February 20, 2019

After Making 3rd Straight Trip to MCT Final, PHS Boys’ Hockey Aiming for a Big States Run

ROCK FIGHT: Princeton High boys’ hockey player Rocco Salvato handles the puck last Friday in the Mercer County Tournament championship game. Junior defenseman Salvato and the second-seeded Tigers fell 9-4 to top-seeded and six-time champion Hun. PHS, now 13-9-3, will start play in the Public B state tournament where it is seeded sixth and will host 11th-seeded Jackson Memorial in a first round contest on February 21 at ProSkate in Monmouth Junction. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

By Bill Alden

Having split its two regular season meetings against Notre Dame, the Princeton High boys’ hockey team looked forward to getting a rubber match with the Irish in the Mercer County Tournament semifinals last Wednesday.

“We were excited to get another crack at them,” said PHS junior star defenseman Rocco Salvato. “We just wanted to get off to a hot start, that was key.”

Salvato helped the second-seeded Tigers get off to a hot start against third-seeded Notre Dame at the Mercer County Park rink, slotting the puck across the crease to classmate Aidan Trainor, who banged it home to give PHS a 1-0 lead 4:12 into the contest.

“We want to do that every game and today it worked out,” said Salvato, reflecting on the early tally.

“Aidan is always in the best place and I love it when I find him there; it was a good goal. Everyone was coming into the zone at the same time, so I had plenty of options.”

The Tigers kept scoring goals, building their advantage to 5-1 early in the second period.

“We are all still getting comfortable with each other; it is not really the longest season, so right now would be where we are peaking and really turning on the offense,” said Salvato.

Things got a little uncomfortable for PHS as Notre Dame rallied to narrow the lead to 7-5 midway through the third period, but the Tigers added a late goal to clinch an 8-5 victory and a spot in the MCT title game

“We just didn’t want to let up, we wanted to keep doing what we were doing,” said Salvato, reflecting on a game which saw him chip in two assists with Trainor tallying three goals and three assists. “Notre Dame turned it on at points. We are just lucky that we weathered it.”

Salvato and his teammates felt lucky to get another shot at a county crown as they faced top-seeded Hun for a third consecutive time in the county final on Friday.

“We have been there before and we wanted to be here again and here we are, so we have got to give it our all,” said Salvato. “It is going to take one of our best games of the season and I think we are prepared to give them that. We have been looking forward to it all season.”

While PHS gave Hun some early scares in the final, outshooting the Raiders 14-8 in the first period, it found itself trailing 3-1 after one. In the second period, Hun took control of the game, outscoring the Tigers 5-2 in the frame on the way to a 9-4 win and their sixth straight county crown.

In reflecting on his squad’s run to the MCT final, PHS head coach Tim Chase liked the scoring balance he is seeing from his players as the season has gone on.

“We have been focusing the last couple of weeks on just getting the puck on net, finally we are getting some rebound goals,” said Chase, whose team got points from seven different players in the win over Notre Dame and then generated 37 shots in the final with Keith Goldberg scoring two goals and Calvin Rogers and John Zammit adding one apiece.

“I don’t think we have had rebound goals much at all this year. We have been too fancy; it was nice to get some ugly ones.”

Having made two straight runs to the Public state semis, PHS will be looking to rebound from the loss to Hun as it starts action in the state tourney this week.

“We definitely have more energy, a little more jump,” said Chase, whose team is seeded sixth in the Public B tournament and will be hosting 11th-seeded Jackson Memorial in a semifinal contest on February 21 at ProSkate in Monmouth Junction.

“Early on in the year because we don’t practice a lot, we were a little flat. I think we are playing pretty well right now.”