Yale and Princeton ice hockey have a strong presence of New Jersey athletes on their roster. (Photo/Steve Feldman/ Prudential Center)
In the opening three minutes of the first period, Matthew Beattie, the 6-foot-3 sophomore from Whitehouse Station, N.J., scored on Princeton goalie, Sean Bonar to give the Yale Bulldogs the one-goal advantage; it was his first point and goal scored in his blue and white uniform.
First goals are always memorable, but for Beattie it was even more special because of where he scored it; in front of family and friends, in the state he grew up in, on the home ice of the team he grew up a fan of.
Princeton's Sean Bonar saved 65 of the 70 shots taken against him in the Invitational and was voted to the All-Tournament Team. One of the five shots he allowed was from New Jersy native, Matt Beattie. (Photo/ Steve Feldman/ Prudential Center)
“Coach [Keith Allain] before the game was talking to us about supporting wings on the break out and we had a nice little pass up the wall I think Anthony Day chipped it out to me, skating down 3-on-1, I was looking pass the whole time and I just saw a little daylight in the top corner so I put it there,” described Beattie. “ … It was nice coming home; I had a lot of family and friends in the stands so it was nice to put one in.”
It wasn’t only a homecoming for Beattie. Three of his teammates at Yale, Kenny Agostino, Matt Killian, and Charles Orzetti, as well as three players from Princeton, Mike Ambrosia, Tommy Davis and Colton Phinney, all grew up playing youth and high school hockey in New Jersey.
Brown defeated Yale Friday and then Dartmouth in the early game of day two, making them the winners of the Liberty trophy, but it was the Princeton/Yale rivalry game that drew the largest crowd. And though the on-ice rivalry between Princeton and Yale is a longstanding one dating back to 1901, it was heightened this weekend when the former New Jersey high school teammates and rivals faced each other’s collegiate teams.
When some of the Delbarton alums were winning the Frozen Four last year, the Green Wave captured its sixth consecutive NJSIAA ice hockey state championship, continuing the dynasty that Killian, Agostino, Orzetti, Ambrosia, Davis and Phinney helped build. These six teammates and now rivals have all won at least three championships in a Delbarton uniform, some even skating side-by-side at Prudential Center, which made Saturday’s Liberty Hockey Invitational matchup that much more interesting.
“I’ve had a lot of success at this rink winning a few state titles and it’s obviously great to be close to home. A lot of family and friends were able to make the trip so that’s great,” said Agostino.
“There are three guys on Princeton who went to Delbarton with me, so if we end up playing them tomorrow night … that will be a special game for all of us. We’re friends, but on the ice it changes a little bit, it’ll be fun,” said Yale defenseman Matt Killian.
Phinney was the only one of the Delbarton alumni to dress for Princeton, although he didn’t see any time between the pipes. Ambrosia is battling a lower body injury and couldn’t play, but that didn’t take away from the experience of being back at the Rock.
“In terms of this venue, it's an awesome facility," Ambrosia told the Star-Ledger. "We continue to be thankful to the New Jersey Devils and what they do for local hockey. We really enjoyed this and look forward to coming back the next couple of years.”
"I've had a lot of success at this rink winning a few state titles and it's obviously great to be close to home. A lot of family and friends were able make the trip so that's great." - Kenny Agostino
For the six Delbarton alumni, it was a homecoming of sorts to be able to go back onto the ice where they’ve had so much success as teammates, but for Beattie it was a completely new experience. Unlike his teammates and the other New Jersey players in the tournament, he didn’t attend Delbarton and he had never skated at the Rock. His high school years were spent at Pingry where he was a two-time MVP and Skylander Conference Champion.
“It was definitely a cool experience coming back. We got to attend the Devils/Canucks game [Thursday night], which was a ton of fun, root for the hometown team,” said Beattie, who grew up a Devils fan, but is currently in the Vancouver system. “Then to get to play on that ice was something special too because I’ve come to a lot of games here and grew up here my whole life, so it was kind of special to be able to skate on that ice.”
Yale lost to Brown 4-1 in the opening game of the tournament by not playing the type of hockey that won them their championship. That changed the next night when the team got their first win of the season with a 3-2 victory over Princeton. The win was a rounded team effort, but on the Yale team remains a strong core of New Jersey kids.
“In the past [the New Jersey kids have] played well for us and we’ve done a good job or [New Jersey has] done a good job of producing players that have attracted our interest. You know, the New Jersey Rockets organization, we’ve spent some time watching them play, and obviously the kids from Delbarton and some other places. I think that New Jersey’s really becoming a hot bed of talent,” said Head Coach Keith Allain after the first night’s loss.
The amount of homegrown talent that came back to participate in the tournament is a testament to how much hockey has expanded in the state. The Liberty Hockey Invitational itself is a unique experience for all of the players, but more so to the local athletes.
“It’s great to come back home,” said Killian. “New Jersey high school hockey and New Jersey hockey in general has come a long way and a lot more college players come out of New Jersey and it’s great to see and it’s great to come back and play for Yale here.”
For more, head to NJ Youth Hockey Central