O’Donnell’s late goal gives Princeton ice hockey a thrilling 5-4 win over Robbinsville-Allentown
With the score tied at 2-2 with one period remaining, Princeton High ice hockey coach Dave Hansen sent his team a simple message.
“I told them after that second period,” said Hansen, “it’s a good game and if you don’t play hard the next 15 minutes you’re going to come out of this ice without confidence. “
After John O’Donnell scored with 2:10 left for a 5-4 win over Robbinsville-Allentown at the Mercer County Skating Center on Monday night, the Little Tigers needed extra bags of equipment to bring their confidence back to the House.
“It’s a great lift, a great builder to trust,” said Hansen. “They are in seventh heaven right now. They are really happy.
It was billed as the Colonial Valley Conference regular season Game of the Year and the hype was matched by the performances of both teams as the contest was a mad rush throughout.
Robbinsville (6-2) scored goals from Luke Gensinger and Dalton Tilghman in 1:01 at the end of the first period to open a 2-0 lead.
Princeton (8-1-1) responded with two of their own in the second period as Julian Drezner and Cooper Zullo scored. Zullo’s goal came just after goalkeeper Nico Vitaro made an exceptional save to prevent the Ravens from reopening a two-goal lead.
Vitaro is a forward by trade, but he’s been forced into action in the last three games due to a concussion suffered by regular goaltender Dan Prokoshin. He also played in a Mercer County tournament game last year, and several of his 18 saves against the Ravens were sparks.
“Nico has really stepped up for us this year,” said Hansen.
“I had to step up for the team, they needed me,” said Vitaro. “We all knew Robbinsville was going to be one of the best teams in the CVC. We must have played very hard. I played well but my team played very well defensively to help me.
Princeton continued its momentum in the third period when Ethan Garlock scored just 2:07 in play to make it 3-2.
As the Little Tigers charged, Robbinsville needed a hero and got one in Charlie Pallitto, who only scored 2:31 later to equalize. Princeton, who threw 40 shots at Zander Wiley, regained the lead with 9:05 left when John Zammit converted TT Zhao’s second assist of the game. But Sferra, who had three assists, and Gensinger prepared Pallitto for his second goal and it was 4-4 with 7:07 to go.
As the clock ticked by around two minutes, O’Connor took a pass from Julian Drezner and slammed one into the goal.
“To be honest, I let it rip,” O’Donnell said. “I was aiming a bit, but I was just hoping it would fit, and it did. My teammates were doing all the good around me. Julian Drezner put the puck in the corner, he gave me the chance to shoot and I made it count.
O’Donnell’s big goal didn’t surprise his coach.
“John is captain and it has been a real pleasure this year,” said Hansen. “He’s showing leadership on and off the ice and that’s what the captains do. They are coming to the end. It was a great goal. I’m glad he got it.
And while it hasn’t been in his team’s sense, RA coach Dan Bergan has been torn apart about his team’s efforts.
“They kept coming towards us in waves and it was just a matter of who was going to have the ball last,” said Bergan. “It was just back and forth, back and forth. It was a great game, I have no regrets. It’s an amazing team there and we gave them everything they could manage.
“The speed of their team is hard to manage. I always tell my teams that you can hyperdrive for the first half or so, but ultimately you have to get back to your cruising speed. There have been times when sometimes my d-men and attackers would hang on for life and eventually they will catch you.
Bergan was particularly pleased with Wiley, who made 35 saves.
“I thought he was the best player on the ice today,” said the coach. “There have been so many times I’ve been like ‘Bang, aim!’ kind of thing. The ones they scored were almost impossible, so I couldn’t blame him on any of them.
While Bergan had praise for Princeton, Hansen was equally big in his praise for Robbinsville-Allentown.
“I think coming into the game tonight a lot of people didn’t think we would be able to compete with these guys,” he said. “It’s a very good team. I like my team to compete like this, it will only make us better at the time of the tournament.
O’Donnell agreed with his coach, saying, “For them it’s a great team, they worked hard. It could have gone both ways. Good teams find ways to win and we’ve found a way. “
And I found even more confidence in myself.
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