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Hill School picks up memorable win on PAL Night

POTTSTOWN >> Friday night was a chance for Hill School to show the best of all aspects of their community: school spirit, community service, talented students — and a fine ice hockey team.

The Blues’ game against Academie Saint-Louis (Quebec City) was preceded by the celebration of Police Athletic League (PAL) Hockey night in front of a capacity crowd at Eccleston Hall. For the second year in a row, all participants in the Pottstown PAL were invited to be a part of a game night.

Alongside The Hill School’s Vincent Petrone, right, and the Academie St. Louis captain, left, Pottstown PAL dek hockey players Graham Watkins and Carter Hritz and Pottstown police officer Eric Weber drop ceremonial first pucks ahead of The Hill’s game last Friday during their Pottstown PAL community night. (Austin Hertzog – Digital First Media)

“PAL is much bigger than the dek hockey league itself, but that’s what’s given our kids and their program a connection,” said Chris Bala, head coach of Hill ice hockey.

The connection began when Vincent Petrone, a sixth Former (senior) at Hill School and right wing on the ice hockey team, founded his Hill Hockey Helps group in 2016. Since that time, Petrone and his group have offered dek hockey (a form of their sport played on a tennis court-type surface) clinics to local children involved in the PAL program.

“Hill Hockey Helps ran one clinic for us in the fall, and another one is scheduled for the spring,” said Darren Becker, program director for Pottstown PAL dek hockey.

Members of the Hill School ice hockey team line up for the national anthem ahead of their game against Academie St. Louis last Friday. (Austin Hertzog – Digital First Media)

Since taking over the program in 2011, Becker has overseen remarkable growth in the dek hockey portion of PAL, to the point that the organization is now attempting to raise money for a second playing surface at a local elementary school. While the growth has occurred over several years, there’s no denying the impact of the Hill Hockey Helps connection.

“We had to turn some kids away this year — we just outgrew the dek. That’s never happened before,” said Becker.

The Hill School’s Nico McCurrach (25) skates toward the raucous crowd after scoring a goal in the first period last Friday against Academie St. Louis during the team’s Pottstown PAL community night. (Austin Hertzog – Digital First Media)

As the program expands, so does the mutual interest of its participants in both dek hockey and ice hockey. According to Becker, on one of the Pottstown Penguins’ mite-level ice hockey teams (typically defined as players ages 8 and under), 13 of the 15 players also play PAL dek hockey.

Attendees were treated to a pregame ceremony where Petrone and an Academie Saint-Louis player took a ceremonial opening faceoff. Pottstown police officer Eric Weber and PAL participants Graham Watkins and Carter Hritz dropped the ceremonial pucks. Hill School’s vocal ensemble, the Hilltones and Hilltrebles, offered two impressive renditions of the American and Canadian (in French) National Anthems.

The Hill School’s Travis DeBruyn (14) carries the puck toward goal against Academie St. Louis last Friday. (Austin Hertzog – Digital First Media)

Once the game began, Hill’s Nico McCurrach stole the show with a hat trick in leading the Blues to a 4-1 victory. Goaltender Sean Parker turned aside 12 shots in the victory. For Hill (15-6-0), the effort got the team back on track after their eight-game winning streak ended last Saturday with a 2-1 loss to The Gunnery.

With only a couple regular-season games remaining, Hill has already wrapped up the No. 1 seed in the Mid-Atlantic Hockey League playoffs. Next Wednesday, February 14, the Blues will host either Portledge School or arch-rival Lawrenceville in a semifinal at Eccleston Hall. If victorious, the MAHL championship game will be played at Eccleston one week later against the winner of the other semifinal between Princeton Day School and La Salle College Prep.

The Hill School’s Vincent Petrone skates toward the corner during the team’s game against Academie St. Louis last Friday. (Austin Hertzog – Digital First Media)

“We’ve had really strong goaltending,” said Bala, “and while in the beginning of the year it was a challenge for us to score, some of our kids have really started to find their groove. We’re getting contributions up and down the lineup.”

Around the Area

Spring-Ford celebrated Senior Night Thursday with a 9-4 victory over Boyertown. Aidan Cooley and Will German had two goals apiece for the victors, while Boyertown’s Adam Hennessy tallied a hat trick in a losing effort.

The next night, Owen J. Roberts staved off a furious Boyertown rally to hold onto a 5-4 victory and maintain their first-place standing in the Pioneer Conference.

The top four teams for the postseason remained the same this week (OJR, St. Joe’s Prep, Spring-Ford, and Boyertown, in that order.) Perkiomen Valley, currently in fifth place, can take a big step toward a postseason berth if they can knock off St. Joe’s Prep Thursday in the only league game this week.

Upcoming Local Schedule

Wednesday >> Wyoming Seminary at Hill School, 4 p.m.

Thursday >> St. Joe’s Prep at Perkiomen Valley, 8:30 p.m. (Oaks Center Ice)

Friday >> Shady Side Academy at Hill School, 7 p.m.; Downingtown West at Perkiomen Valley, 7:15 p.m. (Oaks Center Ice); Archbishop Ryan at Boyertown, 9 p.m. (Oaks Center Ice).

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