January 20, 2021

Despite Starting Late Due to COVID Concerns, PDS Girls’ Hockey Looking Forward to Big Season

HAIL STORM: Princeton Day School girls’ hockey player Hailey Wexler heads to goal in a game last season. Senior forward Wexler will be depended on to help trigger the PDS offense this winter. The Panthers open their 2021 campaign by hosting Princeton High on January 21. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

By Bill Alden

While the Princeton Day School girls’ hockey team didn’t hit the ice until early January due to delays stemming from COVID-19 concerns, John Ritchie believes that the late start may have made his players even more enthusiastic about the upcoming season.

“They are really excited, building off some of the enthusiasm from last year,” said PDS head coach Ritchie, who guided the Panthers to a 10-11 record last winter in his debut campaign at the helm of the program.

“We almost doubled the number of girls that are playing this year, which is awesome. Some are coming out for the first time. Some have played when they were younger and stopped to focus on other sports and they are coming back to it. For others, hockey is their primary sport. It is a really good mix. We had two scrimmages this week that went pretty well, so far, so good.”

PDS boasts really good depth in its forward unit. “We definitely have two legit lines in terms of travel players and then we have a third line that is definitely going to be utilized in games,” said Ritchie.

“It is not like they are learning how to play. They are girls that although it is not their primary sport, they have come a long way and they really give us some nice depth.”

Ritchie believes the quintet of senior Hailey Wexler, junior Ally Antonacci, senior Maisie Henderson, freshman Emily McCann, and freshman Logan Harrison will emerge as the primary offensive threats.

“In terms of scoring, we are looking to Hailey again,” added Ritchie.

“Ally will probably have a really strong year. Getting Maisie back from injury has been huge. We have two freshman in Emily and Logan who I think they are going to have really good years. Those five are going to be the ones who score a lot, they are going to carry a heavy load. We have a couple of others who will factor in against some of the teams that maybe aren’t as experienced.”

On defense, the group of sophomore Lauren Chase, senior Hannah Choe, junior Natalie Celso, and freshman Isabel Cook will carry the load along the blue line.

“We have four good defensemen,” said Ritchie. “Lauren is a big, defensive player, she has improved her shot. She has been working with her father (former Brown University star Tim Chase), obviously he has a great background. Hannah is another good one. They will be our top pair. Nat is rock solid and the freshman who will be playing there is Isabel.”

Senior Jillian Wexler and sophomore Abigail Ashman form a rock solid goalie tandem for PDS.

“It is such a good problem for me to have, trying to figure out how to utilize both of them and play them in good games,” said Ritchie.

“We scrimmaged Chatham last night and they spilt; it was a good game for both of them. We are very fortunate to have both. Jillian will get the games that we deem are good games for her as a senior. It stinks that she is less than 500 saves away from 2,000; in a normal year she would have gotten it. I think it is going to be tough this year and with us being a little bit stronger, she will face less shots. I have to find a balance. Abby will take over for the next two years so she has to get some of the better games too.”

In Ritchie’s view, the Panthers have the potential to produce a strong season.

“It is tough to put a record on in my head; if we originally had 10 games scheduled, I think this team should finish well over .500,” said Ritchie.

“It should be one of the better years that PDS has had in a while. I am looking to really improve on that from last year.”

No matter what the scoreboard ultimately says, Ritchie wants his players to savor their time on the ice this winter.

“We are just going to have to be flexible day-to-day and week-to-week,” said Ritchie.

“Whatever happens, whatever games we get, we have to be appreciative. We can’t take any games for granted. Even these scrimmages we had this week were big for us.”