If the nickname change wasn’t enough to assure the changing of the guard in Trenton hockey, this definitely will.
NHL.com has learned that Scott Bertoli, who played with the Trenton Titans from the franchise’s inception in 1999 until this past season and its all-time leading scorer, is retiring.
Bertoli, 30, is coming off a career year with the Titans. Under first-year coach and former teammate Rick Kowalsky, Bertoli had 31 goals and 48 assists in 64 games. He added another five points in five postseason contests.
But life has changed for Bertoli, who was married this summer. The Princeton University graduate was recently named the Assistant Athletic Director at Princeton Day School, where he will once again coach the boy’s hockey team. In the end, No. 19 – which hopefully will be raised to the rafters of Sovereign Bank Arena this season – was provided with an opportunity to take the next step in his life.
“I kind of went back and forth all summer,” Bertoli said about playing this upcoming season. “I was passively looking for various job opportunities and was kind of reaching out to parents and friends in the area. This kind of just came up about a week and a half before my wedding, and it was perfect. It’s a great opportunity. I’ve enjoyed coaching here, and there’re a lot of great people here.”
Over the course of eight seasons in Trenton, Bertoli appeared in 507 regular-season games, and another 67 postseason contests. Dubbed “The Franchise” several years ago, Bertoli is Trenton’s all-time leading scorer with 182 goals and 344 assists. With his good friend Mike Haviland behind the bench, Bertoli and the Titans captured the franchise’s lone Kelly Cup championship in 2005. Kowalsky was the captain of that memorable squad. During that magical playoff run, Bertoli tallied 24 points in 20 games.
“Nothing even comes close to that,” Bertoli said. “Just the whole process … you always hear that the journey is greater than the destination. That whole process, going through those four rounds for those two and a half months with those guys was something I’ll never forget. I don’t think any one of those guys that were in that locker room will ever forget that. To finally win at the end was the icing on the cake and it was something you felt like needed to happen to top off a remarkable year.”
Perhaps that’s what made this decision so tough for Bertoli – the fact that he was personally coming off a remarkable year. In the end, though, the job at PDS outweighed the long bus rides through the night. After almost a month on the job, Bertoli is feeling better about his decision each day.
“It was an opportunity I couldn’t pass up,” Bertoli said. “I’ve been here for two and a half weeks, and I’ve enjoyed it and I’ve met a lot of good people. I’ve been given a lot of responsibility, and I’ve kind of relished that. I like the fact that I’ve got a set schedule and I’ve got weekends and holidays off. I don’t have to travel on a bus from Toledo to Dayton in the middle of the night.”
Kowalsky, who now must find a veteran that fits Bertoli’s mold (good luck), was understanding of Bertoli’s decision. The pair discussed Bertoli’s future at the end of last season and kept in touch throughout the summer.
“Sometimes it’s tough to leave the game, but does he need to wait until he’s all banged up and has a career-ending injury, or a year when he scores 10 goals and the fans are on him?” said Kowalsky, who retired after winning the 2005 championship. “Why wait for that? I think he would have played or was seriously considering playing, but with the opportunity that presented itself, it was a good time for him to get out. I think he was ready to leave if the right situation away from hockey came up, and it did.”
So, with Trenton switching its nickname from Titans to Devils this season, is it fitting that Bertoli is leaving the game with the same sweater he wore when he first entered the ECHL in 1999?
“In a certain way, he’s irreplaceable,” Kowalsky said. “But we knew it was a possibility, and we will move on. It’s kind of ironic that he’s retiring as a Titan and never gets to be a Devil. Maybe for some fans, it will put some closure on the whole Titans thing. He was ‘Mr. Titan’, so I guess it is fitting. It’s a new chapter for hockey in Trenton.”
“At the end of the day, I would have been playing for the same people, the same fans, the same building,” Bertoli said. “It might have been a little weird the first couple of times putting the jersey on. But at the end of the day, it would have been for the same reasons.”
As for regrets about his career, Bertoli did come up with a legitimate one -- the fact that he was basically ignored by AHL squads for the majority of his career. In eight professional seasons, Bertoli made just 13 appearances at the Triple-A level. Nine of those during the 2005-06 season, when Haviland brought him to Norfolk just one year after the pair won an ECHL title.
“I would have liked more opportunities to play in the American League,” said Bertoli, who tallied five points in those nine games with Norfolk. “When Havie gave me that opportunity, I think, more than anything, I proved to myself that I could have played at that level for an extended period of time. For whatever reasons, it didn’t work out. But I think I could have played there and been successful there.”
But not a single person could argue with the success Bertoli experienced in New Jersey’s capital city. He was a leader on the ice and in the locker room. He was a captain. He was a voice of reason. He was loved by both his teammates and the fans. All the above reasons and more are why his No. 19 should never be worn in Trenton again.
“That’s something that they’ll talk about or we’ll talk about for the upcoming season,” Kowalsky said. “Obviously, you’d like to honor him because he’s been here since Day One. I’m sure that will be something that will be discussed.”
“I don’t know what’s going to happen with the new ownership, but that stuff doesn’t really motivate me,” Bertoli said. “It’s nice, but I played for my teammates and the fans. I don’t know. Whatever they decide to do, if they decide to do anything at all, obviously I’ll be very grateful for that.”
-- Brian Compton