December 1, 2021

Having Been Around Hobey Baker Rink for Years, N.J. Native Walton Starring for PU Men’s Hockey

TACKLING MACHINE: Princeton University star linebacker Jeremiah Tyler corrals a ball carrier in action this fall. Last week, Tyler was named as a finalist for the 2021 Stats Perform Football Championship Subdivision (FCS) Buck Buchanan Award. The Buck Buchanan Award is presented to the FCS National Defensive Player of the Year. The award, in its 27th season, is named for Buchanan, a legendary Hall of Fame defensive lineman who starred with the Kansas City Chiefs and played collegiately for Grambling State. Tyler produced a team-high 58 tackles this season, adding seven for a loss as Princeton went 9-1 overall and 6-1 Ivy League, to tie Dartmouth for the league title. The senior captain also had two sacks, a fumble recovery for a touchdown, and six pass breakups. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

By Bill Alden

Pito Walton has been around Hobey Baker Rink for around a decade.

Growing up in nearby Peapack, Walton played in youth hockey games at the historic rink. Going on to star at the Lawrenceville School, Walton was in the stands to watch Princeton University games.

Now as a junior defenseman for Princeton, Walton relishes the chance play on a daily basis in the storied building.

“It was a real privilege to come here and it is a dream come true,” said Walton.

“I came here to games when I was at Lawrenceville. When I was a kid, I played mite games here.”

Last Saturday, Walton was all over Baker Rink, helping Princeton produce a superb defensive effort as it battled RIT to a scoreless stalemate through regulation before losing 1-0 in overtime and moving to 3-5-1 overall.

“We definitely put an emphasis on our d-zone, making sure that we focused,” said Walton, reflecting on the contest which came on the heels of a 5-4 loss to RIT on Friday evening.

“We are just focused on staying connected in the d-zone and making sure that we are communicating, knowing that we are really a positionally-sound team. When pucks are turned over, we are going to pounce on them and get it going the other way.”

Walton has a good thing going in his partnership with freshman Noah de la Duranantaye as the two have emerged as a reliable defensive pair for the Tigers.

“He is a really great player, he makes it really easy to play with for me,” said Walton of de la Duranantaye.

“We communicate a lot on the ice. We have been able to develop some good chemistry throughout the beginning of the year here and we are looking forward trying to get better every game.”

With Princeton not getting to play last winter as the Ivy League canceled completion due to COVID-19 concerns, Walton tried to make the most of the layoff.

“You can find a way every minute, every moment to take a step in the right direction,” said the 6’2, 192-pound Walton, who has two goals and five assists so far this season.

“I think that is what our team tries to do and what I try to do. I came to school in the spring and we practiced, it was good.”

Princeton head coach Ron Fogarty saw the defensive performance on Saturday as a step in the right direction for the Tigers.

“The product we showed on the ice we can move forward with, it gives us opportunity to win games in the future,” said Fogarty.

“The direction we are going of run and gun, we scored 15 over four games but gave up 23. That is a recipe for disaster. We got a lot more manageable game tonight. We got a lot of scoring opportunities and just missed. There will be a bigger light at the end of the tunnel if we continue to play that way.”

The defensive pairing of Walton and de la Duranantaye helped Princeton
manage things around the blue line.

“It is growing,” said Fogarty of the duo. “Pito is having a great year, he is in better shape than pre-pandemic. Noah is a rink rat who loves the game and is a student of the game. He is always conversing, you can grow and be a really good defensive partner if you know what the other player is doing.”

Junior goalie Aidan Porter did well against RIT, making 20 saves on the evening.

“The goalie tonight was going to benefit from our defensive structure because there was more importance to it,” said Fogarty.

“We gave him easier looks for the saves, there wasn’t a lot of extended zone time that we had over the last three games, Clarkson (an 8-3 loss on November 20), St. Lawrence (a 6-4 loss on November 19), and last night’s game with RIT. That is what we have to do and be more patient with our scoring chances.”

In Fogarty’s view, Princeton showed patience all over the ice.

“The attention to detail is better and then once we got the puck we supported well,” said Fogarty

“We had a lot of clean exits. Everyone had to do their job and if everyone’s doing their job, everything is flowing better, everything looks better. There are no stagnant times getting caught in your zone or turnovers on the blue line. A lot of guys did really good things tonight.”

With the Tigers hitting the road next weekend to resume ECAC Hockey action with games at Union on December 3 and at RPI on December 4, Fogarty is looking for his squad to build on the progress they made on Saturday.

“The structure defensively is a positive moving into next weekend,” said Fogarty.

“We know we are going to score goals. It is tough to lose that one because everybody was doing their job and making it easier on the team. If the nights were flipped, I would be more concerned but this is a step in the right direction for sure.”

Walton, for his part, believes that the Tigers can get the job done.

“It is not the outcome we wanted,” said Walton. “We just have to take it one step at a time. Practice is important for us, focusing on the details. We know that we are a good team. We just need to piece it together in one game and give a full 60 minutes of effort.”