Momentum is with PHS hockey squad

Little Tiger girls stop unbeaten foe

By: Justin Feil
   The Princeton High School girls’ ice hockey team had momentum after sweeping a pair of games from Holton Arms to open the weekend.
   Shady Side Academy had momentum after a 3-1 win over Princeton Day School on Saturday.
   Sunday, the two unbeatens met and it was the Little Tigers who kept momentum on their side with a 1-0 win over Shady Side. With the win, PHS improves to 6-0 this season, 4-0 in the Women’s Interscholastic Hockey League of the Mid-Atlantic. The Little Tigers are the lone undefeated WIHLMA team after the big showdown.
   "We knew they were unbeaten," said PHS head coach Matt Becan, whose team hosts PDS 7 p.m. Wednesday at Baker Rink. "They had a tie against Holton Arms. Other than that, they’ve beaten every other team. I took the opportunity to see them play when they played PDS. I saw they had a lot of energy on their bench. Once they scored, it seemed to build energy on their bench. That was the key focus I told our team. Don’t let this team get energy. Keep them off the board."
   The Little Tigers followed to perfection those instructions. Haley Thompson got Princeton on the scoreboard with a goal barely two minutes into the second period, and fellow freshman Chelsea Corell did the rest for her third career shutout. Corell stopped 26 total shots.
   "For us, we know we have the talent to score when we need to," Becan said. "We also know we can’t get too far behind. We’ve been working hard on our defensive zone coverage. We have Chelsea back there and we’re working hard on keeping coverage around her.
   "The girls are buying into it. They’re getting more and more confident with the system we’re playing. And they’re capitalizing on scoring opportunities. There are a lot of different girls who are finding the back of the net pretty easily. That’s building confidence. The more we do these things, the more confidence we have coming into the next game."
   PHS is looking to duplicate its strong defensive play and take a little pressure off with a few more goals as they take on PDS. It won’t be hard for the Little Tigers to get motivated for their crosstown rivals.
   "PDS beat us twice in the regular season last year," Becan said. "We want to continue with our momentum moving forward. I know from seeing PDS they have a strong goalie, and they have players who can move the puck. We want to eliminate them from getting any momentum and get into the game and capitalize on any mistake they’re making."
   Beyond that, the Little Tigers will travel to traditionally strong Hill on Sunday. It’s part of a busy WIHLMA week for front-running PHS.
   "With Hill, they’re a team that’s been strong in the past," Becan said. "We want to keep our winning streak going. We want to take dominance in the league so we can have the first seed in the playoffs. We have to treat every game like it’s the championship. We can’t take anyone lightly or we could get knocked off."
   The Little Tigers are off to their strongest start in at least the last six seasons. The sweep of Holton Arms by identical 4-1 scores on Friday and Saturday got them off to a good start in the New Year. It was the start of a challenging weekend.
   "To have three games in one weekend and we’re coming off our Christmas break, I was afraid we might come out a little flat," Becan said. "The first game against Holton Arms, we did come out a little flat. But the girls picked it up quickly and they adjusted between periods. By the time we faced Shady Side, we were pretty confident. We knew Shady Side would come out with a lot of energy. They’re well coached. They have two good lines. To take away their energy, we said we have to get a goal and put them down.
   "They are unbeaten but one thing they’re not used to is playing from behind. We wanted to come out and score early. Once we did that, we concentrated on playing defensively. The more time we ran off, we thought the more frustrated they would be. It did work out like that. They took some penalties. It worked. It was a good game plan. There was a lot of time still. The goal is to get the lead early and try to build off that, whether that means get a second goal or frustrate this team by limiting their scoring opportunities."
   PHS followed the same game plan in the wins over Holton Arms. In both games, Thompson and another freshman forward, Gabby Vukasin, scored two goals apiece. It was more than enough for the defense and Corell, who allowed her first two goals in high school play, but only on a 5-on-3 power play in both games. The final game of the weekend, nothing got by her and the Little Tigers established themselves as the early WIHLMA favorite.
   "We’re getting more chemistry from our lines," Becan said. "Our lines are gelling together, which is great to see. Our younger players are picking us up as far as gaining confidence and carrying this team. Chelsea has kept every game close. Haley and Gabby have been leading us offensively with goals when we need them. The defensive zone coverage, the players are really playing sound defense. They’re playing a sound system. And they’re playing better offense. We need them to play both ends of the ice well."
   That hasn’t been a problem for the Little Tigers. The result has been a promising start and plenty of momentum after capping a weekend run by taking the battle of the unbeatens Sunday.