Coming into the Public B state tournament, the Princeton High boys’ hockey team brought a chip on its shoulder.
“When the seedings came out and we were No. 21 we thought we might have been slighted,” said first-year PHS head coach Terence Miller.
“We told the boys that we had to go on the road and beat some good northern Jersey teams to show that.”
Earning respect, PHS topped 12th-seeded Nutley 3-0 last Wednesday in the first round and nearly toppled No. 5 Summit, losing 5-4 in overtime.
In the win over Nutley, the Little Tigers showed their growing maturity. “It was a one-goal battle until the last eight minutes of the game,” recalled Miller.
“We maintained our discipline when Nutley picked up the physical play. We were on the power play of the last half of the third period.”
Freshman goalie Sawyer Peck showed his discipline, making 28 saves in earning the shutout.
“It speaks volumes about Sawyer that he went up on the road in his first state game and got a shutout,” said Miller.
“He’s calm, he’s collected. He has a lot of good poise for a ninth grader. His progress this season speaks to his skill and attributes as a goalie. He rose to the occasion when more was asked of him.”
Two days later, PHS rose to the occasion, battling Summit tooth and nail, as the game was knotted at 1-1 after one period and saw the Little Tigers trailing 3-2 heading into the third. After falling behind 4-2 early in the third, PHS got goals from Patrick McCormick and Jackson Andres in a 12-second span late in regulation to send the game into overtime.
“It was up at Union Sports Arena; the place was filled to the rafters,
it was a great atmosphere for a tournament game,” said Miller, whose team finished the season with a 14-6-2 record.
“Summit is a perennial power, they won the state title in 2012. We outshot them and lost by one goal.”
Senior defenseman and team captain Patrick McCormick took the team on his broad shoulders in the state run.
“Patrick played 42 minutes of 45 against Nutley,” said Miller of McCormick, who had two assists in the win over Nutley and tallied two goals in the loss to Summit.
“He played 52 of 52 minutes in the Summit game, that pretty much says it all about what type of a player he is. He has energy, skill, and the highest work rate on the team that makes for the ideal captain.”
After PHS hit a rough patch in the middle of the season when it had three losses and a tie in the span of a few weeks, the team produced some of its best work of the season down the stretch.
“We found our stride in late January and had a strong push coming into the tournaments,” said Miller.
“We made it to the county semis where we ran into the No. 1 seed, Notre Dame. We were able to regroup in the states and go on the road and beat the No. 12 seed and come within a goal of beating the No. 5 seed. I wish we had won that game, it would have been really special to make it to the state quarters.”
Miller tipped his hat to his two senior stalwarts, Patrick McCormick and Spencer Reynolds.
“They came in the year we won MCT and had 18 wins,” said Miller, whose senior group also included Robert Quinn and Tim Podgalsky.
“They got a taste of what PHS and CVC hockey was about and they jumped right in it. To go out with the senior season like they did shows that they did a good job. The state run speaks to how they contributed.”
With such returning performers as John Reid, Chris Munoz, Nathan Drezner, Tooker Callaway, Eamonn McDonald, the two younger McCormick brothers, Connor and Brendon, together with Andres and Peck, the Little Tigers are well placed for some future playoff runs.
“We have loads of talent coming back and they played a lot of minutes,” said Miller. “They got loads of experience this season and I think that is really going to help us. We are in a good place.”
It was a good experience for Miller, a former PHS hockey standout himself, to take the helm at his alma mater.
“I could not have asked for a better first year; I was an assistant for five years but it is so different being the head coach, the buck stops with you,” said Miller.
“You are responsible for how the team performs. I learned a lot this year, I was lucky to have talented players and two good assistant coaches, my brother, Peter Miller, and Shane Leuck. They played at PHS and understand the program and local hockey. I could trust them, they know the game, and they communicated well with the players.”
Miller will bring a greater understanding to the table next winter. “We played hard and prepared well but sometimes you had to wipe the slate clean,” said Miller.
“We made a lot of adjustments; we switched up lines and did different forechecks and systems. You have to work on the Xs and Os and the organization and how to have the kids prepared mentally for the tough teams.”