January 29, 2020

PDS Boys’ Hockey Tops Lawrenceville 3-2 in OT As Senior Cecila Comes Through with Golden Goal

GOLDEN GOAL: Princeton Day School boys’ hockey player Chris Cecila controls the puck last Thursday evening as PDS faced Lawrenceville at Hobey Baker Rink. Senior defenseman Cecila scored the winning goal as the Panthers prevailed 3-2 in overtime against the Big Red. PDS, who defeated Malvern Prep (Pa.) 3-2 last Monday to improve to 6-8-1, play at Wyoming Seminary (Pa.) on January 29 and host Seton Hall Prep on January 31. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

By Bill Alden

Chris Cecila hadn’t scored a goal all season as he hit the ice for the Princeton Day School boys’ hockey team last Thursday evening when it hosted Lawrenceville at Hobey Baker Rink.

By the end of the night, senior defenseman Cecila was gliding on the ice for a curtain call demanded by the throng of PDS students on hand after he broke through with his first goal to give the Panthers a riveting 3-2 win in overtime against the Panthers.

For Cecila, getting the winning tally in the heated rivalry was a dream come true. “I could not have dreamt what happened here,” said Cecila.

“It was our last opportunity. I just wanted us to get the win for the fans because they are incredible.”

It took an incredible effort for the Panthers to overcome the powerful Big Red as they battled back from deficits of 1-0 and 2-1 to ultimately force overtime in a frenzied atmosphere that saw the student sections from each school standing, cheering, and pounding on the glass throughout the contest.

“Our team’s resilience was amazing tonight, we always bounce back,” said Cecila.

“We have had trouble scoring a lot of goals this season; we really stepped up in finishing our opportunities tonight when we could. We got a lot of opportunities. We didn’t score on all of them, but we scored on enough of them to keep the momentum from completely shifting away from us.”

Late in the second period, Cecila helped PDS cash in on a scoring opportunity, helping to set up a goal by junior Stephan Gorelenkov as the Panthers knotted the contest at 2-2.

“I saw the defensemen with pressure in the corner, I knew that if I stepped into the zone I would bait him into throwing it into the wall and then I pulled back,” said Cecila.

“I was able to keep it in on the wall and I moved it down to Drew [McConaughy], who made a really great pass to Stephan [Gorelenkov] in front of the net and he buried it.”

Midway through the third period, Cecila nearly put PDS ahead when he got loose on a breakaway only to have a point-blank shot saved by Lawrenceville goalie T.J. Semptimphelter.

“I felt two guys right behind me on the breakaway and I knew if I didn’t go full speed and I tried to get cute with it, I would have gotten caught because I am not the fastest,” said Cecila.

“I would not have changed what I did. He made a really nice save. I wish we could have won it right there, but everything happens for a reason.”

Heading into overtime, Cecila and his teammates had to catch their breath as they gathered themselves for playing 3-on-3 in the extra session.

“It was a pretty even game going onto OT; it was almost a stalemate for the last few minutes,” said Cecila.

“We played four defensemen [Birch Gorman, Luke Antonacci, and David Sherman along with Cecila] almost the entire game and we were taking 20-30 second shifts at the end of that third period. We were just trying to get through it to get a breather. It is a lot of work work with a team that plays as hard as Lawrenceville.”

With 2:13 left in overtime, Cecila got the puck through on a blast from the point, making a pregame prediction seem prescient.

“This morning my best friend told me I was going to to score the game-winning goal,” said Cecila.

“I saw that if I stepped into the zone when Drew covered the puck, I would be wide open. I knew I wasn’t going to get an opportunity to pick my spot any better than that so I thought top right, over the glove. It is really tough to catch a puck right by the ear. I didn’t know when I hit it because I have had so many shots like that this season that hit the shoulder. It was my first goal of the season. I haven’t been able to hit the back of the net yet.”

The tally triggered a raucous on-ice celebration as Cecila’s teammates mobbed him by the boards. The PDS student fans got into the act, summoning Cecila over to them for one last ovation.

“My teammates told me I needed to go out there and go back,” said Cecila. “I wasn’t going to, I am not really the showboater. I love them so much, the school has been so wonderful me these past four years.”

PDS head coach Scott Bertoli loved seeing Cecila have his moment of glory.

“Of all of the kids who I would picked to score that goal, it would be that kid,” said Bertoli of Cecila.

“He doesn’t get the limelight that a lot of the other kids get. He has been at PDS a long, long time and this means to more to him than any other person in that locker room. It is fitting. It is a heck of a shot to beat a heck of a goalie.”

Bertoli credited his players with rising to the occasion, drawing energy from the highly-charged environment.

“We as coaches have had a lot of really cool opportunities and played in front of packed buildings and in high leverage, big pressure moments,” said Bertoli.

“I would put the atmosphere, the energy, and the excitement that this game presents up against any experience I have ever had. It brings these two schools together in a unique way. They recognize and have a mutual respect for one another. I look at our track record against the boarding schools; of the group that we played to this point, they were probably the strongest team. There is something to the energy, the excitement that levels the playing field a little bit. Not that their kids don’t get excited, but for us it is the biggest game on the schedule, so that helps.”

Scoring tying goals with 10 seconds left in the first period and 1:55 remaining in the second, helped turn the tide for the Panthers.

“Getting the goal at the end of the first and getting the goal at the end of the second was big,” said Bertoli, whose first goal came from Gibson Linnehan.

“They outplayed us in the second period, part of it was self-inflicted with all of the penalties, and our kids were getting tired. Those are momentum-seizing moments that really define the game.”

At the defensive end, the Panther quartet of Gorman, Antonacci, Sherman, and Cecila did yeoman’s work in holding the Big Red at bay.

“Those four on defense are awesome,” said Bertoli. “I would take those four over any four that we have played this year. In the longer games they are going to get tired. I think taking those penalties in the second period really hurt us.”

Sophomore goalie Timmy Miller also stepped up, making 19 saves. “Timmy played great; he was good in the Delbarton game (a 2-1 win on January 9), he was really good against Portledge (a 1-0 loss on January 13), against Don Bosco (a 3-2 loss on January 15), he was really good,” said Bertoli.

“Tonight he made some saves in the second period. He made a save in the first couple minutes of the game. It was a point shot and it went off a kid’s pad and he just reacted and tracked the puck. He made a simple controlled glove save; that really settled him down.”

Bertoli was confident that his players could control things in overtime. “I thought OT was in our favor,” said Bertoli. “We played in that situation last week. You have to manage the puck, it is all puck possession and then you just wait for breakdowns.”

With PDS fighting to make the top four in the Mid-Atlantic Hockey League (MAHL) to earn a spot in the league playoffs, Bertoli hopes his players can build on the triumph over Lawrenceville.

“They are kids, they need to enjoy this,” said Bertoli, whose team defeated Malvern Prep (Pa.) 3-2 last Monday to improve to 6-8-1 and plays at Wyoming Seminary (Pa.) on January 29 and hosts Seton Hall Prep on January 31.

“We need to start winning games to start feeling good about ourselves and hopefully this is a step in the right direction. We did some good things and we scored some goals.”

Cecila, for his part, left Baker Rink with a very good feeling last Thursday.

“This was definitely the signature win that we needed; we circle this game on our calendar every season,” said Cecila.

“We see a successful season based on whether we beat Lawrenceville or if we didn’t. I know that is not everything, but this is also a league game so it also puts us back on track to possibly sneak into the playoffs.”

—Bill Alden