Another rally in rivalry

PDS girls top PHS hockey

By: Justin Feil
   In the week leading up to playing Princeton High, Princeton Day School head coach John Cook reminded his girls’ ice hockey team of last season’s results against its rival.
   "They were heartbreakers," said PDS senior Jess Cellars of the 5-4 overtime and 1-0 regulation losses. "We talked about it in practice this week. We didn’t really want to talk about it but Mr. Cook said, we need to use that to get ready. We lost pretty badly in Baker. If you looked in the stands, there were so many Princeton High fans. It was definitely a big deal for us."
   Those fans saw another good game, one that this time went the way of the Panthers. PDS rallied from an early 2-0 deficit to eventually win 4-2 Friday on the strength of three third-period goals.
   "We were very nervous and anxious in the beginning," said Cellars, who scored the tying and game-winning goals in the third period. "It was our first big rival game. Our nerves got the best of us. They got two quick goals. Mr. Cook talked to us between periods and we got all pumped again. We dominated the third period.
   "I just said, I need to pick it up here," she added of her third-period scoring. "It kind of fell into place. Everyone worked harder and helped each other out."
   The win helped PDS improve to 4-3-1 overall, 2-0-1 in the Women’s Interscholastic Hockey League of the Mid-Atlantic going into Monday’s scheduled game against conference leader Morristown-Beard. Princeton High slipped to 4-1 overall, 1-1 in WIHLMA play and will play at Portledge on Thursday.
   It was the Little Tigers who had rallied for the first win in the rivalry last season after trailing, 3-1, going into the third period. PHS then swept the season series with a 1-0 shutout.
   "I’ve got a lot of respect for the high school," said Cook, whose team faces PHS again Feb. 16. "When I grew up, the high school never had a good hockey program. But you see they have girls like Dee Dee (Mahon) and Blair Thompson and Emily Schulte. They play great. They’re a nice group of girls. It’s nice the high school has a team like this. And Matt (Becan) is a great coach. He’s been nice to deal with. It is a good rivalry. We had those tough losses last year and we won (Friday). The girls just really picked it up in the third period."
   PHS opened the game strong with goals from Melissa Diamond and Thompson in the first 10 minutes for a 2-0 lead. Less than one minute after Thompson’s goal, PDS got on the board with a goal from Noni Ammidon to cut the lead to one-goal, 2-1. Neither team could score in the second period as Schulte, PHS’ goaltender, and PDS netminder Elisa Cichonski were flawless. Schulte finished with 12 saves; Cichonski made 11.
   "Frankly," Cook said, "we let them have less good shots at the end of the game. Cichonski made some very good saves. Elisa made some pretty good saves in the second half of the game."
   Cellars took care of the offensive end. The senior skated in for a pair of unassisted goals to help the Panthers take the lead for good. Her first goal came with 7:17 to go in the third period to tie it, 2-2.
   "After the he first one, we felt like it was good but we have to be cautious," the Lawrenceville resident said. "We didn’t want them to come back and score. I was a little cautious to go out there. We said, we have to make sure they don’t score. It ended up perfectly. It was in their end and we scored. Then momentum swung our way."
   Cellars second goal came barely a minute and a half after her first one and the Panthers had their first lead of the game. Emily Cook iced the game with 46 seconds left with a goal from a difficult angle.
   "It was a great evening," said John Cook. "I think even Matt had a good time. When they beat us, I said it was a fun game and they had a little more fun than us. Maybe this year, we had a little more fun."
   Cellars certainly added to the Panthers’ enjoyment. She figured to be a bigger part of PDS’ success on the offensive end after it graduated last season’s leading scorer, Meg Kerwin.
   "I really wanted to be a leader on the team," Cellars said. "I knew we needed to score goals. I never thought I’d have to score like this. I thought I’m a good assister, but not a good scorer. I have to do it now. I love to be in position to help the team like that."
   Cellars has been a boost to every team she’s been a part of at PDS. She also plays soccer and lacrosse. This winter figures to be her final season of hockey as she anticipates playing club soccer at Bucknell University next year.
   "I did start playing (Lawrence) Lady Bugs hockey in seventh grade," Cellars said. "I just always wanted to play. I tried a boys’ team in sixth grade, but it was rough for me. I was on the (Lady Bugs) B team. There’s an A team and B team.
   "Then it became U-19 and U-15. I was on the U-15 in eighth grade. Freshman year I played outside hockey on Lady Bugs and in-school hockey. That was a lot. I stopped after that year."
   But Cellars thinks it will be difficult to give up hockey after this year. It’s getting harder to give up as the Panthers put together a solid season. Their only losses came at the Canterbury Tournament, a tournament they played without another top threat, Leah Lefebvre. That tournament showed the Panthers a higher level of play that they are aspiring themselves to play to this season.
   "I definitely thought it was going to be a struggle losing Meg Kerwin and Kristina Costa, our goalie," Cellars said. "We had to find new goalie. My aspirations were for us to play as hard as we can. I think without our tournament, we’re 4-0-1. That’s better than I had hoped for. I just want us to do as well as we can and work as hard as we can. It’s getting exciting to win.
   "We have some big games coming up. We have Mo-Beard and Stuart. We haven’t beaten Mo-Beard since freshman year. I’d love to win against them. And Stuart is another rival. It’s been great to start winning. It’s a great feeling."
   Cellars has contributed steadily for the Panthers. She has eight goals and six assists. She has always contributed, but she’s also steadily improved every season.
   "Jessie wasn’t that good a skater in the beginning," Cook said. "She got a lot better as a skater. She’s so strong in the zone. She’s like a bundle of fire. I think she got the other girls going (Friday)."
   That third-period lift was just what the Panthers needed to win a rivalry game. It was the fifth win in their last eight meetings with PHS. Jess Cellars was happy to be such a big part of it and erase some of the heartbreak of last year’s losses.
   "It was amazing," she said. "It was really fun."