March 19, 2014

Rough Final Weekend for PDS Boys’ Hockey Doesn’t Diminish Winter of Overachievement

GOOD BIT: Princeton Day School boys’ hockey player Connor Bitterman skates up the ice in action this winter. Senior forward Bitterman contributed 8 goals and 11 assists this winter as PDS went 14-7-2 and won the state Prep title.(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

GOOD BIT: Princeton Day School boys’ hockey player Connor Bitterman skates up the ice in action this winter. Senior forward Bitterman contributed 8 goals and 11 assists this winter as PDS went 14-7-2 and won the state Prep title. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

Although the Princeton Day School boys’ hockey team came up empty in its final weekend of the season as it dropped all three games at the Hill School (Pa.) Tournament, Scott Bertoli had nothing but praise for his players’ effort in the competition.

“That was probably as proud as I have been of any of my teams,” said PDS head coach Bertoli, whose squad ended the season with a 14-7-2 record.

“We were playing without [Andrew] Clayton and [Kyle] Weller. We lost [Connor] Fletcher on Saturday to a shoulder injury and we lost [Sean] Timmons to a shoulder injury early on Sunday. We were playing without three or four of our best players and we were playing against some of the the top competition in the area.”

Despite being shorthanded, the Panthers never stopped battling over the weekend, falling 2-1 to Wyoming Seminary (Pa.) and then losing 2-0 and 4-2 to Hill.

“We could have won against Wyoming, it was 1-0 and they got an empty net goal in the last minute to make it 2-0,” recalled Bertoli.

“We were outplayed and tired against Hill, they outshot us something like 50-20. If not for Logan [freshman goalie Logan Kramsky] we could have been down by 6 or 7 goals. It was a 1-goal game with 30 seconds left before they scored an empty net. We were still in the game even though we were significantly outplayed. In the last game we were down 3-2 with 3 minutes left; we ended up with the goalie pulled and they scored.”

Reflecting on a campaign which saw PDS win the state Prep title, Bertoli believes his team overachieved.

“They outperformed and exceeded any reasonable expectations we had at the beginning of the season,” said Bertoli.

“We were not that flashy or explosive. We were committed to working hard and doing the little things and making things tough on other teams.”

There were some big highlights along the way as the Panthers saw their hard work pay dividends.

“First the way we competed in the Barber Tournament; we were missing some key guys and we still won two of three games against tough New England competition,” recalled Bertoli, reflecting on the December tournament.

“We played a very good Lawrenceville team and and played such a sound game and beat them at our rink (6-3 on January 15), that was a milestone game. The win over Wyoming Seminary (6-4 on February 12) was as big of a win I have had since I have been here. They had one loss coming into the game and they play a lot of New England schools. We were playing without Clayton and Young. It was exciting to watch our kids compete and execute and buy into the game plan. That was a huge win for our kids and gave us an opportunity to play for the MAHL (Mid-Atlantic Hockey League) title.”

Seizing the opportunity to win the Prep title outright with a 4-3 victory over Morristown-Beard on February 18 was a big feather in the cap for PDS.

“This program is measured by some in terms of prep championships and we have won three of last four,” said Bertoli. “Mo-Beard was a very good, highly skilled, and well-coached hockey team.”

Bertoli credited the team’s senior group of  Nelson Garrymore, Andrew Clayton, John Egner, Lewie Blackburn, Sean Timmons, C.J. Young, Connor Bitterman, Gabe Castagna, and Hap Ammidon with setting the tone this winter.

“They were awesome, for two or three years, other than Timmons (16 goals and 25 assists in 2013-14), they were role players,” said Bertoli.

“They were kids that contributed but didn’t fill the score sheet or play on the power play. They took ownership of the team and created a new identity. Last year, most games were decided before they started or early when we went 21-3-1. This year there were a lot of 1-goal margins and tight games.”

In Bertoli’s view, the development of Blackburn, Egner, Clayton, and Young symbolized how the program’s Class of 2014 stepped up.

“Lewie Blackburn (9 goals and 12 assists) was a third line player and he became one of our better players, the same thing with John Egner (6 goals and 12 assists),” added Bertoli.

“Clayton (4 goals and 10 assists) went from the fifth or sixth defenseman to top one or two. C.J. Young (6 assists) went from fifth defenseman to top one or two and played a ton of minutes after Andrew got hurt. He played two-thirds of the game. Gabe only made the team as a junior and played a small amount. He played on top line at times this year. It was rewarding to see so many kids go from lesser roles to being prominent fixtures.”

With PDS falling just short of the MAHL crown by virtue of a 4-1 loss to LaSalle College High (Pa.) on February 19, Bertoli knows the program faces a challenge in keeping pace with the powers in the newly-formed league.

“It is good that it is in place and I am glad we are part of it,” said Bertoli of the MAHL, which also includes Lawrenceville, Hill, Portledge School (N.Y.), and Wyoming.

“We need to maintain our level and continue to improve to compete. We have lost 17 kids to graduation and Ross Colton (who transferred to Taft) over the last two years. We will be looking to fill that void; our success has allowed us to attract quality applicants.”