Little Tiger girls hockey looks to extend streak today
By Justin Feil, Assistant Sports Editor
One of Keely Herring’s goals this season was to do well for the seniors on the Princeton High School girls ice hockey team.
”It started pretty slow,” said the PHS sophomore. “We have so many seniors, it’ll be a big loss next year without them. It would be great to do the best we can this year.”
The Little Tigers’ climb continues at 6:45 p.m. today at Princeton Day School’s Lisa McGraw Rink when they host Shady Side Academy in a Women’s Interscholastic Hockey League of the Mid-Atlantic game.
”I remember them being one of the better teams in the league,” Herring said. “I’m a little nervous about that. But we usually rise to the occasion against the better teams. Hopefully it’ll be a good game.”
PHS put together two strong games in a row to build momentum going into today. They pounded the only other public team in New Jersey, Summit, by a 9-1 score Sunday. Herring and Gabby Vukasin scored three goals apiece while Abby Hunter had a goal and assist. Herring scored two more goals in a 5-1 win over the Lawrenceville School junior varsity team Tuesday as PHS improved to 4-6 overall.
”Those were easier games for us to win,” said Herring, who was joined in the goal-scoring column against Lawrenceville by Olivia Ray, Vukasin and Stephanie Miezin. “It was good for us to play them in slower-paced games. We worked well together and were able to try new plays.”
The Little Tigers aren’t progressing quite as quickly as first-year head coach Christian Herzog would like, but he is encouraged by some of the recent developments given how little practice time PHS gets. It’s a great week when the Little Tigers get in three practices, while schools with their own rinks can practice five days per week.
”The offense is starting to come around a little better,” Herzog said. “Our goals against is still unacceptable. The WHILMA league, that’s one of the tiebreakers and the amount of penalties is another. The only time that’s really acceptable to take [a penalty] is a breakaway in our defensive zone. Taking penalties in the offensive zone is unacceptable and we’ve done that too much.”
The Little Tigers have shown they can be competitive with any team if they stay disciplined. They are working diligently to improve their record.
”It’s not quite right where we want to be,” Herring said. “It’s not as good as last year, but it’s getting better. We played Mo-Beard at first and had a bad loss (13-2 after giving up six first-period goals). The second time we played them, we kept up with them (8-1, but only two first-period goals).
”Obviously, our team has potential. We’ve seen that come out. It’s good to know that’s there and we have to work at playing at our level and not playing based on another team’s level.”
Herring centers the Little Tigers second line that includes Phoebe Rea and Hunter. It is their second season together.
”The second line is coming together,” Herzog said. “I’m noticing some better passing. They’re picking their head up to make the passes, which is a big deal.”
Herring, who has played defense occasionally, is a strong presence on a line that continues to improve.
”We’ve come together,” Herring said. “We’re working well together and starting to understand each other’s method and games. We know how each person plays, what their strengths and weaknesses are and how to do our best to help them out. We each have our strengths — some are good at breaking it out, some people are better at defense.
”I think it’s easier this year because of having a year under my belt,” she added. “It has helped a lot. With game experience, mentally it’s easier to take going into a game knowing what to expect. It helps a lot to have that extra experience, not going in completely unaware of the team you’re playing.”
Experience is something that PHS is trying to get for more of its players. Herring has an advantage in that she started playing at a young age in the Nassau Hockey League, and still skates for the Nassau Wildfire club team outside of school. Herzog needs more players like that to make the PHS program more competitive.
”Keely always asks question, she’s willing to work hard and never complains,” Herzog said. “She very rarely misses practice. She’s ready, and when she shows up, she’s ready to work hard. She generally wants to work hard and achieve. She has more of a background with hockey with her dad playing, so she has a little advantage. And when Keely is a senior, her sister will be playing as well.
”Keely’s defensive-minded and she makes good passes. She looks for the open man, instead of just sending it down the boards like a lot of people do.”
Herzog is trying to highlight the things in his stronger players that his less experienced players can emulate.
”We need to break the bad habits,” he said. “That’s where we struggle the most — trying to unlearn bad habits. But one thing I do like, whether it’s a win or loss, even though we’re getting called on some penalties, they’re playing a more physical game.
”We have to do that (today). Shady Side is going to play a physical game. I don’t anticipate they’ll roll over and give us a free win. They have a strong program every year.”
Keely Herring and her Little Tigers are working to ensure that the same will be said of PHS girls ice hockey. It starts with sending the seniors out on a high note this season.