PHS boys ice hockey team finds success through teamwork

February, 2022
Jessica ChenFrankie GamioDester Selby-Salazar

After putting on their hockey gear, the boys ice hockey team huddles for their courtside ritual. A hush falls over the group. The laughter and chitchat is replaced with focus and determination. Captain Cooper Zullo ’23 gives a quick pep talk before the team strides onto the ice. Every match is like a battle, and they’ll need precise focus and adept teamwork to be victorious.

This year’s team is keeping the historically competitive boys ice hockey program at PHS alive — they advanced to the semi-finals of the Mercer County Tournament for the tenth consecutive year. In addition, they’ve maintained an impressive record this season of seven wins, two draws, and only three losses.

Although they lost the final round of the Mercer County Tournament, by far their biggest accomplishment this season was getting the number one seed in the tournament. However, their most exciting game thus far was their match against Morristown, where they tied 1-1 in a very close battle.

“That game proved we [could] play with anybody and it felt like a win for us,” said Head Coach Dave Hansen. In the past, the boys ice hockey team achieved many milestones, including winning the 2019–2020 Mercer County Championships, ending The Hun School of Princeton’s six-year domination of the Mercer County Tournament. Boys ice hockey players Gabe Silverstein ’23 and Julian Drezner ’23, who were freshmen at the time, underscored the influential lessons that the players learned at the game.

“I learned that you have to keep your head in the game and focus on the task at hand,” said Silverstein. “There’s going to be a lot of people trying to get you out of your locked-in zone, and you have to block that out and play your game.” Since the rinks were closed last year because of the pandemic, the team could not compete much last year. However, the team organized street hockey games that allowed the teammates to reconnect and stay fit, though these exercises weren’t an adequate substitute for the rigor of a normal season. Back to normal at the beginning of this season, Zullo and his team were excited and prepared to take on any challenges that came their way.

“This year has been a big step up from last year,” said Zullo. “Having this full season has benefitted everyone on the team.” Long before the winter season started, much of the team had already been practicing together and playing at games through Zullo’s hockey club, PHS Puck. The club, headed by Zullo, allowed teammates to practice together outside the regular school season and enjoy the leisure club environment. Going into the season, the strong bonds between the teammates were evident.

“The brotherhood on the team really translates into chemistry on the ice. It develops to where you know where someone’s going to be and they know where you’ll go,” Silverstein said. With the addition of many new underclassmen on the team this year, the captains have further promoted teamwork on the ice where, regardless of age, the athletes can experience the excitement and passion that comes from the sport.

“My favorite part about the team is the environment. We like to joke around and have fun on and off the ice. Especially as an underclassman, the seniors have done a good job including everyone regardless of their year. We just try to work with what we’ve got and we have a lot of fun doing so,” said team member Yitian Zhao ’24. Harnessing their skills, the team will try to rebound from their loss at the Mercer County Tournament and win as many rounds as possible in the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association Tournament.

“I am very happy with the hard work and dedication they have put in starting from November 8,” said Hansen. “Teamwork will be the key to our success if we want to make a push to win [more] tournaments.” Because they thrive in the companionable and passionate environment, the team encourages everyone considering joining hockey to try it out. “

My advice would be that if you fall, get back up and try again,” said Silverstein. “Be resilient, and keep working ... it’s a really rewarding sport.”