January 13, 2021

Dealing with Limited Schedule Due to Pandemic, PDS Boys’ Hockey Looking to Make Most of Season

LOW RIDER: Princeton Day School boys’ hockey player Michael Sullo goes after the puck in a game last winter. After emerging as a star for PDS last winter, junior forward Sullo figures to be a go-to scorer for the Panthers this season. PDS opens its 2021 campaign when it plays at Don Bosco on January 24. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

By Bill Alden

While there is normally a buzz in the air when the Princeton Day School boys’ hockey team hits the ice to start preseason training, Scott Bertoli saw a heightened intensity when his players arrived at McGraw Rink last week to prepare for the 2021 campaign.

“It was good to be on the ice,” said PDS head coach Bertoli, who guided the Panthers to a 7-11-1 record last winter in a season highlighted by wins over Lawrenceville, Delbarton, and Hun.

“They were excited to be out there. That was even furthered by the fact that for many of them it was the first time being on our ice or being in the new athletic center so there was a lot of excitement surrounding the start of the season.”

The PDS players are excited to be furthering the program’s proud tradition.

“I know that a lot of these kids are playing club hockey outside of here but there is definitely something different to playing for your high school, especially at a school like this,” added Bertoli.

“We have got our own rink, it is such a big part of the fabric of the school in the winter months. The kids understand and appreciate that. For the better part of the last couple of months, a lot of them haven’t been on campus. They haven’t seen each other unless they are playing on the same club team. Watching those interactions and the general excitement of being back out there and having the PDS jersey on was really cool to see.”

While there will be no postseason play and the number of games will be limited, Bertoli is excited about the team’s current slate of games.

“We built out a pretty nice schedule, we are up to 11 games,” said Bertoli, whose team opens the 2021 campaign when it plays at Don Bosco on January 24.

“We have got Delbarton twice, Don Bosco twice, St. Augustine twice and we are going to play Hun three times. I would say 20
percent of our games are usually against New England schools, that is out of play, I would say 30-40 percent of our games are with Pennsylvania schools, that is out of play.”

PDS will have some nice options at forward, starting with senior captains Drew McConaughy and Gibson Linnehan along with junior Michael Sullo.

“We have a pretty confident group of kids with a mix of older kids with younger kids,” said Bertoli, who won’t have the services of one of his older kids in the early going as senior Emery Oliver is currently sidelined after surgery.

“I think the Drew McConaughys, the Michael Sullos, the Gibson Linnehans are pretty established players and play with a lot of confidence. They play with a lot of tempo and they understand what we are asking of them and the expectations so they can just play.”

After emerging as a star last winter in his first season with the program, Sullo is playing particularly well.

“He looks amazing; he understands that if he wants to play at the next level which I think he undoubtedly will,” said Bertoli. “He is going to have to get stronger. You can’t control how tall you are going to be but you can control how strong you are. He plays hard, he doesn’t shy away from the hard areas. He looks like he has gotten faster and quicker. His skill level looks like it has improved. He has been pretty dynamic in practice so I am excited to see him play.”

Bertoli likes the improvement he is seeing in sophomores Ryan Vandal and Oliver Hall.

“They are talented kids,” said Bertoli. “Oliver really had a big second half of the year last season. For whatever reason, he plays with a ton of confidence when he plays with us. I look forward to see what type of improvement and developments he has made in the last nine months since I have been on the ice with these guys.”

A pair of newcomers, freshman Riley Schmidt and junior transfer Adam Teryek, bring additional talent to the forward unit.

“We have a really talented freshman in Riley, he is an ’05 Tier 1 kid,” said Bertoli.

“He really understands the game and he scores a lot in his own age group. I have been impressed with his poise. He is a kid who can play on the power play and he has a tremendous skill set. Most importantly, he has a really good understanding of the game. We also have a kid who transferred from Delbarton, Adam Teryek. He is a talented player, he plays with the Chiefs. He can skate, he can score.”

The Panthers will be featuring some new faces on defense as the program is losing its top five defenders from last year with three players graduating, one moving on to juniors, and senior captain Birch Gorman out due to injury.

“We have two returning sophomores in Will Brown and Cole Fenton, they played sparingly last year; they look like they have both improved, they have grown,” said Bertoli.

“We have two really talented freshmen who are Tier 1 players and should make great impact in Connor Stratton and Han Shin. They are going to be thrown right into the fire; I think they will be fine. Our fifth defenseman is Chris Babecki, who is a converted forward. He is a junior. By height standards, he is a little undersized but he is a big, strong physical kid that has played with his club team on defense. It will be a little bit of an adjustment for him. He will pick it up and will be fine.”

At goalie, PDS boasts a talented pair in returning junior starter Timmy Miller and freshman Mason Watson.

“Timmy looks great, he is bigger, he’s stronger,” said Bertoli. “He did well last year down the stretch. What is crazy about last year, while the record wasn’t terrific, we had some really impressive wins. We lost seven one-goal games and our goals against average was 2.1, which was lower than it has been in eight years. His backup is Mason Watson, a Tier 1 player for the Chiefs. He has a big body and is fully capable of stepping in and playing quality minutes as well. I think we are in really good shape there.”

With fewer games this winter, Bertoli will be emphasizing skills work.

“The focus this year is just on the development piece with both the kids that want to continue to play and the younger group, especially on the defensive end,” said Bertoli. “It is just trying to bring these kids up to speed.”

With a coaching staff that includes Adam Shemansky, a University of Maine standout from 2009-13, and newcomer Blake Kessel, a former star at the University of New Hampshire and at the pro ranks in the AHL and ECHL, PDS boasts some good role models for its players.

“The fact that the school allowed us to support these kids not only with the quantity of coaches but through connections, the quality of coaches is great,” said Bertoli, a former Princeton University star and ECHL standout who is losing assistant Tommy Davis to the Tiger men’s staff.

“The attention that these kids get really helps; we constantly split in practice with forwards and defensemen. Sometimes we will have three groups. These kids have quality coaches who have played in Division I hockey or played some level of college hockey. They have a pretty good understanding and the kids are excited about the game.”

While Bertoli has guided the program to a number of Prep titles and consistent success over the years, he is bringing a different perspective to this season as the team navigates the COVID situation.

“The kids want to win every time they take the ice and when I step behind the bench my mindset will shift to that as well,” said Bertoli.

“At the end of the day, there just needs to be this appreciation and understanding that these are very unique, challenging times. There is an opportunity to play with your peers and fingers crossed that we can get through the majority of the schedule. We are reminding them constantly to be diligent, mindful, and respectful of this thing.”