With the Princeton Day School boys’ hockey team looking to add to a 3-1 lead over visiting Morristown-Beard in the second period of the state Prep championship game last week, John Egner was in the right place at the right time.
The puck caromed off the Mo-Beard goalie and PDS senior forward Egner banged it home to give the Panthers a 4-1 lead in the February 18 contest at McGraw Rink.
“That was a great play by Fletch [Connor Fletcher] in the corner, he walked out and took the shot,” said Egner.
“The puck just bounced up and I saw it going behind the goalie and I crashed the net and luckily I got to slam it in there. It was a pretty easy one because my linemates made the play happen.”
Egner’s tally turned out to be the game-winner as PDS held off a Mo-Beard rally to earn a 4-3 win and the program’s first outright Prep crown since 2011.
For Egner, being the scorer of the deciding goal came as a bit of a surprise. “I just try to use my speed to get the puck deep,” said Egner.
“Definitely our line, me, Fletcher, and [Lewie] Blackburn, has had to step up this year and play against some top lines. I know I am not going to score a lot of goals really but when I do, I take advantage of it. It is really to just play hard and that’s what I work on, being the hardest working one out there.”
PDS knew it faced a tough test in Mo-Beard, which had tied the Panthers 2-2 in the Prep title game last year and had posted a 3-0 win this January in the regular season clash between the rivals.
“In the past couple of years, we have started a little rivalry against them and it is definitely special to play them,” said Egner.
“Everybody remembered the game last year; we definitely didn’t like the way it ended and so this year was kind of a redemption year. We knew they had a really good team coming in; we played them a couple of times during the season and both were really good games.”
The Panthers came out firing, jumping out to a 3-1 first period advantage. “That was big; we knew we had to get a great start,” said Egner. “We knew that we couldn’t sit back and let them take control of the game. To get a 3-1 lead in the beginning was big.”
After Mo-Beard narrowed the gap to 4-3 heading into the third period, PDS had to regain control of the contest.
“Coach [Scott Bertoli] told us to play our game, we are in the right spot right now,” recalled Egner.
“We took it to them in those two periods and just had to go out in the third and keep it going and get on the board first and try to hold them back.”
While PDS didn’t get on the board in the third, it stifled the Crimson to earn the title.
“The third period was good, we played shutdown defense,” said Egner. “Logan [freshman goalie Logan Kramsky] played great, it was a whole team effort in the third. Everyone played great.”
Afterward, the Panthers had a great time, lingering on the ice to celebrate with the trophy and take pictures with friends and family.
“I just can’t believe, it went by so fast,” said Egner. “It is crazy. It means a lot, definitely to all the seniors and everyone in the locker room, the whole team really. We wanted to win for our coaches and go out with a bang here and luckily we got that done.”
PDS head coach Bertoli liked the way his gritty team has gotten things done this winter. “It is a completely different group from last year,” said Bertoli, who got two goals and two assists from senior star Sean Timmons in the win over Mo-beard with Connor Bitterman adding one goal.
“Last year, we were offensively dynamic and this group just grinds it out, they are willing to be patient and they do a lot of the little things. As a coach, it is so much more gratifying watching this team compete.”
Bertoli got the sense that this year’s group had a special competitive spirit in December when it fought hard in the Barber Tournament in Massachusetts.
“We played some good New England competition and we were up there without two or three of our top guys,” said Bertoli.
“We just saw some of the role players from last year’s group like the Blackburns, the Egners, the Bittermans, just elevate their game for no other reason or choice. If they weren’t willing to compete and take their game to another level then we weren’t going to be successful, not only up there but moving forward throughout this season. They are big time players and big time competitors, you saw it tonight, these guys score goals when we need to score goals.”
When PDS found itself locked in a tight battle with Mo-Beard, Bertoli was confident that his team would get it done.
“We have been in playoff-type games for the last month and a half and we find ways to win,” said Bertoli.
“It is not pretty at times but it is effective and that’s the composition of this group. We are not going to blow teams out, we understand that. They are going to battle through adversity. I don’t think last year’s group was trailed more than 30 minutes the entire season. We trailed in the Lawrenceville game back and forth and we trailed Mo-Beard until we turned it around in the regular season. This group has trailed in six or eight games and has come back and won. That is a sign of a really good team.”
In Bertoli’s view, another sign pointing to PDS’s success this winter was the work ethic displayed by the Panthers.
“To me personally, what is most rewarding and gratifying is knowing how hard this group had to work,” said Bertoli, whose team ended the season with a 15-7-2 record after dropping three tight games last weekend at the Mid-Atlantic Invitational at the Hill School (Pa.).
“As a coach, I couldn’t be more proud of the fact that this group has exceeded expectations this year, not to take anything away from them at the start of the year and to downplay what our outlook was. It was just to improve on a daily basis and get better and not look at the big picture and take it day by day and it blows me away to think that this group would be as decorated as they are.”
Enjoying the big finale at McGraw Rink was certainly a rewarding experience for Egner.
“There are a lot of memories, this one is definitely up there now,” said Egner.
“I have had so many great times, I have met so many great people. My best friends in my whole life are in this rink and some of the greatest moments I have ever had have been here. I am going to cherish this game and remember it and just think back to all the great times that I have had here.”