By Bob Nuse, Sports Editor
Legendary basketball coach Al McGuire used to say the best thing about a freshman is that he becomes a sophomore.
The Princeton Day School ice hockey team, which was loaded with freshmen last year, is reaping the benefits of those freshmen becoming sophomores this year. After winning just three games a year ago with a young roster, the Panthers picked up their third win of this season by topping Hun, 3-2, on Monday.
In just three games the Panthers have matched their win total of last year. Although the three-win season a year ago was unusual for such a successful program.
“It was the product of having to insert six freshmen into the lineup and being physically outmatched,” PDS coach Scott Bertoli said. “Those kids are all key contributors. We have one senior (Connor Fletcher) and he’s our best player and our captain and our leader. We kind of jump on his back and look at him to lead and he has done that through three games. But it bodes well for the future with all the younger players we have.”
The Panthers opened the season with wins over St. Joseph’s (PA) and Montclair Kimberley before the impressive win over Hun. Tyler Coffey, Coby Auslander and Russell Friedman each scored goals in the win, while Logan Kramsky made 18 saves in goal.
Friedman scored with just under 10 minutes left in the third period to break a 2-2 tie and give the Panthers a win.
“We were really young last year, but I thought we did a lot of growing,” said Friedman. “We have gotten a lot better as a team. Getting older and having the experience has really helped. It’s still early in the season but we’re doing pretty well. I think we can still get better.”
The Panthers lost twice to Hun last year but gained a measure of revenge with the win on Monday. Twice they scored to take a lead, only to have Hun answer with a goal of its own.
“We knew going in that this was going to be our first real test against a really good team and a team that, not that you want to dwell on last year and look backwards, but a team that had a lot of success,” Bertoli said. “They have some talented kids and they are playing with a lot of confidence. Twice we got up on them and they answered right away which is a sign a good team.”
The Panthers obviously learned their lessons well last year and the result has been a good start this season.
“We did some good things,” said Bertoli, whose team travels to Albany this weekend for a tournament at Albany Academy. “We have a lot of guys returning from last year. It wasn’t our best effort but it was good enough and that is the sign of a good team. We had three wins total last year and here we are a week into the season and we have three wins already. We were able to beat a very good team that beat us twice last year.
“Things are heading in the right direction but we have a lot of work to do still. We are playing some very strong teams. We’re going up to Albany Academy this weekend for a tournament and we expect the competition to be extremely difficult and we’re going to need to play better than that over the course of three periods to have success up there.”
There is no substitute for experience and the Panthers are proving that this year. They are a year older and a year better than the team that won just three games last year.
“I think the experience plays a big role,” Friedman said. “We were so young with six freshmen. That was tough and we kind of got beat up by other teams because they were faster and stronger. Now with the extra year and other teams graduating their older guys and we’re growing up and getting bigger and stronger and it makes a difference.
“We’re still not that big but we just improved our skill as the year went on. I feel more comfortable. Last year for the first half of the season I felt shaky going into every game. It was a big change because the game is a lot faster. But now being a second year guy I am more used to it.”
The same can be said for many of his teammates. And judging by the results of the first three games the young Panthers are proving Coach McGuire correct.
By Bob Nuse, Sports Editor