Unbeaten week gives PHS state berth

Little Tiger boys’ ice hockey moves above .500 Friday

By: Bob Nuse
   The Princeton High boys’ ice hockey team was faced with a pretty big week last week. With an 8-9-1 record and three games to play, the Little Tigers needed to go at least 2-1 to earn a spot in the state tournament.
   Mission accomplished.
   Thanks to some strong play on both ends of the ice, Princeton went 2-0-1 last week to not only claim a spot in the upcoming state tournament, but also position itself for more big weeks ahead.
   "We played well," said Princeton coach Paul Merrow, whose team clinched its state tournament spot with a 7-2 win over Lawrence on Friday. "We knew we had to win two out of three and we went 2-0-1, so we had a good week. We tied Hightstown and then we beat Pennington and Lawrence, who are good teams."
   Thanks to the big week, Princeton has now positioned itself for at least three more big weeks. This week, the Little Tigers will face Steinert on Friday in a game that could decide the Colonial Valley Conference Valley Division title. The following week Princeton will play in the Mercer County Tournament, beginning with a quarterfinal matchup against Hopewell Valley, which won both of the teams’ first meetings this season. That will lead right into the state tournament the next week.
   "At the beginning of the year we started off quick and fast to my surprise," Merrow said. "We hit a bit of a lull in the middle of January and had a little slide, but then we rebounded and had a nice little run to get to the Titans Cup final, beating Notre Dame and then playing Hopewell.
   "Then we bounced back and forth a little bit. Hopefully now we’re on a bit of an upswing."
   If they are, this would be just the right time for it. Princeton, which is currently 10-9-1, has a chance to do some pretty good things over the next few weeks. And with a roster loaded with young players, this could just be the start for the Little Tigers.
   In the win over Lawrence on Friday, senior Matt Leuck went over the 100-point total for his career with a pair of goals. He is joined by Ian Boyd as the only seniors on the team. Junior Nick Brener and sophomore Sam Finnell scored two goals apiece, while freshman J.R. Ryan had four assists in the win.
   "J.R. has been pretty consistent for us all year," Merrow said of his team’s leading scorer, who has 21 goals and 26 assists for 47 points. "He had a real good game against Lawrence. And Sam came back after the (WW-P) North game and has played really well for us. He’s playing with a lot of confidence right now."
   And so are the Little Tigers as a team. And that confidence comes at just the right time.
   "We get another crack at Hopewell in the county tournament," Merrow said. "We know what we have to do against them. They’re a very good team and we’re going to have to play well to get past them."
   At this point in the season Princeton seems to be playing as well as it has all year. And that should give Merrow reason to feel good about his team’s chances.