January 13, 2021

Dealing with COVID Challenges, Late Start, PHS Boys’ Hockey Excited to Get Season Going

CALL TO ACTION: Princeton High boys’ hockey player Austin Micale looks to move the puck in a game last winter. Senior defenseman and assistant captain Micale is primed for a big final season. PHS, which is welcoming a new head coach in Dave Hansen, starts its 2021 campaign on January 18 by playing Paul VI at the Skate Zone in Voorhees. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

By Bill Alden

While new Princeton High boys’ hockey head coach Dave Hansen has only had a week of on-ice practice with his squad after weeks of dry-land training, he believes things are already coming together.

“I am really happy with the boys right now, they work hard,” said Hansen, the longtime head coach at Madison High and successor to Joe Bensky, who guided the Tigers to an 18-4-2 record and the Mercer County Tournament title last winter.

“In the first one or two practices, I wanted to have some fun with them. I am just trying to have a good time with them and get to know them and they are trying to do the same thing with me. We are off to a good start.”

In Hansen’s view, he and his new players are quickly getting on the same page. 

“We are doing our forechecks, we are doing our d-zones, we are doing our power plays and penalty kills,” said Hansen.

“I try to do a lot of skills drills the first 20-25 minutes and then focus on systems for the last 45 minutes to an hour. We got on the ice last week and we started doing a few drills. When we started repeating them, they knew where to go right away. They know what they need to do and they are doing that at a high caliber.”

The squad’s trio of senior captains, Colm Trainor, Patrick McDonald, and Austin Micale, are helping with that process.

“Colm is the captain and Patrick and Austin are the assistants; they are communicating well with the underclassmen which is great,” said Hansen.

“Some of the drills I am doing right now can be difficult to pick up on right away. If some guys aren’t understanding, they take time out and explain it to them. I have never seen that before.”

Hansen expects to see good production on the offensive end from his squad this winter.

“We definitely have solid forwards that are going to be able to put the puck in the net,” said Hansen, whose group of forwards should include senior star Trainor, sophomore Cooper Zullo, junior John O’Donnell, junior John Zammit, sophomore Ethan Garlock, sophomore Gabriel Silverstein, sophomore Nico Vitaro, junior Andre Oskiper, and sophomore Andrew Benevento.

“One sophomore I am very impressed with is Cooper Zullo. He will be skating with Colm. They are very fast, they move the puck very well.”

The PHS defensive unit will be spearheaded by assistant captains Micale and McDonald.

“Austin and Patrick are going to hold the blue line down,” said Hansen, with junior Will Erickson and sophomore Julian Drezner also in the mix on defense.

“They are definitely going to be a pair on the ice and are going to log a lot of minutes.”

At goalie, junior Daniel Prokoshin appears poised for a superb season.

“Our goalie is a big guy; he is very impressive between the pipes,” said Hansen.

“He was a starter the last two years so he comes in with experience. We have got a lot of tough games in our division. If he can focus on stopping the shots that he can and we do well in the d-zone, I think we will be off to a good start.”

With COVID concerns hanging over the season, Hansen is looking for his players to focus on giving their best everyday they are on the ice.

“We are trying to get the most of things, it is tough this year; I am used to having four or five scrimmages before the first game and obviously that didn’t happen this year,” said Hansen, who is welcoming a quintet of freshmen to the program in Graham Baird, Oisin O’Dell, Mike Prete, Charles Ross, and Yitian “TT” Zhao.

“I know the boys are very excited to be on the ice. It is going to be a challenge. I told them to relax and play the systems and get into it and we will have a good start.”

With PHS starting the 2021 campaign by playing Paul VI at the Skate Zone in Voorhees on January 18, Hansen is optimistic about his squad’s prospects.

“If the boys work hard and they win their battles, they should come out with a victory,” said Hansen.