December 21, 2022

Sparked by Jackson’s Emergence as Top Playmaker, PDS Boys’ Hockey Making Progress at 2-2-1

ACTION JACKSON: Princeton Day School boys’ hockey player Liam Jackson, center, battles for the puck in recent action. Last Thursday, junior forward Jackson tallied two goals and an assist as PDS skated to a 5-5 tie with Gloucester Catholic. PDS, who topped St. Joseph (Montvale) 3-0 last Monday to improve to 2-2-1, was scheduled to host St. Augustine on December 22 before going on holiday break. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

By Bill Alden

Liam Jackson was ready to step up for the Princeton Day School boys’ hockey team this winter in his second season with the program.

“Coach [Scott Bertoli] has put a lot more responsibility on me to do more of the scoring as opposed to last year,” said junior forward Jackson. “I am just trying to play with more confidence. It is hard playing with the crowd there in high school with bigger kids. I definitely made some improvements in confidence, and I am looking to continue that this year.”

Last Thursday against Gloucester Catholic, Jackson scored a goal and an assist in the second period as PDS jumped out to a 3-0 lead.

“It was a good play by Riley Schmidt on the face-off, getting it forward and to the front of the net,” said Jackson, reflecting on the goal. “Han [Shin] made a great play jumping up into the play on the assist. He broke up the play and I just knocked it up to him. He had a great finish.”

The Panthers extended the lead to 4-0 early in the third period on a second goal by Shin but it was Gloucester who finished strong, scoring five straight goals to forge ahead 5-4.

“We wanted to come out with a lot of energy and I think we did, going up 4-0 there and then we let our foot off the gas pedal,” said Jackson. “We let up. We played a good game until the third period … when it started to all go down.”

PDS, though, was able to salvage a tie as Jackson tallied a goal with 1:10 left in regulation to end the scoring in the wild contest.

“It was a good shot by Connor Stratton from the point,” said Jackson, recalling the tally. “He got that in front and then the puck just found my stick and I put it in.”

While pulling out the tie in the wake of a 6-1 loss to Christian Brothers two days earlier was some consolation, Jackson acknowledged that PDS should not have squandered the lead.

“It was lucky to get the tie — we definitely didn’t play our best game,” said Jackson of the Panthers, who moved to 2-2-1 with a 3-0 win over St. Joseph (Montvale) last Monday. “Just to come out with a point is huge for the rest of the year. Going on a two-game losing streak is not what we wanted. I think there are some positive takeaways that we have. As a team, we have to be better here.”

With Jackson leading the Panthers with seven points on two goals and five assists, he is off to a positive start.

“I am playing with great linemates in Riley Schmidt and Brady Logue,” said Jackson. “They are great players — they really help. They give me a lot of good passes. We work really well together.”

PDS head coach Scott Bertoli likes the work he is getting from Jackson.

“Liam has made big time progress,” said Bertoli. “He is a tremendous player and we put him out there in a lot of key situations.”

The Panthers, though, didn’t excel in key situations down the stretch against Gloucester Catholic.

“We just don’t manage the game; it is hockey, these kids have played hockey a long time,” said Bertoli. “Too many of them, all they see is the net at the other end and they want to score irregardless of the situation. We are giving up 3-on-1s because we don’t manage situations. At some point there needs to be situational awareness — where you are on the ice, what the situation is on the clock, what the score is, and who is on the ice for them. We are just trading chances. When you are trading chances with teams that want to play that way, you are playing with fire in some respects. It worked until it didn’t.”

While PDS showed some grit in pulling out the tie, that isn’t what Bertoli will remember about the game.

“It softens the blow a little bit,” said Bertoli, who also got a goal from Oliver Hall in the loss. “But blowing a four-goal lead in the third period, it will take me a little bit to overcome that.”

Going forward, Bertoli is looking for his veteran players to get better at closing the deal.

“The points are great, I expect them from those type of guys because they are talented kids,” said Bertoli, whose team hosts St. Augustine on December 22 before taking a holiday break. “But they are also out there when Gloucester tied the game up. If we are going to give guys certain responsibilities, they need to do a better job of managing them and proving to us that they are the ones that belong out there the next time.”

Jackson is confident that the Panthers will do a good job as the winter unfolds.

“I think we have definitely had steps forward from last year,” said Jackson. “We just have to keep that going and keep improving.”