March 13, 2019

Fighting Uphill Battle Against Formidable Foes, PDS Boys’ Hockey Enjoyed Solid Campaign

STICKING TOGETHER: Members of the Princeton Day School boys’ hockey team celebrate after scoring in goal in a 5-4 loss to Lawrenceville at Hobey Baker Rink in late January. PDS ended the season at 14-12-1, advancing to the Mid-Atlantic Hockey League (MAHL) semis where it fell 4-1 to eventual champion Hill (Pa.). (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

By Bill Alden

Over the course of the 2018-19 campaign, the Princeton Day School boys’ hockey team fought an uphill battle nearly every night.

Dealing with a daunting schedule that included a gauntlet of formidable foes, PHS didn’t possess the reservoir of talent that is has featured in the past.

“Our schedule was just brutal this year,” said PDS head coach Scott Bertoli, whose squad took on such tough non-conference opponents as Don Bosco, Delbarton, Albany Academy (N.Y.), the Groton School (Mass.), La Salle (Pa.), and Seton Hall Prep in addition to playing Mid-Atlantic Hockey League (MAHL) rivals like the Hill School (Pa.), Wyoming Seminary (Pa.), and Lawrenceville.

“Without question, this was the hardest schedule we have ever faced, and this year’s team wasn’t the best team we have ever had. It was hard with the lack of depth.”

Displaying character and pluck, PDS managed to go 14-12-1, advancing to the MAHL semis where it fell 4-1 to eventual champion Hill.

“When we were at full strength and had everyone there, I felt confident playing against anyone,” said Bertoli.

“I think we proved that with great games against Hill (a 1-0 loss in overtime on January 9) at relatively full strength and a really good effort against Lawrenceville (a 5-4 defeat on January 24) which proved to be an outstanding team this year by New England standards. They had some really impressive wins.”

The Panthers boasted an impressive trio of senior stars in forward and captain Coby Auslander along with forward and assistant captain Ty Eastman and defenseman and assistant captain Chip Hamlett.

“Most years, I don’t name our captains until the fall; it was an easy decision for me and our coaching staff to name Coby the captain and Ty and Chip the assistant captains at the breakout last year,” said Bertoli, whose senior class also included Kevin Flahive and Aidan York.

“I have only done that two or three times. They were effective, they impacted the game and the scoreboard and they endeared themselves to their coaching staff.”

Auslander and Eastman had a big impact in their home finale against Father Judge as the Panthers prevailed 6-4 with Auslander tallying four goals and two assists and Eastman chipping in two goals and three assists.

“It looked like a group that we would get opportunities against and that was good,” said Bertoli. “We scored goals; it was a great way to end their home careers.”

Auslander’s outburst was emblematic of a brilliant final campaign which saw him score 45 points on 20 goals and 25 assists.

“I can go on and on about Coby, for him to have a night like he did was great,” said Bertoli of Auslander who tallied 123 points in his Panther career and is headed the Christopher Newport to play for its Division III men’s lacrosse program.

“His compete level is off the chart. We have had some really great kids and players here and he is right up there with them.”

The Panthers showed their competitive fire in mid-December when played at the Barber Tournament at the St. Mark’s School (Mass.) and went 1-1-1 despite being undermanned.

“We were missing three of our best kids and one of our freshmen who is a talented kid because of club conflicted,” said Bertoli, noting that the team was basically playing with six forwards and four defensemen for three games in 20 hours against New England boarding schools.

“We lost a heartbreaker in the last second to Vermont Academy 2-1, we beat Worcester Academy, (Mass.) 7-1, and we tied Kents Hill (Maine) 1-1. When we go up there, I hope we can be competitive in the first couple of games and then hopefully just survive physically in the third game. Here we are in every situation with opportunities to win. It showed the character of the kids; they never fail to amaze me.”

Looking ahead, Bertoli believes that the program has the pieces in place to maintain its winning tradition.

“We are going to be younger. We have some really good, talented kids who play,” said Bertoli, who will be welcoming back such stars as sophomores Luck Antonacci, Drew McConaughy, Birch Gorman and Gibson Linnehan along with juniors Alex Allen, Chris Cecila, Jeremy Siegel, Justin Sherman, Stephan Gorelenkov, and David Sherman.

“It is time for those younger kids to mature and take on greater responsibilities and play more meaningful minutes. I expect that to happen. One thing I never worry about is the effort level that we are going to get and the way the kids conduct themselves.”