December 18, 2019

Wexler Comes Through in the Clutch As PDS Girls’ Hockey Wins Invitational

HAIL TO THE VICTORS: Princeton Day School girls’ hockey player Hailey Wexler controls the puck in a game during the 2018-19 season. Last Saturday as PDS wrapped up its 30th annual Harry Rulon-Miller Girls’ Hockey Invitational at McGraw Rink, junior forward Wexler scored two goals, including the game winner, as PDS defeated Chatham 5-4 in overtime in the championship game. PDS, now 3-2, plays Morristown-Beard on December 18 at the Twin Oaks Arena. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

By Bill Alden

Hailey Wexler was primed to pick up her offensive production this winter heading into junior campaign for the Princeton Day School girls’ hockey team.

“I definitely try to be more of a scorer because our top scorer from last year is gone,” said Wexler, referring to the graduated Julie Patterson, who is now playing at Wilkes University.

“We have got a new sophomore in Ally [Antonacci] who was at the school already and we have a few great freshmen.”

Last Saturday as PDS hosted Chatham in the championship game of the program’s 30th annual Harry Rulon-Miller Girls’ Invitational, Wexler came up with some key scores.

She tallied a goal on a breakaway to put the Panthers up 2-1 in the second period and later got the game winner in overtime as PDS prevailed 5-4, earning its first HRM title since 2016 and improving to 3-2.

With the Panthers having lost to Chatham in the final the last two years, Wexler and her teammates were ready to turn the tables.

“We were very excited, it is our own tournament so we really want to win it,” said Wexler. “In the last few years, it has always been against Chatham-Madison. We really wanted it.”

On her breakaway goal, Wexler focused on not getting too excited with the scoring opportunity.

“I was thinking I need to get this goal and not shoot it high,” recalled Wexler.

“There had to be people behind me so if I don’t score, there was going to be a rebound. I didn’t want to miss the net. I saw the top wide open. I knew when I let it go that it was a goal.”

Trailing 4-3 heading into the third period, the Panthers didn’t want to miss their chance to take the title.

“We came into the locker room after the second
period and said we need to win this,” said Wexler.

“We knew we just wanted to get another one in and tie it and hopefully get another one after that. I thought the last few minutes of the third period, we definitely controlled it.”

Controlling the pick, PDS knotted the game at 4-4 on a goal by senior Charlotte Haggerty with 4:19 remaining in regulation, forcing overtime.

Just 1:12 into the extra session, Wexler ended things, jamming the puck into the net through a scrum in the crease.

“When OT started I knew we were getting it; the puck was in their zone and I thought we had it and we did,” said Wexler. “I was just trying to throw the puck on goal, I knew there was a lot of traffic in front of the goalie.”

With her twin sister, Jillian, starring at goalie for PDS, Wexler has enjoyed some special family moments through hockey

“It is fun, we have always been on the same team in travel hockey until this year,” said Wexler, whose sister wasn’t on hand last weekend due to travel hockey commitments. “I miss playing with her so this is my chance to get back on the ice with her.”

PDS head coach John Ritchie liked the way Wexler played at the Invitational.

“Hailey was phenomenal, her skill level has always been there,” said Ritchie of the forward who had a goal on Friday as PDS edged Oak Knoll 3-2 in the opening round of the event.

“With Hailey, it is building her confidence. Her twin is a stud in net but she is making her own identity, getting her game back. I think she is feeling it right now.”

Ritchie had his players fired up as they took the ice for the third period against Chatham.

“Between the periods, we just stressed that this is an opportunity that a lot of teams don’t get, you host your own tournament,” said Ritchie.

“That third goal at the end of the second period was a big break for us. We said they are not going to give it to you. I think just the energy and momentum coming out of the locker room really helped us.”

Utilizing that energy, PDS dominated the third period, generating a number of scoring chances.

“About halfway through the third, I actually thought we were going to win it in regulation,” said Ritchie.

“We had a couple of opportunities where hopefully in February or at the end of January, girls get pucks on their sticks and they are going to bury those. Right now we are hitting posts or missing the net. I thought in overtime, our momentum was going to carry us through.”

Ritchie was not surprised to see Haggerty come up with the game-tying goal.

“We lost her for the second period which hurts, we are a different team with her on the ice,” said Ritchie.

“The trainer gave her the OK for the third period. She works probably as hard as anybody out there. She is just gritty and does a lot of things that are good for the other girls to see and learn from. That is what we stress, you are going to be a role model. You are going to be a senior or a junior, but you don’t have to score 30 goals a year. If you are working hard, getting to pucks first and lifting sticks in the lane, that is what is going to be an example for the rest of the team. She does that as well as anybody.”

Sophomore Ally Antonacci tallied the two other goals for PDS, making an impact as she has joined the PDS squad after just playing travel hockey last winter.

“Ally has been a great addition; she is a great little skater,” said Ritchie.

“She plays a lot of minutes. She is starting to learn and get comfortable with the other players on the team. Once that chemistry builds, we are going to have a couple of good years here with our younger core of players.”

With the Panthers playing Morristown-Beard on December 18 at the Twin Oaks Arena, Ritchie believes that coming through against Chatham should be a confidence builder for his club.

“It is cool, I am very happy for the team,” said Ritchie. “They deserved it. We are hoping to build on this. We have a big week ahead with Mo-Beard so we will see how that translates for us.”

In Wexler’s view, last weekend’s success has PDS headed in the right direction.

“It is a good turning point for our season, especially coming off of two tough losses,” said Wexler, referring to a 3-0 defeat to Trinity Hall on December 10 and a 2-0 setback to Rye Country Day (N.Y.) on December 5.

“I think the momentum that we just gained will be important to our game against Mo-Beard in this coming week.”