For Merritt Peck, hitting the ice at Baker Rink around dawn to practice with the Princeton High girls’ hockey team is a highlight of her day.
“There is a camaraderie about being the only people awake in Princeton at 4:30 in the morning,” said PHS senior forward Peck.
“We all go to breakfast after together; we have built a lot of friendships in the morning. There is something nice about practicing then rather than being after school when everyone is thinking about school. In the morning, all that matters is us.”
Last Friday, however, Peck came to Baker on the night shift and enjoyed a nice evening on the ice as the program held its annual Senior Night and PHS topped Academy of New Church (Pa.) 3-1.
“Right now, I am feeling great,” said Peck. “We had a lot of people come out to see us and we didn’t want to disappoint them. We also want to celebrate on this ice. We come here every day so early in the morning and it feels a lot better to be back here tonight and winning. It is worth it.”
The win in the Baker finale will leave Peck with one of her better PHS memories.
“It is pretty emotional,” said Peck, reflecting on the festivities which featured a pregame ceremony with the senior players and their parents and saw the rink decorated with posters of Peck and her six classmates taped to the glass across from PHS bench and a number of balloons hovering.
“It is exciting to get to say that I won my next to last game here. I am not going to have to look back and say we lost a close one. We won and we deserved to win.”
After having beaten ANC 4-2 on January 22, Peck and her teammates knew they were in for a battle in the rematch. The teams were knotted in a scoreless tie until senior star Lucy Herring found the back of the net with 2:40 left in the first period. Herring’s younger sister, freshman standout Maggie Herring, added a tally in both the second and third period to complete the scoring for the Little Tigers as they improved to 2-7.
“Once you get one, your momentum is really building up,” said Peck. “It also helped that they were getting very angry. A lot of times when people get angry, they lose control. We tried to keep it classy while they got angry. In the end, they were the ones getting the penalties and if we got angry back at them, it would only be hurting ourselves.”
In Peck’s view, the play of the Herring sisters gives PHS a big momentum boost. “I love playing with them; they have such a good dynamic,” said Peck.
“They love playing with each other. They get competitive with each other which is always good because they each want to beat each other but they also want to help each other. They celebrate so much together; their connections are always really clean and exciting.”
While PHS has struggled to get wins in recent years, that hasn’t dimmed the excitement for the players.
“Because we aren’t always expected to win, there is not as much pressure,” said Peck, who also plays field hockey for PHS and served as one of the team captains last fall.
“We are really having a good time and we are not worried about wow that was a really bad play. It is alright, on the next one we are going to get it.”
Peck has a good support network in older brothers Griffin and Kirby, who both starred for the PHS boys’ hockey team and are now at Boston College together.
“They are very excited for me whenever something like this happens,” said Peck, who is following her brothers to Boston College.
“They are really supportive. I always want to follow in their footsteps, so to speak. I like to be able to tell them that I won.”
PHS head coach Christian Herzog believes his senior class has set a really good example for the program’s younger players.
“They are a great group of girls; like they say, character is how you act when no one is watching and these girls have character,” said Herzog, whose group of seniors includes assistant captain Erin Forden, Bea Greenberg, Breanna Hegarty-Thorne, Molly O’Brien, captain Kate Sohn, and Oraya Zinder in addition to Peck.
“Day in, day out, they show up at practice. We take our defeats within the league but they are ready to come out the next day. They never make an excuse or say I don’t feel like coming to practice or we are going to lose again. I don’t have to deal with that type of attitude.”
The Little Tigers were ready to come out with a bang last Friday, lifted by a nice crowd turning up for Senior Night.
“It is the most well attended game of the year,” said Herzog. “We had a group over here and we had a crew of boys over there. We had the parents come and support us. It is good to see the kids in the program get supported by other people who don’t always come to hockey games.”
Herzog tipped his hat to the Herrings for giving the crowd plenty to cheer about.
“The Herring sisters feed off of each other; they almost have that telepathy or connection on the ice,” said Herzog.
“I would be lying if I said they don’t add a huge dynamic to the team. The team’s overall confidence increases when one of them scores. They are two of the fastest skaters on the team. They are close to being equal in terms of both of them having good hands. They both can shoot. It is just a matter of consistently hitting the net, the goals will come. They know that.”
Senior goalie Hegarty-Thorne had a good night in the net, holding ANC scoreless until giving up a goal with 6:22 left in the third period.
“We had a conversation the other day and I told her I need you to play really well and she said ‘yeah coach, feel free to pull me out if some weak goals go in, go for the win,’” said Herzog. “She is a team player. Somebody was watching over her because they had other opportunities, just like we did.”
With PHS hosting Pingry on January 29 at Baker Rink before playing Summit on February 1 at Bridgewater Arena, Herzog is hoping his team can build on the win over ANC.
“It is important in terms of trying to keep some momentum,” said Herzog.
“We have Pingry next Wednesday. I would like to see us have a better showing against them than the last time we played them.”
Peck, for her part, believes any more victories will be icing on the cake after Friday’s showing.
“Of course we would love to win more but we are not going to be disappointed in any way with how the season ends,” said Peck.
“If that doesn’t happen, we are completely satisfied with what has happened. At this point, we have had a lot of strong games and this will be all we need for the rest of the season if that is all we get.”