Playing top-seeded Notre Dame in the Mercer County Tournament semifinals last Thursday, the fifth-seeded Princeton High boys’ hockey team dug itself an early 2-0 hole.
While underdog PHS could have folded, the Little Tigers replied with a goal by Connor McCormick to make it a 2-1 game after one period.
Notre Dame then scored the first two goals of the second period and PHS once again fought back as Spencer Reynolds found the back of the net to narrow the gap to 4-2. But PHS ran out of gas at that point as the Irish pulled away to 7-2 victory.
While Little Tiger head coach Terence Miller was frustrated by the result, he had no qualms with the effort he got from his players.
“I told my guys you came up against a good team, they have had a good season, they were the No. 1 seed in the tournament and I can’t be upset with the effort,” said Miller, whose team dropped to 13-5-2 with the setback.
“I thought we played to the end and we showed some pride. Obviously, it is a disappointing result but at the end of the day, all I can do is congratulate the other team; they deserved it tonight. As a group, I like the way we fought. We battled to the end and that is really the most important thing.”
In Miller’s view the gap is narrowing between his club and perennial power Notre Dame, who beat PHS 8-2 in the teams’ regular season meeting.
“It is a bounce here or a bounce there and it is a different game if we pull it back to 5-3,” said Miller.
“We had a couple of uncharacteristic turnovers in our own zone that landed in the back of our net. That is completely demoralizing and deflates the whole team. We have got some young guys that are out there in big spots. They will learn; they will get better from this.”
Junior forward Jackson Andres gave PHS a big effort against Notre Dame, assisting on both Little Tiger goals and throwing his body all over the ice.
“When he stays within himself, he is an effective player,” said Miller of Andres. “He is a big strong kid. When he is churning and doing things the right way, he can really help carry us. He was a big factor for us tonight. He brings a lot of energy with some physical play.”
With PHS playing at Nutley in the opening round of the state tournament on February 26, the Little Tigers will be hitting the ice with plenty of energy as they look to build on their good showing in the MCT.
“We have been playing well, we are looking forward to the state tournament and doing some damage there,” said Miller.
“We are the 21st seed and they are the 12th but I think it is a winnable game for us. It is new life, a new tournament here so we are excited about that.”