Having been named as the captain of the Hun School boys’ hockey team, senior defenseman Eric Szeker knows he has to keep a cool head in the heat of battle.
“On the ice, I can’t run my mouth, I can’t take dumb penalties,” said Szeker. “I have got to work hard; I have to lead by example. I can’t take shifts off. I have a good group of guys in there that I like to play with a lot so they help me out a lot too with this.”
Szeker has exerted his leadership this winter in another meaningful way, displaying a knack for scoring last minute goals.
In the Pa Scholastic Hockey Showcase, he scored with 12 seconds left to give the Raiders a 3-2 win over Chartiers Valley (Pa.) on December 29.
Last week against visiting Haverford School (Pa.), Szeker was at it again, finding the back of the net with 59.5 seconds left in the third period to lift Hun into a 3-3 tie.
“I was a little frustrated so I got out and followed the play,” said Szeker, recalling the tally.
“J.C. Moritz got hit and I kind of just picked up the puck and my first instinct was to just shoot it and I looked down and it went in.”
The Raiders faced an uphill battle against Haverford since starting goalie Devin Cheifetz was sidelined due to injury and junior Natty Bayona was seeing his first varsity action.
“We had to play a different game style; we played more desperate,” said Szeker.
“Our goalie played really well today. It was a good team effort. In the d-zone we have to be a little more intense with the puck, we can’t give away too many scoring opportunities. Everyone played well today and everyone adjusted well.”
Szeker, for his part, is better prepared to play well as a senior. “I am a little bigger and I am a little taller and a little faster,” said Szeker. “I got stronger over the summer.”
Hun head coach Ian McNally likes the strong clutch play he is getting from Szeker.
“That is his third last-minute goal of the year; we just called him Captain Clutch in the room there,” said McNally of Szeker, who scored two goals and had three assists as Hun topped Academy of New Church (Pa.) 10-0 last weekend to improve to 7-2-3.
“He wasn’t an offensive player last year, he was heavily relied on as a defenseman. On the score sheet this year, he is surely leading our defensemen in scoring and he is in the top couple in our team in points. It has been a well-found new plus for him this year.”
A major plus for Hun against Haverford was Bayona’s effort in his varsity debut. “Natty Bayona, the kid who played in net, has never played hockey before this year, certainly not goalie,” said McNally.
“He’s played a couple of JV games and he has practiced all year. Basically he put up his hand at the start of the year because we had only one goalie and he said I’ll try it so I was worried. I’ll tell you what, he did more than enough for us to win the game. We just gave him the game puck.”
While Hun did fail to cash in on some good scoring chances against Haverford, McNally is pleased with the team’s aggressiveness.
“That is one thing we have in spades,” said McNally, referring to his team’s spirit.
“If we don’t have a pure goal scorer, we have a relentless pressure and guys who are willing to do that. We have certainly trailed at many points this year so it is not like we haven’t been in close games. We have been scoring last minute tying goals but we don’t want to be in that situation.”
When Hun does get in a tight situation, its players certainly don’t get rattled.
“There are a couple of guys on the bench who are leading that mentality in terms of just being vocal and then going and showing it,” said McNally, whose team hosts St Joseph’s (Metuchen) on January 16 before playing at Princeton Day School on January 18. “They say ‘we have been here before, come on guys it’s coming.’”
In Szeker’s view, that kind of mentality stems from the team’s positive chemistry and motivation stemming from its loss in the Independence Hockey League (IHL) title game last winter.
“The feeling in the locker room is good,” said Szeker. “We only lost two seniors from last year so it is the same feeling in the locker room. We have a lot to get back from last year, losing the championship.”