After the Princeton Day School boys’ hockey team skated to a 2-2 deadlock with Morristown-Beard through regulation and a 15-minute overtime in the state Prep championship game last Thursday, Connor Walker banged his stick on the ice in frustration.
The PDS star senior goalie’s reaction reflected the disappointment the Panthers felt in sharing the title after outshooting the visiting Crimson 49-26 and dominating long stretches of the game.
Minutes earlier, though, Walker had frustrated Mo-Beard when he made a point blank save with a second left in overtime to preserve PDS’s piece of the title.
While Walker desperately wanted the Panthers to have sole possession of the trophy, he had no qualms with how hard PDS went after the title.
“We only had it once in our four years and we felt that this was our year,” said Walker, who made 24 saves on the evening as the Panthers moved to 18-2-1.
“But coming out as co-champions, you can’t put that game on anyone. It was hard fought by both of us. We are proud, there is nothing to be upset about. I am very proud of everyone else on the team and we are proud that we tried our hardest.”
Walker fought hard to keep the puck out of the net in the waning moments of overtime as Mo-Beard furiously pressed forward.
“It was a flurry and I just tried to make myself as big as possible, that’s all I could do at that point,” recalled Walker.
“I did have the puck. My nerves were no different than the whole game, there was nothing to worry about. I have got a lot of confidence.”
With PDS having dominated many of its foes this winter, Walker has learned how to keep his head in the game when the action is across the rink from him.
“There have been a lot of games this year where they are down there and then there are a couple of flurries back,” said Walker.
“It is the same focus, anticipating the play. I have gotten used to it, earlier in the year it was a bit of a problem. I have conditioned myself to stay focused. I skate around when there is nothing going on at my end.”
In addition, Walker has improved his stick skills and has triggered the offense when the opportunity has presented itself.
“Throughout the four years, that is one thing I have been prided myself on, being able to move the puck, being a third defenseman and being able to make plays,” said Walker.
PDS head coach Scott Bertoli believed that his team made enough plays to win the game.
“We deserved to win, no question,” asserted Bertoli, who got goals from freshman Kyle Weller and junior Sean Timmons in the title game as the Panthers battled back from 1-0 and 2-1 deficits.
“We outplayed them, we outchanced them. At times, we completely dominated. We have had a lot of bounces go our way this year and deservedly so because we are the better hockey team 95 percent of the times we have suited it up. It just didn’t work out. I give credit to them, they hung in there. They were out manned and they were outplayed. They bent but they didn’t break. It was really two contrasting styles and unfortunately we weren’t able to get that goal to put us over the top.”
Bertoli credited his players with showing commitment and effort. “You could tell by watching the game that it meant a lot to them and that is why the disappointment is so great that we weren’t able to finish the job,” said Bertoli.
“I look at Cody Triolo’s line with Johnny Egner and Lewie Blackburn; they had their best game of the year to this point and they have been really good. They were unbelievable, that is a line that deserves to score a goal and feel really good about themselves. One of those guys deserves to be a hero. The guys that score goals had plenty of chances.”
In Bertoli’s view, Walker has been an unsung hero this winter for the Panthers.
“The kid has been unbelievable; he makes every big save that you need him to make,” said Bertoli.
“There are games where we win 5-0 and you think he wasn’t a big contributor in the game. At certain points in games, it is a one or two-goal lead and he makes the big save, he stops the breakaway, he does the little things that just keep that momentum moving in our favor. Tonight he did the same thing, we are down a goal and if we go down two goals we start to clench our fists. He makes the big saves time after time and he has done it all four years. His record in his four years here is something like 45-7. He is a competitor, he is more angry than anyone that we didn’t win because it means that much to him and I love that about that kid.”
While PDS didn’t get the win in the title game, there is much to love about the squad’s accomplishments and approach.
“This is a great group; it is arguably one of the best teams that has played at this school in any sport and their record is very indicative of that,” maintained Bertoli, whose team will wrap up the season by competing in the Hill School (Pa.) tournament this weekend.
“Playing hockey for PDS means a lot to them and they show it every time out there. We will never get outworked. We are not going to win every game because sometimes a team might be a little better or the bounces might go against us. I love the fact that this tournament and having 2013 going up on that banner, which it will, means an awful lot to them. Being successful is very important to them. They are a proud group and they deserve to be because they have had an excellent year and not winning this hockey game takes nothing away from that.”
For Walker, it has meant a lot to be part of the program over the last four years.
“We are just a really tight group,” said Walker. “Rob [Colton] came in junior year and there were no problems, he melded right into the team. A lot of us have been on this team since freshman year. A couple of us had to work on it, like me Grahame [Davis] and Eddie [Meyercord]. I think it is great that we all play on the same club team as well.”