Little Tigers edge Panthers in OT
By: Justin Feil
Kristen Naylor remembers fondly the last time she was part of a Princeton High girls’ hockey team that beat Princeton Day School.
It was her freshman year, when she was playing a forward for the Little Tigers. Since then, she’s skated four times against PDS, losing all four of those games including two last year.
That’s only part of what made Wednesday’s 5-4 win over the Panthers so special. First, the Little Tigers stormed back from a 3-1 deficit to start the third period and then they snatched the momentum and the game away with Vicki Chen’s fifth goal of the game with 1:28 left in overtime.
"I can really only compare it to the last time we beat PDS," Naylor said. "It was the second game of my freshman year. It was December 2002. And I thought, hockey is so great, after we won."
Now a defenseman for the Little Tigers, Naylor’s opinion of hockey got a boost from the thrilling win.
"It’s different winning as a junior than as a freshman," said Naylor, an assistant captain for the Little Tigers. "You have years behind you and you know the people you’re playing with."
This year looks like it’s a special group for PHS, which improved to 4-1-1, 2-1-1 in Mid-Atlantic Girls Prep Hockey League play.
"We wanted this win so badly," Naylor said. "PDS is one of our biggest rivals. We didn’t win against them last year. And the year before that, we won the first time, then lost the next one and the next one."
PDS was a goal here or there away from keeping its streak alive. The Panthers led, 2-1, in the first period on goals by Kristen Modzelewski, Katie Briody and Meg Kerwin and stretched that to 3-1 on Kerwin’s second goal of the game.
"I think we probably were a little stronger," said PDS head coach John Cook, whose team slipped to 5-5, 2-3 in the MAGPHL. "We need to fine-tune a few things. If we shut down Vicki Chen, we would have won that game. We had a good chance. We got it in real deep and it bounced all around. At the start of the third period, they were playing great for a stretch. We could have put them away early. They could have put us away late."
PHS came out flying to start the third period and immediately got within a goal when Naylor found Blair Thompson, who fed Chen for her second goal of the game 55 seconds into the third period. Thompson and Chen connected again for the equalizer a minute-and-a-half later. And Chen scored her third goal of the period and fourth of the game less than 1:40 later to give PHS a 4-3 lead and an amazing turnabout in the five minutes since the intermission ice cut.
"We had a lot of alumni from teams in previous years there, and a lot of them came and talked," Naylor said. "There wasn’t a lot of talk from our coaches. Laura Burke, who graduated two years ago, talked and I never heard the locker room so silent. These old, skilled players spoke. We got all excited and pumped up.
"I knew we had to come back with something," she added. "We couldn’t end it, 3-1. We knew we had to keep scoring goals. The first one is so crucial. From that, you have so much momentum. You could hear fans cheering for you, you could hear the bench cheering for you. You could feel it in the air that something good was going to happen."
But not quite yet. Emily Cook found the back of the net with a gorgeous goal to give PDS all the momentum with 1:29 to go in the third period. When the horn sounded, the teams agreed to play a five-minute sudden-death overtime period to break the tie.
"PDS was able to convince them to go into overtime," Naylor said. "They figured they had the momentum, which was why it was so thrilling (to win)."
The win came when Chen, who missed PHS’ only loss of the season to Hill, tallied her fifth goal of the game. Chen is the type of player that Naylor sometimes catches herself just watching during games.
"I’m amazed at how she can capitalize on anything," Naylor said. "A lot of the time, we tend to just throw the puck up to here. She can always pull something off."
"She’s a good player," John Cook said, "but we have good players too. We have players who can skate with her. We just gave up too many breakaways."
The PHS defense, on the other hand, after a shaky start, tightened up considerably in the second and third periods. Naylor was part of that defensive unit, and has found a comfort zone in the back.
"My freshman year, I played forward," she said. "I moved back last year because a lot of our seniors graduated who played defense. I’m fonder of defense. I was never a huge goal scorer as a freshman. I could assist. It was so much thinking at first. But I like how you’re the one who can sit back and watch everything unfold. I like the contrast."
Wednesday’s game was one of contrasts. The first and third periods were almost mirror images. PHS head coach Matt Becan preferred the look of his defense in the second half of the game.
"That’s what we really keyed on," Becan said. "I told them that momentum doesn’t only come from offense and scoring goals. Even our goalie gained momentum for us by making some big saves. Everyone knew if Princeton Day School went up by three goals, they’re a very talented team and it would be very difficult to come back. We knew we had to stop them and climb back in this game. Vicki scored all the goals, but this was a contribution by all the players on the team."
Emily Schulte stopped 12 shots for PHS while the Panthers’ Kristina Costa made 23 saves to enable PDS to reach overtime. That might have been good enough but both teams agreed to the unusual extra period.
"The game ended with a tie and I was pretty happy with that, being down two goals and coming back to tie it in the third period," Becan said. "The refs went to Princeton Day’s bench and said they’d put five minutes on the clock. I told our girls that I wasn’t going to do it unless they wanted to. They really wanted to try to win this game. They didn’t want to settle for a tie. The girls pulled it together."
The Panthers will be seeking revenge when the two teams meet again Feb. 14, Valentine’s Day, in a matchup with little love lost, but plenty of respect.
"We’re going to show a little more attention to No. 11 (Chen)," Cook said. "We played her before when we played the (Nassau) U-19s. She’s a strong skater. She has good balance. She’s good with the puck around the net. You can tell she loves to play hockey."
And Wednesday, she wasn’t alone as players from both teams could skate away knowing it was one of the best games of high school hockey.
"It was fun for everyone," Cook said. "Princeton just had a little more fun."