game behind us and that we had a good effort against Hun [an 8-1 win on January 18] and we had a pretty good effort here tonight. I think we have moved on and we are ready to look forward now.”
Auslander and his classmates are ready to make some history in their final weeks with the program.
“I definitely want to savor everything,” said Auslander, one of 10 seniors on the PDS roster.
“We only have 10 or 12 games left and that is sort of surreal. I don’t want this season to end. We know that it is ending very soon and we seniors want to leave our mark on this team and this school. We want to go down as one of the best teams in history. We know that if we continue to win and we win tournaments, that’s a great way to leave our mark.”
No matter what happens over the homestretch, Auslander will be leaving the program with memories that will last a lifetime.
“This is the last real competitive hockey for me,” said Auslander, who also stars for the PDS boys’ soccer and lacrosse teams.
“Talking to the alumni that come back and have played over the years, they just say to soak it in because you don’t get another opportunity like it. I am never going to play on a team as close as we are. We have a ton of seniors and juniors so we have been playing together since freshman year and most of us have been playing together since before then with travel leagues and things like that. I have been playing with a bunch of these guys since I learned to skate. I wouldn’t want to do it with anybody else; it is definitely a very close team.”