March 31, 2021

Displaying Perseverance Along With Skill, PDS Boys’ Hockey Enjoyed 4-1-1 Campaign

ON POINT: Princeton Day School boys’ hockey player Gibson Linnehan controls the puck in recent action. Senior standout forward Linehan’s solid play helped PDS go 4-1-1 this winter. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

By Bill Alden

While Scott Bertoli was happy to see his Princeton Day School boys’ hockey team post a 4-1-1 mark this winter, a winning record isn’t what will stand out when he looks back on the 2021 campaign.

“The results aside, it was the way we ended up getting through it,” said PDS head coach Bertoli, referring to the manner in which his players dealt with the COVID-19 protocols this winter.

“We were on the ice all nine weeks. We weren’t shut down at any point. Our kids did a good job. The school’s mask policy was effective and our kids showed a willingness to buy into that. I understand it is challenging. Even when I would hop on the ice for drills fully masked, it was hard to get adjusted to.”

PDS played hard to the end, topping St Augustine 4-0 on March 4 to avenge its only defeat of the season and then defeated crosstown rival Princeton High 6-0 a day later in its season finale.

Bertoli was proud of how his squad performed at both ends of the ice in the win over St. Augustine as it evened the score in the rivalry after having lost 3-2 to the Hermits in mid-February.

“I think the kids just naturally got excited; we always took the approach that you didn’t know what tomorrow was going to bring,” said Bertoli, who got two goals and two assists from senior star Drew McConaughy in the win with junior goalie Tim Miller making 25 saves in earning the shutout.

“For all intents and purposes it might have been our last game of the year with one day to go. We played well, we controlled the game. I felt good about the way we were playing. Timmy was outstanding in net all year long. We generated chances. Our kids looked good.”

As games got canceled, Bertoli and his staff worked on honing the skills of their kids.

“With so few games, we spent more time at practice on individual skill work, the focus was on that individual attention,” said Bertoli.

“It was more of a holistic, collective approach. As the days and the weeks went on, it was less likely that we were going to play a lot of games. It was just nice to have that to look forward to and I know how much it meant to the kids, being together to do something that they love and are passionate about.”

The squad’s senior group of McConaughy, Trevor Kunkle, Alex Darenkov, Birch Gorman, Gibson Linnehan, Alex Nowakowski, and Emery Oliver held things together through the winter.

“They are great, they are a big reason we got through it,” asserted Bertoli.

“If they weren’t going to buy in and be fully on board with the safety protocols that we put in place that for most of them were different than what they were doing on the club level, this thing would have likely unraveled at some point. Their willingness to buy in and to have masks on and keep kids accountable, themselves included, went a long way towards us enjoying a full season that ended up being six games. It was a nine-week season, weather was the only thing that interrupted us.”

In addition to setting a positive tone, the seniors provided some toughness on the ice.

“The one thing we challenged the kids on and that I wanted to see more of was harder play, harder on the puck,” said Bertoli.

“It is a hard game, it is supposed to be hard. It is going to hurt at times. You are going to get banged up. Those guys, more so than the rest of our group, played the game hard. They played the game the right way, there was a physical element to their game that I liked. I wanted more of our younger kids to emulate that and hopefully that happens.”

The Panther program will be facing some hard challenges next season as it recently joined the high-powered Gordon Conference and will resume action in the Mid-Atlantic Hockey League (MAHL).

“The reality is that eight of the top 10 teams in the state are in the Gordon Conference,” said Bertoli of the league which includes such formidable foes as Delbarton, Don Bosco, Seton Hall, Gloucester Catholic, Bergen Catholic, and Christian Brothers Academy, among others.

“It is a 13-game commitment on our end. There are two divisions, you play everyone in your division twice and you go cross division for one game against each team. There is a top and a bottom division, the bottom team of the top moves down. I like the exposure for our kids and the consistency of the schedule. Now we will have the Gordon Cup, which is always by far and away the most competitive tournament. We will have the non-public state championship.”

With a group of returning players that features juniors Miller, Michael Sullo, Chris Babecki, and Adam Teryek together with sophomores Will Brown, Cole Fenton, Ryan Vandal, Oliver Hall, and Nick Bruno and freshmen Connor Stratton, Han Shin, Riley Schmidt, and Mason Watson, Bertoli believes that his squad has the firepower to be in the mix for championships.

“We saw a lot of good things from our younger kids this year,” said Bertoli.

“We will have high expectations; the whole idea is that we have been very competitive with those schools. We anticipate that we will be competitive right from the get-go next year with the returning group and the  kids we have coming in. I expect us to have good results and continue to be competitive.”