January 27, 2021

With Sophomore Star Zullo Providing Spark, PHS Boys’ Hockey Tops Hamilton 8-3 in Opener

OPENING SALVO: Princeton High boys’ hockey player Cooper Zullo, right, battles in the crease against the Hamilton combined team last Friday at the Mercer County Park rink. Sophomore forward Zullo tallied a goal and two assists to help PHS pull away to an 8-3 win in its season opener and first game under new head coach Dave Hansen. In upcoming action, the Tigers are slated to face Lawrence High on January 27 at the MCP rink. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

By Bill Alden

Cooper Zullo and his teammates on the Princeton High boys’ hockey squad were frustrated early on as they faced the Hamilton combined team last Friday at Mercer County Park rink in their season opener.

PHS fell behind 1-0 as Hamilton goalie Trevor Malik repeatedly thwarted the Tigers.

“That was kind of a slow start for us; we hope to get the first goal but their goalie was really standing on his head today,” said sophomore forward Zullo.

“We were talking on the bench and we were saying once we get a few, they will keep coming in.”

With 9:05 left in the first period, Zullo got the first goal for PHS in the contest against Hamilton which includes players from Hamilton North, Nottingham, and Steinert.

“Austin [Micale] had a shot that was deflected,” recalled Zullo. “I got it right at my feet and closed my eyes and shot the puck.”

With teams knotted in a 2-2 tie midway through the second period, PHS reeled off four unanswered goals and never looked back on the way to an 8-3 victory.

“They started getting tired, it was the first game of the season wearing these masks,” said Zullo, who had a pair of assists in the outburst. “I think we outworked them, it was a good start for the team.”

Zullo worked well with senior star and captain Colm Trainor, who tallied three goals and an assist in the win.

“I love playing with him, he is like a mentor,” said Zullo. “He is a big kid and he moves the puck really well. He is really fast and keeps me on my toes.”

After a strong freshman season, Zullo is determined to take things to a higher level this winter.

“Coming into the season, I was saying to myself that I just want to get better myself as well as the team and keep working,” said Zullo. “I think that after today we just have to keep moving and keep going uphill.”

PHS has enjoyed working with new head coach Dave Hansen. “Dave has been really good and it has been a really good start for the team,” said Zullo of Hansen who is succeeding Joe Bensky.

“The systems are a little bit different. One thing I like about coach is that he gave us the freedom to do what we wanted. So at practices, we were talking and we decide what we wanted for the team. It worked out.”

Hansen, for his part, enjoyed his debut at the helm for the Tigers.

“I was happy about the commitment that the guys had today,” said Hansen, who was the head coach at Madison High the last 17 seasons.

“In the first period, their goalie played very well. He is a great goalie and it was hard to get it past him. I kept saying to bring pucks to the net and good things happen. They kept shooting; they weren’t getting discouraged by anything. It was a great win.”

In triggering the second period outburst, PHS tweaked its approach to solve the Hamilton goalie.

“What I was trying to have the guys do was have the goalie go side to side and having our guys moving their feet,” said Hansen, who also got two goals and an assist from junior John Zammit with junior John O’Donnell chipping in a goal and an assist and freshman TT Zhao scoring his first career goal.

“We opened up the zone and created good scoring opportunities, finally we were going side to side and getting those rebounds in on the backdoor.”

Hansen credited Zullo and Trainor with setting the tone in the offensive zone.

“They play very well together, they are very talented hockey players,” said Hansen.

“Their hockey IQ is pretty high. They are looking to pass the puck, sometimes too much. It looks good on the ice.”

The top PHS defensemen pair of senior assistant captains Micale and Patrick McDonald also looked good in the win.

“Their hockey IQ is also high,” said Hansen. “Their heads are always up, looking to pass the puck. The puck moves faster than skates do and the way they move the puck really showed today.”

With the Tigers slated to face Lawrence High on January 27 at the MCP rink, Hansen is looking for his team to build on its performance against Hamilton.

“We didn’t get any scrimmages, this was our first game,” said Hansen.

“Usually you have two or three scrimmages so we are just trying to get the lines together. I think we did a good job tonight.”

In Zullo’s view, PHS should get things together even better on offense as the season unfolds.

“We have to put this behind us; it is a win but we have to keep going forward,” said Zullo.

“I don’t know if we will face many goalies like that. The more shots we get, we will be putting more pucks in the net.”