January 1, 2020

Showing Battling Spirit, Strong Work Ethic, PHS Boys’ Hockey Produces 5-0-1 Start

GRADE A: Princeton High boys’ hockey player Stephen Avis brings the puck up the ice in a game earlier this season. Senior defensemen Avis has provided strong work on the blue line as PHS has started 5-0-1. The Tigers begin the 2020 portion of their schedule by facing Steinert on January 3 at Mercer County Park. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

By Bill Alden

Having won its first five games this season, the Princeton High boys’ hockey team faced its first defeat as it trailed Notre Dame 3-2 in the waning seconds in its final game of 2019.

But with sophomore forward John O’Donnell finding the back of the net with eight seconds remaining in the third period of the December 20 contest, PHS pulled out a 3-3 tie to remain undefeated.

First-year Tiger head coach Joe Bensky sensed that his players were going to do whatever necessary to remain undefeated.

“They kept fighting and you could see in their eyes that their weren’t going to give up until the final buzzer went off,” said Bensky.

“It was one of the coolest things I have seen in a long time when they scored, to see them celebrating, going down the bench and giving each other high-fives.”

In reflecting on PHS’ 5-0-1 start, Bensky sees work ethic and camaraderie as key factors underlying the the program’s success.

“I am just happy with the culture and how dedicated they are to the team,” said Bensky.

“They are really ready to play every time they go out. I think the dedication is the biggest thing. It is tough to instill that; it is something that they have to have a little bit of. You can’t just teach them dedication in a month. I am also impressed with how they root for one another.”

Bensky believes that dedication stems from the squad’s core of battle-tested veterans.

“I think that we have a really good group of upperclassmen that are very dedicated,” said Bensky.

“When they are at the rink, they are there to work. Everyone’s goal is to make a run this year. It starts from the top and the younger players see that. They eventually become older and keep that culture going. That really says a lot about the upperclassmen.”

While such upperclassmen as senior Aidan Trainor, senior Rocco Salvato, junior Colm Trainor, and junior Austin Micale have been piling up big numbers, PHS has been getting contributions across the board.

“John Zammit has played extremely well so far; Cooper Zullo, who is a freshman, has been good,” said Bensky.

“Some people don’t put up stats but Stephen Avis has been playing good defense for us, he is really strong on the puck. Ryan McCormick has been playing good defense. Daniel Prokoshin has been playing well in goal, he has made some big saves for us to keep us in games. We have a lot of good people.”

With PHS starting 2020 action by facing Steinert on January 3 at Mercer County Park, Bensky knows there is room for improvement even with an undefeated record.

“There are things we definitely need to work on. That is why we are at practice, and why we evaluate after every game,” said Bensky.

“We just want to take it one game at a time. Our next focus is Steinert. We just want to keep adding wins to our record one game at a time. It is a learning period for the players and the coaches. I am trying to be as successful as we possibly can and have a good season. I am trying to make them better hockey players and also just better young people.”