Senior Star Garlock’s OT Goal Makes the Difference As PHS Boys’ Hockey Edges HoVal 3-2 in MCT Final
OVERJOYED: Princeton High boys’ hockey player Ethan Garlock celebrates after scoring a goal last week in the Mercer County Tournament. Last Wednesday, senior forward and captain Garlock scored the winning goal in overtime as second-seeded PHS edged fourth-seeded Hopewell Valley 3-2 in the MCT title game. The Tigers, who improved to 14-6-1 as they earned the program’s first county crown since 2020, will start play in the state tournament this week. PHS is seeded 10th in the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association (NJSIAA) Public A state tourney and will play at seventh-seeded Passaic Tech in a first-round contest on February 23. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)
By Bill Alden
For Ethan Garlock, helping the Princeton High boys’ hockey team win a Mercer County Tournament title has been a goal of his for years.
“For a lot of the seniors, we had older brothers and we would come to this game countless times as a kid in the stands,” said PHS senior forward and captain Garlock. “We knew that once we were seniors, we were going to play in the game and take control and come out on top. We worked for this moment all of our lives.”
Last Wednesday evening, Garlock and his teammates got that chances as second-seeded PHS faced fourth-seeded Hopewell Valley in the MCT title game before a packed house at the Mercer County Skating Center.
The Tigers brought some extra motivation into the contest, having lost 7-2 to Notre Dame in the MCT final last winter.
“We had that game on rewind today, we were getting psyched,” said Garlock. “We knew coming into this game there was no such thing as satisfaction; we would have to work until that final buzzer.”
PHS had to work hard in the final as Hopewell goalie Blake Echternacht produced an amazing performance, turning away a barrage of Princeton shots as the foes battled to a 2-2 tie through regulation.
“I have to give props to their goalie, he stood on his head,” said Garlock. “He gave us his best game and we were going to give ours, and we knew that is better. We were a little startled at first, we had to keep our composure. We had to keep faith, knowing that we were going to get it past him and come out on top.”
Ultimately the Tigers came out on top as Garlock scored a goal with 5:31 left in the first overtime period, blasting a shot over Echternacht’s shoulder into the back of the net to give PHS a hard-earned 3-2 triumph and its first county crown since 2020.
Although Garlock had been stymied all night long, he never lost faith that he could break through.
“I knew when I didn’t capitalize on my chances, there is always another one,” said Garlock. “I kept looking forward to that next one and stopped worrying about the one before.”
On the winning goal, Garlock took a chance with a long one-timer, believing the shot could result in a point-blank rebound even if it didn’t get past the goalie.
“I saw Cooper Zullo on the right, I knew I had to put that far pad and if it didn’t go in, he was going to get that and stuff it in,” recalled Garlock. “I had full faith in that play, I knew that it was going to be a tough shot to save. I heard the crowd — I knew it went in and I started celebrating with my brothers. I am really proud of the way that our boys and me kept our composure.”
Tallying three other goals and three assists in the MCT in addition to the game
winner in the final, Garlock was named the tournament MVP.
“It feels great, I think that anybody could have gotten that,” said Garlock, reflecting on the honor. “Everybody deserved it; I was lucky enough to get that goal and win it.”
In assessing the team’s run to the title, Garlock sees its upbeat mentality as a key to success.
“I think it is mostly our energy on the bench and off the bench,” said Garlock of the Tigers who improved to 14-6-1 with victory. “Even if we are down by three going into the third, we always have positive energy. We always build each other up. We just get working and we put everything else aside. We just focus on our game.”
Garlock and his five fellow seniors on the squad have built some deep bonds over the years.
“When there is a lot of seniors, from freshman year and up, we really do become brothers through blood sweat and tears,” said Garlock, whose classmates in the squad included Julian Drezner, Gabe Silverstein, Nico Vitaro, and Andrew Benevento in addition to fellow captain Zullo. “We fight for each other and that four-year connection never goes away.”
PHS head coach Rik Johnson knew his team was in for a fight against HoVal even though it had topped the Bulldogs twice in regular season play.
“We knew they were coming in here hard,” said Johnson. “It was the two final teams in the tournament — you don’t get there by luck.”
HoVal goalie Echternacht certainly made things hard for the Tigers as he ended the night with 57 saves.
“Their goalie played lights out,” said Johnson, who got goals from Charles Ross and T.T. Zhao as his team built leads of 1-0 and 2-1 before HoVal knotted the game at 2-2 with 6:32 left in regulation to force overtime. “We came at him a few times and he was good.”
Going into OT, Johnson was looking for the Tigers to come out hard.
“We had to establish momentum going into that period,” said Johnson. “We were going to have to buckle down and get to work.”
Johnson was not surprised to see Garlock notch the winning tally. “Goal scorers score, it is very good for him,” said Johnson.
PHS got a very good game from its goalie, sophomore Noah Vitulli, who made 21 saves in the victory.
“Noah made some very nice saves, it is hard for him because he doesn’t get a lot of practice time,” said Johnson. “He is always playing a game more than he gets to practice. He has improved by leaps and bounds. He kept us in the game tonight.”
In Johnson’s view, the squad’s special camaraderie has kept it on track.
“I think the biggest thing is that they are good kids and they all get along,” said Johnson. “They go to dinner together, they are all a great group off the ice.”
With PHS starting action in the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association (NJSIAA) Public A state tournament this week, where it is seeded 10th and will play at seventh-seeded Passaic Tech in a first-round contest on February 23, Johnson believes the Tigers can build on their MCT performance.
“It is a good win, we have to learn from this and keep working,” said Johnson. “You build off your positives; don’t get too heady but don’t get too low either. That is where I come in, to keep them focused.”
Garlock, for his part, is confident that PHS will make a good showing in states.
“This was one of our main goals, and now we have to look ahead to states,” said Garlock. “We have to start working hard to try to make a run in states.”