One of the certainties of the high school ice hockey season has been that by the time the tournaments roll around, Princeton will be playing its best.
The Little Tigers have show that to be the case again this year as they rolled their way into their third straight Mercer County Tournament final with an 8-5 victory over Notre Dame on Wednesday at Mercer County Park.
“We definitely have more energy and a little more jump,” said Princeton coach Tim Chase, whose team advanced to face top-seeded Hun School in the MCT final on Friday at 5:30 p.m. at Mercer County Park. “Early in the year we were a little flat. I think we’re playing well right now. We have been focusing the past couple weeks on getting the puck on goal and we’ve been getting some rebound goals.”
Princeton jumped to a 4-1 lead after the first period as Aidan Trainor scored twice and John Christopher Zammit and Ryan McCormick also scored. For the game, Trainor finished with three goals and an assist, while Nathan Podgulsky, Austin Micale and Ben Drezner also scored. Now the Little Tigers get another shot at a Hun team that has won the last five MCT titles.
“It’s exciting, especially after losing two years in a row,” said Trainor, who helped his team improve to 13-8-3. “We want to get back and have another chance at Hun and try to win this time. We think we have a good chance this year so we’re just happy to get back and have another chance.”
The two teams met earlier this year, with Hun emerging with a 7-3 victory in a game Princeton played without Trainor.
“I know some kids on Hun so it is kind of a friendly rivalry.,” said Trainor, who leads Princeton with 26 goals and 22 assists this season. “We’re all from Princeton so it is always a big game. And I have not played against them this year so I am excited for that. We don’t want to get too overly excited. We just want to focus on what we have ahead of us and play a good game.”
Added Chase: “It’s nice to get another shot at Hun. We didn’t have Aidan with us earlier when played Hun. It should be a good game and we’re looking forward to it. I think our goaltending has gotten better. We’ll probably be playing a freshman in goal against Hun and I think technically he is ready for it and can step up and keep the puck out of the net.”
Princeton did what it needed to do with the quick start in the triumph over Notre Dame. The Little Tigers scored three times in the first seven minutes to get off to the start they hoped for.
“It was important,” Trainor said. “Coming into the tournament we said one thing we wanted to do was get on the board early and just put teams down. We wanted to try and score a few quick goals.
“Going into the playoffs you just want to be clicking. You want the offense to be clicking and you want to be stoning teams on defense and making sure you’re not letting a lot in.”
The win was a reversal from a 4-3 loss Princeton suffered at the hands of the Irish last month.
“When we played Notre Dame today, I think we knew we outplayed them the last time and just didn’t get many pucks in the net,” Chase said. “Today I think we played well and we played pretty hard and controlled the game from start to finish. It was nice to set the tone right away. We needed to show them we were going to crash the net. He’s a good goalie and you have to crash the net. That’s how you’re going to beat him.”
Trainor was most pleased with seeing another game where the scoring was spread out throughout the lineup.
“We have a very deep team,” he said. “We’re not going to rely on just one line. We could have five different guys score goals on any given day. You can’t try to lock down just one forward or one line. We have three lines that can go and that is important to us.”