Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXIV, No. 2
 
Wednesday, January 13, 2010
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FACE TIME: Princeton Day School boys’ hockey player Skye Samse, right, faces off against a foe in recent action. Last Friday, Samse tallied a goal as PDS topped Notre Dame 6-3. Samse and the Panthers weren’t as productive last Monday, falling 5-2 to Seton Hall to move to 3-7-2 on the season. PDS will look to get on the winning track this week as it hosts Bishop Eustace on January 13 and then plays at Academy of New Church on January 15.

With Transfer Blackburn Fitting in Well, PDS Boys’ Hockey Gaining Momentum

Bill Alden

Despite some initial apprehension, it didn’t take long for Peter Blackburn to fit in as he joined the Princeton Day School boys’ hockey team this season after starring the last two winters for crosstown foe Hun.

“It is a similar school obviously but it is hard transitioning to a big rival school,” said Blackburn. “When I came in, everyone was really welcoming.

When we played our preseason games, we were all out here having a good time.”

The high-scoring junior forward has been giving PDS some good production up front as he has quickly developed a comfort level with his new teammates.

In a 4-4 tie with St. John Vianney on January 4, he contributed three assists. Two days later, he notched a short-handed goal as the Panthers tied Red Bank Catholic 2-2.

For Blackburn, the goal against Red Bank Catholic exemplified how the Panthers are on the same page.

“It was a great team effort; it started with a good forecheck by Roger Mittnacht out there,” recalled Blackburn, who had a goal last Monday against Seton Hall but it wasn’t enough as PDS fell 5-2 to move to 3-7-2 on the season.

“Roger would come to the corner and press the pass to the middle and I would just pick it off. I couldn’t capitalize on the first one but on the second one, I got it.”

The Panthers’ chemistry has been helped by some off-ice togetherness. “We have been doing team dinner and team sleepovers,” said Blackburn. “We had a nice Christmas party; we have been bonding as a group.”

Blackburn did have an early setback in his transition to PDS as he suffered a concussion that knocked him out of several games in late December.

“I think I missed four games,” said Blackburn, who notched a goal in PDS’s 6-3 win over Notre Dame last Friday. “It feels good to be able to play; I am at pretty much full strength.”

In Blackburn’s view, his game has been getting stronger under the tutelage of PDS head coach Scott Bertoli, a former Princeton University and Trenton Titans star.

“It’s been really good; Bert is always telling us what to do right when we get back to the bench,” said Blackburn. “He lets us know what we did right and what we did wrong.”

With the PDS roster featuring a large group of freshmen, Blackburn is not letting his status as a team newcomer keep him from exerting some leadership.

“It’s a little tough; you have to speak up; you have to be positive,” said Blackburn.

“At the same time, I try to get our guys focused and tell them what they have to do better in a positive way. It has to be constructive criticism and not just yelling at them.”

In the view of head coach Bertoli, Blackburn has made a positive contribution.

“Peter is our go-to guy from an offensive standpoint; he can create his own shot and he does a great job of keeping people wide,” said Bertoli.

“He’s always around the net; the kid wants to score goals. Peter has battled injuries most of the year and he has really only played four or five games. We have been pretty successful when he is in the lineup. I think he adds that dimension; the other teams have to be mindful when he is on the ice.”

The Panthers have had a new dimension up front with the switch of senior captain Brooks Herr to forward from his customary defenseman spot.

“If you watch Brooks play from the back end, he is a rover; he wants to go,” said Bertoli of Herr, who scored two goals in the tie with St. John Vianney.

“I thought maybe I would take the reins off him a little bit and give him an opportunity there. He is a big kid; he wants the puck and he wants to go to the net.”

Bertoli likes the way his freshmen forwards Conrad Denise, Cody Triolo, and Alex Nespor have taken advantage of their opportunities.

“They are contributing,” said Bertoli, who is also using freshmen Taran Auslander and Bump Lisk on defense.

“As freshmen, most of the time you are a little undersized and a little overmatched physically. They are smart players. For freshmen, it’s a lot to ask to play every third shift or every other shift and play on the power play but those guys are up for the challenge and that’s why they are here. They want to play a competitive schedule and play against older kids and move their careers along. I give them the opportunity because I trust them; they know what they are doing.”

In Bertoli’s view, his players need to make more out of their scoring opportunities.

“We need to be tougher; we need to dig in and put ourselves in position to score goals in front of the net,” said Bertoli, whose team hosts Bishop Eustace on January 13 and then plays at Academy of New Church on January 15.

“I think at times we pass up shots. These guys have some offensive ability; they need to be a little more creative. They need to know when it is the right time to drive to the net or when to look off and use your teammates.”

Blackburn, for his part, is confident that he and his teammates will start producing more in the offensive zone.

“Right now, we are outshooting most of the teams we are playing,” said Blackburn.

“The thing we need to do most is finish on our opportunities; we have been hitting pipes and helmets and getting shots blocked in front. Every game we play, we play hard. I wish we had come out with some wins earlier in the season when we had some one-goal losses. From what I can tell, I think we are just going to keep getting better and growing as a team.”

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