Pirate senior is back

Stember-Young helps hockey team in return

By: Justin Feil
   There are comebacks, like the one that the West Windsor-Plainsboro team staged in a 5-4 win over Hightstown last week.
   And then there are comebacks like those of Max Stember-Young, the Pirates’ senior who has returned to the ice after a serious car accident cost him the end of last winter.
   "He’s a guy we lost halfway through last year to a car accident," said Pirate head coach Brian McGurney. "We almost lost Max for more than a season. He’s come back a wild man."
   Stember-Young had two goals, including one of three Pirate third-period goals, and an assist as they rallied from a 4-2 deficit for the win over Hightstown last Wednesday. Monday, he added a goal as the Pirates rode the high of the comeback to a 9-1 win over West Windsor-Plainsboro North.
   "Our first big test was the Hightstown game," Stember-Young said. "We didn’t play well, but we came back and won after we were down 4-2 to start the third period.
   "We realized we could do some damage. We rallied behind that and carried it into the North game."
   Stember-Young has also been able to pull off quite a personal rally. The accident was Feb. 5 last winter, two days before his birthday. Stember-Young spent a week in the hospital after suffering two pelvic fractures, a lacerated spleen and a concussion. He came out in a wheelchair to begin the long road back.
   "I wasn’t cleared (for contact) until August," Stember-Young said. "I spent four days a week for three hours a day working out. I was able to do stuff and that helped. The workouts were put together by our team captain, Jeff Katz, at his house. That certainly helped.
   "I still have effects of the accident. When I broke my pelvis, the muscles around it shrunk. It still hurts to skate. It’s a day to day thing. One day it will hurt and another it will be OK. It’s frustrating on that end. The idea is to keep working it out and working hard. Nothing beats the pain of sitting in a hospital not being able to do anything. That’s the most frustrating thing."
   Stember-Young returned this fall to be a force as goalkeeper for the WW-P South boys’ soccer team. He even stopped a penalty kick in a 1-0 win over WW-P North. He was looking forward to his return to the hockey team even after such a standout fall.
   "When it’s hockey season, it’s the chance to get out and not be goalie and start creating some plays and scoring some goals," he said. "I stopped a penalty kick against North when we won, 1-0. That was a lot of fun. But there are a couple more fans usually at hockey. It’s more intense."
   Particularly when it’s the North-South matchup. Monday, it was all South as they jumped out to a quick lead and never looked back. It helped the Pirates to their third straight win after opening the season with a 8-2 loss to Steinert.
   "As good as Steinert played, and they’re a strong team and I wouldn’t take anything away from them, as good as they played, we played just as bad," McGurney said. "Our Hightstown game, I wasn’t pleased with the way we played. But then (Monday) it was like throwing raw meat into the lion’s den. They came out and were ready to go. Forty-five seconds in, Katz got them going with a blast. It wasn’t just him though. It was everyone. And Dan Katz played out of his mind in goal.
   "There’s always going to be that North-South rivalry. I don’t have to go in before the game and get them motivated. They know they didn’t play well against Steinert and didn’t play well against Hightstown. Jeff Katz, our captain, took leadership of the team, but all the way down to our freshmen, Trent Hennessy and Keegan Mantell, everyone was stepping up."
   Stember-Young liked the turnaround in the Pirates against the Knights. It’s something he hopes they can build on as they face a difficult week. WW-P South plays at Toms River South on Monday, then plays Rumson Fair Haven and Princeton High.
   "I think we’re more like the team that beat North," Stember-Young said. "We were finally on the same page together when we beat North. It starts in preseason, goes to practices and into games. We weren’t all on the same page in the preseason and practices and on opening night against Steinert, it showed.
   "I think Brian (McGurney) and the rest of the team, we look forward to the higher competition," he added. "This is what the season is about. Everyone is looking forward to states, but if you can’t beat he teams going to states, why look forward to it? I think this week will show what we really can do. This week will dictate the rest of the season."
   Stember-Young would like to help the Pirates back to the state tournament after last year the Pirates missed out on a berth. At 3-1, WW-P South is headed in the right direction.
   "This year, I think we have high expectations," Stember-Young said. "Last year was a down year. It wasn’t anything because of talent. Things just didn’t go our way and the team got down. There is tons of character on this team. We’re getting to know each other, like the new freshmen and everyone. We all like each other."
   Stember-Young plays a key role for the Pirates. He’s does all the little things on top of creating goals to help them win.
   "It’s his senior year and he’s doing everything he can to keep this going," McGurney said. "He’s a big physical player. He’s turned into a team leader.
   "He’s one of the players the younger guys look to. If we need a big hit, Max is the guy who delivers the big hit. If we need help in a corner, Max is the guy going into the corner. Max is real easy to coach. If you tell him to go rip down the scoreboard, he will. He’s doing everything."
   Just doing anything for the Pirates is a big deal. After what Max Stember-Young went through last year, WW-P South is thrilled to see him back on the ice contributing whatever he can. It’s quite a comeback.