Young Princeton hockey team has its ups and downs

By: Bob Nuse
   Paul Merrow has seen glimpses of just how good his Princeton High boys’ ice hockey team can be.
   Early-season wins over Hightstown and West Windsor-Plainsboro South proved the Little Tigers could play with anyone. But with a roster loaded with freshmen and sophomores, Merrow knows there will be some ups and downs.
   That was evident on Wednesday night, when Princeton played two periods up and one down in a 7-5 loss to Fair Lawn at Baker Rink.
   "The first period was 2-2 and then in the second period we let them score two shorthanded goals," said Merrow, whose team fell to 5-3-1 with the loss. "We’ve had that problem all year where we don’t play three periods. Tonight the first was decent, then in the second we were non-existent.
   "In the third period we came out and played well and got back in the game. But that second period really hurt us."
   Princeton had played to a 2-2 after the first period on goals by Matt Leuck and Brian Fisher. But Fair Lawn scored four goals in the second period, the last two while the Little Tigers were on the power play.
   In the third period, Princeton got back into the game on goals by Leuck, Peter Miller and Ian Boyd to cut the lead to 6-5 with just over four minutes left. Fair Lawn then scored with just over two minutes left to make the lead 7-5.
   The game was a microcosm of the Little Tigers season thus far. Princeton has had its bright spots, but there have also been moments like Wednesday night’s second period, where the game got away.
   "Overall, we’re doing OK," said Merrow, whose team is back in action Monday night at Ice Land against Ewing. "We started well with a win over Hightstown in our division. Then we had a win over West Windsor South from the other division. The Steinert loss was tough. Overall, we’ve done pretty well. We just seem to have one period a game where we don’t play well."
   With so few upperclassmen, perhaps that can be expected. But at this point of the season, Merrow hopes to see the experience of having played a month of the season kick in.
   "We’re very young," he said. "We’ve only got two seniors and three juniors. But it’s January, so the new guys have played and that shouldn’t be as much of a factor."
   For Princeton, January figures to be a pretty tough month. After Monday’s game with Ewing, there are games against some of the top teams in Mercer County.
   "We’ve got a tough stretch coming up," Merrow said. "We’ve got Ewing, then we have Hun, Hopewell and Notre Dame right after that. So we’re going to need to play a full three periods in these games in order to win."
   If the Little Tigers can do that, they’ll be the team Merrow has seen quite a bit this season, but not often enough.