November 30, 2022

After Struggling Through Bumpy Ride Last Winter, PDS Boys’ Hockey Determined to Bounce Back

GETTING UP TO SPEED: Princeton Day School boys’ hockey player Ryan Vandal races up the ice in action last season. Senior forward Vandal figures to be a key offensive contributor for the Panthers this winter. PDS opens its 2022-23 campaign by playing at Bergen Catholic on December 8 and then hosting Christian Brothers Academy on December 13. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

By Bill Alden

Joining the high-powered Gordon Conference last winter and making its debut in the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association (NJSIAA) Non-Public state tournament, the Princeton Day School boys’ hockey team took its lumps.

PDS went 6-7-6 overall, falling 3-2 to St. John Vianney in the first round of the Non-Public state tourney to end the season on a down note.

As the Panthers have hit the ice to prepare for the 2022-23 campaign, they are showing a hunger to excel.

“One thing they all talked about during our individual exit interviews last season was just practicing with more intensity and more purpose and that has been pretty evident so far,” said PDS head coach Scott Bertoli. “It is early and there is always an excitement that comes with that. It has been pretty intentional on the part of the older kids. They recognize in some respects they underachieved and we underachieved last year.”

In Bertoli’s view, this year’s squad could achieve a lot.

“As the coach of a program, I recognize opportunities or windows for significant success and I feel like this is one of them where the pieces are in place,” said Bertoli. “We really need to emphasize a few things and a lot of them are the things the kids talked about in the exit interviews.”

PDS has a lot of good pieces at forward in a group of battle-tested veterans that features senior Rosheen Nissangaratchie, junior Riley Schmidt, junior Liam Jackson, senior Ryan Vandal, senior Oliver Hall, senior Ace Ewanchyna, and sophomore Wyatt Ewanchyna.

“That is where we have our depth and where we are most improved,” said Bertoli, whose forward unit will also include senior Nick Bruno, sophomore Colton Simonds, and trio of promising freshmen in Brady Logue, Jake Harrison, and Filip Kacmarsky. “We return so many kids, we have very capable forwards. The reality is that our fourth line, whatever that ends up being, is going to be stronger and more talented than what our third line was last year so that is encouraging. As a group, they look bigger, they look faster. The intensity and the urgency in practice is there. The key is always can you sustain that.”

The Ewanchyna brothers exemplify the sense of urgency Bertoli is seeing from his players.

“Ace played a lot over the summer and looks like a different player from last year; he is the fastest kid on the ice and has looked like a pretty dynamic player,” said Bertoli. “I could see him really ramping up his production, he is a kid that is likely going to play in every situation because of his speed. Wyatt is very good. They are different types of players. He wants to win, he wants to compete, and he wants to learn. He plays on a very good club team, he is one of their go-to guys. He wants to be that guy for us even as a sophomore. They are both bigger and stronger and faster than last year and that adds up to boding well for themselves and the team.”

Juniors Han Shin and Connor Stratton will be go-to players on the defensive unit along with seniors Cole Fenton and Will Brown.

“Han and Connor play the most minutes because they are power play guys,” said Bertoli, adding that sophomore Hart Nowakoski, sophomore Max Guche, and freshman Hubert Shin should also see time at defenseman. “We have guys like Cole and Will who took lot of pride in being defensive players. They typically pair well with Connor and Han. We encourage them to push the play and they usually complement that with defensive-minded play.”

At goalie, junior Mason Watson and sophomore Calvin Fenton are battling for playing time.

“Mason is a big athletic kid, when his positioning is on and his angles are on, it is just hard to get the puck past him,” said Bertoli. “Calvin is just a really athletic kid. He recovers well, always seems to make the second and the third save. As a team you don’t want to be going up those second and third opportunities but you have a kid that has the ability to do it and thrives on it. I am sure they both want to be the starter. We are in a really good spot there.”

With PDS opening the season by playing at Bergen Catholic on December 8 and then hosting Christian Brothers Academy on December 13, Bertoli believes that getting off to a hot start will be critical for his squad.

“Having some success right out of the gate against these top teams and proving to ourselves that we have the depth and the mindset to play with these top groups that we play against night in, night out is key,” said Bertoli. “You look at our schedule, there is no game that I can circle and say here is an opportunity to play some kids that I normally wouldn’t play. We figured that out quickly last year. That isn’t in the cards anymore, which is great. I want our kids to be challenged. They recognize at the end of the day, given the competition, if you don’t show up, you are not going to have success.”

If the Panthers can develop that winning mindset early on, they could experience a lot of success this winter.

“We recognize the opportunity here that if things fall our way and we get some bounces and have some success early, we can have some home ice games in the Gordon playoffs and the state playoffs,” said Bertoli. “There is a real possibility that we can be playing into March and having some really, really big games.”