In early December, junior goalie Devin Cheifetz came up big as the Hun School boys’ hockey team topped nemesis Pingry 4-1, a win that got the Raiders on a hot streak.
Last Wednesday as Hun prepared to host Pingry in the opening round of the state Prep tournament, head coach Ian McNally was looking for an encore performance from his netminder.
“Devin had his biggest game against Pingry,” said McNally. “He and I had talked before this game and I said why not again.”
Although Cheifetz recorded just three saves in the first period of the playoff contest as the teams were knotted at 0-0 after the first 15 minutes, McNally could sense that Cheifetz was on his way to another stellar performance against the Blues.
“It is not even if he has a bunch of saves in the first period, it is his demeanor,” said McNally.
“You can tell that it is going to be a special day for him when he is playing the puck like that. He had some good stretch passes and caught them on a couple of line changes. Even though he only had three saves in the first period, you could get that feeling that it was going to be Devin’s game.”
That feeling proved justified as Cheifetz posted a shutout with a total of 18 saves as Hun prevailed 3-0.
The victory earned the Raiders a semifinal matchup at Princeton Day School slated for February 5 with the winner advancing to the title game on February 7 at PDS.
Cheifetz was at his best in the third period when he made eight saves, including several key stops when Hun killed back-to-back penalties. The junior goalie wasn’t fazed by being under the gun during the shorthanded situations.
“You just got to stay calm and play the game; you can’t think of it any differently,” said Cheifetz.
“Obviously a lot is on the line but you can’t too put too much pressure on yourself.”
Even though the game was scoreless well into the second period, Cheifetz sensed that a breakthrough was coming.
“I was confident in my team,” said Cheifetz. “We have the players; we pounce when we have to. You have to bring it every game and we brought it.”
With 4:44 left in the period, Alec Karanikolas pounced on the puck and found the back of the net to give the Raiders a 1-0 lead.
“That was a huge momentum bounce,” said Cheifetz, reflecting on the goal. “It turned the tide of the game.”
Hun tacked on two more tallies in the third and Cheifetz did the rest, shutting the door on Pingry.
While Cheifetz was proud of his shutout, he was quick to spread the credit.
“It is a good accomplishment for me but it is also not just me back there,” said Cheifetz, who posted another shutout on Saturday when Hun topped the Germantown Academy (Pa.) 7-0 in a regular season game to improve to 12-4-4. “It is also my defense coming back which is a big help.”
As a three-year starter, Cheifetz is going out of his way to help his teammates by exerting more leadership.
“It is a natural process; obviously I am one of the older guys,” said Cheifetz. “I have to guide the younger guys because that was what was done for me when I was a sophomore and a freshman.”
The guidance from this year’s seniors has helped Hun develop a special unity.
“I think this year’s seniors have been really great; the team isn’t separated by upperclassmen and underclassmen,” said Cheifetz.
“The seniors have really stepped up; making friends with everybody and making sure that everyone is together, all of them, not just the seniors. On and off the ice, we always have lunch together it is a lot of fun.”
For McNally, it was fun to see his team come through in a tough tournament contest.
“A win like this reaffirms for me that when it matters and it is on the line and we are playing a good team, we will show up,” said McNally.
As Hun looks to turn the tables on a PDS team that beat it 8-1 a few weeks ago and also make a big run in the upcoming Independence Hockey League (IHL) playoffs, the Raiders are going to stick to their guns.
“Our style is we are going to come very aggressive and we are going to be physical and we are going to try to cause turnovers and go after them,” said McNally.
“We are certainly not going to approach the game in a different way than we would because any success that we have is when we pressure until they turn the puck over. That’s how we do well.”
For Cheifetz, the win over Pingry exemplified Hun’s approach of enjoying each game.
“It is a confidence-builder and no matter what happens we are here for the love of the game,” said Cheifetz. “We will just take it how it is.”