Triggered by Nelson’s Offensive Production, Hun Boys’ Hockey Tops PHS, Wins 6th MCT
SIX SHOOTER: Hun School boys’ hockey player Brian Nelson fires the puck last Friday in the Mercer County Tournament title game. Senior forward and captain Nelson scored three goals to help top-seeded Hun defeat second-seeded Princeton High 9-4 and earn the program’s sixth straight county crown. Nelson was named the MVP of the tournament as the Raiders ended the winter with a 15-8-1 record. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)
By Bill Alden
Even before Brian Nelson joined the Hun School boys’ hockey program, he had visions of taking a leading role in a run to the Mercer County Tournament championship.
“I was in 7th grade and I went to the title game and I remember seeing that crowd,” recalled Nelson, who attended William Penn Middle School before coming to Hun in the fall of 2015. “I can’t wait to be that guy.”
Nelson had to be patient, though, playing a supporting role in his first three seasons with the program as standouts like Kyle Mandleur and Blake Brown led the Raiders to MCT titles.
Coming into the 2018-19 campaign, Nelson was ready to assume a starring role.
“This summer I was working my tail off, just working on my shot because I knew I had to step up since we were losing Kyle Mandleur, who had 50 goals last year,” said Nelson.
“I knew from the very start of the year that I had to be the guy who puts the puck in the net. It has been clicking; it has been the best year of my career so far. It is great timing.”
Last Friday in the MCT final against Princeton, it was Nelson’s time as he scored three goals to lead the top-seeded Raiders to a 9-4 win over second-seeded PHS to earn the program’s sixth straight county crown. Nelson was named the tournament MVP for his heroics.
“It is an amazing, I would not have thought this freshman year, getting an MVP,” said 5’11 forward Nelson.
“I have really grown a lot here as a player. It is all thanks to coach [Ian McNally] and some great guys who have come through the program.”
Nelson has enjoyed a great senior campaign, tallying 50 points on 24 goals and 26 assists.
“Right from the start, I was getting all of the bounces going my way,” said Nelson.
“After they first month or so, I knew I was going to keep it going because my confidence was through the roof. Playing with guys like Matt Argentina and Eddie Evaldi, those guys can find you wherever on the ice. It is great playing with them.”
Although Hun didn’t have all of its guys for the finals as goalie Jackson Cole and forwards Matt Argentina and Nicholas Ramsey didn’t take the ice, Nelson sensed that the Raiders would rise to the occasion.
“We have had a couple of games this year where we had some guys missing and we had some big wins,” said Nelson.
“We knew we had it in us with this group for sure. We just had to dig down, play our system, hope we could a couple of bounces and get off to a quick lead. We played well.”
In addition to his offensive production, Nelson has stepped up as a leader, serving as team captain this winter.
“That was something that I take a lot of pride in; I have strived to be the captain since freshman year,” said Nelson.
“I have looked up to some great captains. I definitely try to lead by example and be the go-to guy there. It has been a great experience.”
It was great for Hun to keep its MCT title streak alive. “It means everything; we looked forward to this from the very beginning of the year,” said Nelson. “Coming out here with these boys, we have become brothers this year.”
Hun head coach McNally liked the ways his boys bonded as they dealt with playing shorthanded in the final.
“It gave us some of our spark to the guys to get up and feel that they have ownership of the game,” said McNally.
“Maybe it wouldn’t have if everybody showed up. It made everybody else play better and care more and all of a sudden, I better do my job or I am going to be the one that makes us lose instead of before they will take care of it if something goes wrong.”
McNally acknowledged that there were some uneasy moments early in the title game as PHS carried the play for much of the first period.
“The first couple of minutes, I don’t believe of guys truly believed it was going to happen; it was one too many guys missing and we were double-shifting centers,” recalled McNally.
“Even on the bench we were holding our breath. Sometimes you can tell if they they think they are going to be able to do it. Once we got some goals, that changed.”
Nelson scored to give Hun a 1-0 lead and then after PHS knotted the game at 1-1, Chris Brake and Eddie Evaldi found the back of the net to give Hun a 3-1 lead at the end of the first period. The Raiders outscored the Tigers 5-2 in the second period to break the game open
In McNally’s view, junior star Evaldi played a key role in Hun’s surge. “He has a knack of doing that where you need a goal,” said McNally of Evaldi, who ended up with one and four assists in the title game. “He sneaks in, it is his signature move. He gets in super close and puts it up top. He does it everyday in practice all of the time.”
Freshman backup goalie Jack Borek did what he needed to do, standing tall early as Hun was outshot 14-8 in the first 15 minutes of the contest.
“In the first period, it was all Jack,” said McNally of Borek who made 33 saves on the evening. “At intermission we said ‘let’s not make him do that again; he already did his job for us.’”
After holding the fort, Hun shifted into high gear in the second period. “It changed with the goals, I think they lost confidence in their defensive abilities,” said McNally.
“We have a couple of high end guys in Evaldi and Aidan [McDowell]. When it is needed, they scoop up the puck with confidence and take five strides up the ice. They attract so much attention themselves that usually someone else ends up scoring the goal on the other end of it.”
Nelson has been on the end of a lot of those passes. “He has been awesome, it has not been a fluke,” said McNally.
“It is every game; he has had a bunch of five point games. He became more vocal as the year went on. He is the one who any time a goal was needed, Brian scored it. He was a big driving force.”
While Hun has established itself as a force in the county, McNally knows how far the program has come during his tenure at the helm.
“It has certainly flown by; when I started with Hun eight years ago, we were losing to LaSalle’s B team; we lost to PHS twice the first five times we played them,” said McNally, whose team ended the winter at 15-8-1.
“I am still in that mentality of trying to get better. Everyone else, since they got to high school, we have been winning, so to them, it is Hun, the same old thing. We weren’t that good five years ago. It is obviously great; the fans are here, so it must mean something.”
Nelson, for his part, takes pride in the team’s success and sees more on the horizon.
“It is amazing. Seven years ago, it was a small program and we didn’t get that many wins,” said Nelson.
“We have been building up. Ian has brought in some great players and we have been hitting our stride that past couple of years. It is definitely going to keep going forward from here.”