Last winter ended in disappointing fashion for the Hun School boys’ hockey team as it fell 2-1 to Pennington in overtime in the Independence Hockey League (IHL) title game.
Getting off to a 0-1-1 start this winter, the Raiders were looking to their December 5 meeting with Pennington as a way to get things going in the right direction.
Showing a balanced attack, Hun achieved that goal posting an 8-2 win over its local rival.
Hun head coach Ian McNally saw the victory as a big step forward.
“It was a nice win, a lot of people got involved on the offensive side and it kick-started our confidence,” said McNally, who got two goals apiece from Alex Vukasin and Alex Bidwell in the victory with Brad Stern, Jordan Wang, Justin Grossman, and Chris Rossi chipping in one apiece.
Two days later, the Raiders achieved another confidence-builder as they topped defending state Prep champion Pingry 4-1.
“I told the boys before the season that I was looking at games against Pingry, St Joe’s Metuchen, and Princeton Day School as good marking sticks for us,” said McNally.
“They beat us pretty handily in the Prep tournament last year before beating PDS so it was a nice surprise to beat them by a few goals.
In McNally’s view, having more talent at his disposal made a big difference in the matchup against Pingry.
“We just have more depth than last year,” said McNally. “Most of the team came back and we added players in the middle. We are rolling three or four lines and three or four sets of defensemen.”
Two young players, sophomore forward Chris Rossi and freshman forward Jon Pensler, have helped get the Raiders rolling.
“Rossi played a strong role for us last year as a freshman but he is putting up more points this year,” said McNally.
“Pensler has been a great addition for us. He plays defense for his club team and we had him at defense in the first few games. We felt we needed some offensive punch so we moved him to forward and he has been scoring in every game.”
The Raiders have been getting increased punch from some of their more experienced players.
“We have two other veterans, Alec Karanikolas and Jordan Wang, who are not going to be our leading scorers but they have been very reliable,” said McNally.
“They have stepped up a lot. We knew what we were going to get from guys like Alex Vukasin and Brad Stern so it is nice to see other guys in the mix.”
Another nice development for Hun has been the leadership it is getting from senior defenseman Eric Szeker.
“We named Eric Szeker captain this year and he has really stepped up both in terms of his play on the ice and showing a good demeanor off the ice,” added McNally.
Junior goalie Devin Cheifetz has stepped up in recent action. “Cheifetz wasn’t himself in the first few games but he was really good in the Pingry game and that was a big sigh of relief,” said McNally, who got 26 saves from his star netminder in the win.
“The offense won the Pennington game but the Pingry game was really his. Since then we have had a number of goals but we have also given up some 2-on-1s and breakaways and he has been right there for us.
With Hun having topped Chestnut Hill (Pa.) 8-2 on December 11 and then posting an 11-0 win over Germantown Academy (Pa.) last Wednesday to improve to 4-1-1, McNally is hoping his team can keep on a roll.
“I am looking for more of the same,” said McNally. “We have four road wins in a row and if we can win at St. John’s Vianney [on December 20] that would be five. I told the boys that is good in any league.
The Raiders will close out the 2012 portion of their schedule by competing in the Pa. Hockey Scholastic Showcase from December 28-31 in Pittsburgh Pa.
“I heard about this, I liked the number of teams and the format,” said McNally.
“I am looking at it as a fun break and hopefully we will do well. The main purpose for us is to get away for a few days. The idea is to have some fun and play some hockey over the break.”
So far this season, the Raiders have been having a lot of fun on and off the ice.
“There is a different feel around the team; there is a buzz at the rink, on the bus, and in the dressing room,” said McNally.
“It is a much better feeling. Everybody is getting on board and playing for each other. It is really nice. We had a secret Santa after practice the other day with gag gifts and it was a blast with a lot of laughs.”