With Zullo Providing Leadership, Production, PHS Boys’ Hockey Produces Sizzling 9-1-1 Start
ON THE STICK: Princeton High boys’ hockey player Cooper Zullo, left, controls the puck in recent action. Junior forward Zullo scored three goals to help PHS defeat Lawrence 10-0 last Wednesday. The Tigers, who improved to 9-1-1 with the win, are scheduled to face the WWP Co-op on January 14 and the Hamilton Co-op on January 17 with both games to take place at Mercer County Park. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)
By Bill Alden
Cooper Zullo wasn’t expecting to be installed as the captain of the Princeton High boys’ hockey team this winter as a junior.
“I was talking to Dave (PHS head coach Dave Hansen) at the beginning of the year and he said he wanted me to have the captaincy,” said star forward Zullo.
“I am just trying to do as much as I can for the boys to be a leader. I have next year too, so I am pretty excited about that.”
Zullo’s leadership came in handy last week as PHS skated to a pair of victories, rallying from a 2-0 second period deficit to defeat Robbinsville-Allentown 5-4 on January 3 and then rolling to a 10-0 win over Lawrence last Wednesday.
In Zullo’s view, PHS showed its skill and character as it overcame a slow start to edge Robbinsville-Allentown.
“It was our first game after winter break so there was definitely a little bit of rust on our part. Coach [Dan] Bergan does a good job with them and they are a good team,” said Zullo, who scored a goal in the win.
“I think they wanted it more than we did but we came out in the end. It was definitely a good game by the boys and Johnny [O’Donnell] had the big goal at the end. It was definitely a good game to get back in the swing of things for 2022.”
In the Lawrence game, Zullo got things going for the Tigers, scoring a goal 42 seconds into the contest and then assisting on two others as PHS built a 3-0 first period lead and cruised from there.
“It was the same old, same old, we didn’t know much about them,” said Zullo, who ended up with three goals in the victory. “We tried to move the puck as much as we could.”
Zullo has been moving the puck well with linemates senior John Zammit and freshman Brendan Beatty.
“These are the two kids I have played with the most and I love it,” said Zullo.
“Brendan, the freshman, is so good. He is doing a little bit of everything. He is a really good kid on and off the ice. I have been playing with John Zammit for three years now and I love playing with him.”
In working on his leadership and on-ice skills, Zullo has been influenced by former PHS teammate Colm Trainor ’21.
“I have been talking to Colm a lot lately, he is playing up in Boston but he came back for winter break,” said Zullo.
“He is a great kid, I played with him freshman year and a little bit last year but it was cut off. He is an awesome kid, just everything last year was just to learn from him. I have practiced with him in the mornings. Coming into this year, I was just trying to do as much as I can to get the boys to win.”
PHS head coach Hansen credits Zullo with doing a lot to bring the team together.
“Cooper has been a true leader this year,” said Hansen.
“He got the guys around this summer, he is friends with everyone on the team. I can only say so much sometimes, but when it comes from a captain, they take it more seriously. He is playing with John Zammit who is a great player with the puck. Brendan Beatty is keeping up with them.”
While PHS jumped out to a 3-0 lead against Lawrence, Hansen urged his players to work more as a unit.
“I told them after the first period, you guys aren’t playing like a team,” said Hansen.
“You are all trying to get goals and you get in bad habits. I said you guys have to start cycling the puck and moving the puck. Once they started doing that, we started scoring goals.”
The return of senior goalie Dan Prokoshin from injury was a plus for the team.
“We had a dry land yesterday shooting on him at the school,” said Hansen.
“I just wanted to get him back going. When he started the season, he was lights out. We played Morristown (on December 5) and the shots were 52-12 and we tied them 1-1.”
Going forward, Hansen is looking for his squad to go hard from the opening face-off to the final horn.
“These guys know that every team wants to beat us and you have to be consistent,” said Hansen, whose team is scheduled to face the WWP Co-op on January 14 and the Hamilton Co-op on January 17 with both games to take place at Mercer County Park.
“It has to be a 45-minute game, it can’t be when you feel like playing, that is what happened with Robbinsville. They started saying we are not losing this game and all of sudden, we go up and the next thing you know it is a tie.”
If PHS can achieve that kind of consistency, it has the chance to do some big things this winter.
“We have got to keep hustling and they have to want it,” said Hansen.
“You get a core of kids who really want it and they are going to go far. Who knows, if they keep playing hard, they can go a long way.”
Zullo, for his part, believes the squad is poised to go far.
“Of all the Princeton hockey years than I have seen, this is the best we have got,” said Zullo. “We are just excited for what is to come here for Princeton hockey. We are really excited for postseason.”