For the Princeton High boys’ hockey team, getting outshot 36-19 last Wednesday by a Freehold High team that brought a 9-4-1 record into the contest at Baker Rink hardly seemed like a blueprint for success.
But with PHS freshman goalie Sawyer Peck producing his best game of the season with 35 saves and a balanced offense that featured four different goal scorers, the Little Tigers pulled away to a 5-1 win over the Patriots.
In the wake of his superb effort, Peck saw the evening as emblematic of why he thrives under the pressure that comes with playing goalie.
“I love having more responsibility; you can make or break some games,” said Peck. “It is hard mentally but it feels great when you have a game like this.”
While Freehold tried to break Peck down, he was up to the task. “They just tried to wear me down but our coach has put me through some tests to build some endurance,” said Peck.
In the second period, Peck was tested repeatedly as Freehold generated 15 shots and had a 5-on-3 power play in the waning minutes of the frame but was unable to find the back of the net.
“I was in a groove and I knew I really had to be on top of my game, especially when they got the 5-on-3,” said Peck, reflecting on the second period.
“I knew it was going to be pretty hard. It is always a momentum builder to stop those. That is where a team is most vulnerable and if we can still come through, that is a pretty big confidence booster.”
As Peck gets deeper into his debut campaign, he has gained more and more confidence.
“As a freshman, the coaches don’t have crazy expectations for me so they make me feel safe,” said Peck, who has been sharing time between the pipes with senior Robert Quinn.
“Our coaches have been working with me very, very hard. They have been working with everybody very hard. We do lots of skating at practice and lots of goalie drills.”
For Peck, being a goalie is something that is in his blood. “My dad played goalie in college and he wanted one of the sons to be a goalie like him and I guess I was the last one,” said Peck, whose oldest brother Griffin was a standout defenseman for PHS while his next oldest brother Kirby was a high-scoring forward.
“I started at around seven or eight years old. I played hybrid but by the time I hit middle school I went full on goalie.”
PHS first-year head coach Terence Miller saw Peck as the player of the game in the win over Freehold.
“As I told the team, Sawyer was by far the No. 1 star of the game,” said Miller, whose squad improved to 9-3-2 with the victory.
“He came up big for us. The turning point of the game, in my opinion, was the 5-on-3. Instead of the momentum shifting to them, we killed off the 5-on-3 and we killed off the 5-on-4 and we went into the locker room before the third, still up two. Our penalty kill came up huge tonight and Sawyer was the biggest part of that.”
In Miller’s view, Peck has been making big progress this winter.
“To come in as a freshman and play as well as he has speaks to his work ethic and his talent,” said Miller.
“He has been working on his stamina, getting quicker and recovering a little faster off the initial shot. He has done a good job of that.”
The Little Tigers did a good job collectively in overcoming a tough Freehold squad.
“Freehold was a good team, that was one of the faster teams we have played all year,” said Miller.
“They play in a tough conference against some good shore teams and we knew it was going to be a tough battle tonight and I thought we answered the challenge well.”
PHS’s offensive balance was critical in the victory. “That is always a good sign when you get some depth scoring,” said Miller, who got two goals from Brendon McCormick with Connor McCormick, Spencer Reynolds, and Jackson Andres chipping in one apiece.
“I thought the goal to start the third period by Jackson was a big goal to push that lead out a little further.”
In addition to Peck, two other newcomers have helped bolster the Little Tigers around the blue line.
“I think the two freshmen defensemen, Tooker Callaway and Eamonn McDonald, have been holding their own,” said Miller, whose team is slated to play at Jackson on February 7 and then face WW/P-N on February 10 at Mercer County Park.
“They have been asked to carry a lot of the work load for us and they have done a nice job for us as freshmen, filling some big holes.”
Peck, for his part, is thrilled to be carrying on a family tradition by starring for PHS.
“When I watched my brothers, I thought I was ages away from playing,” said Peck, whose older sister, senior Merritt, plays for the PHS girls’ hockey team. “But now I am here and it feels incredible.”