BLAKE STREET: Hun School boys’ hockey player Blake Brown heads up the ice last week at the Mercer County Tournament. Last Friday, freshman forward Brown scored a goal and had an assist to help second-seeded Hun top No. 1 Notre Dame 4-2 in the MCT championship game. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)
Hun School boys’ hockey player Blake Brown didn’t waste any time making an impact in his first Mercer County Tournament championship game.
As second-seeded Hun faced off with top-seeded and defending champion Notre Dame last Friday evening at Mercer County Park, the puck squirted to freshman forward Brown and he banged it home eight seconds into the contest to give the Raiders a 1-0 lead.
“I just got the puck and that was pretty much it, there was one guy behind and I just got it top shelf,” said Brown. “It was huge, the first goal is everything to the team; that’s what gets teams going, the first goal.”
The Raiders added another goal in the first period to take a 2-0 lead into the second period but then Notre Dame got going as it scored two goals in a 29-second span in the second to knot the game at 2-2.
With the teams locked in the 2-2 stalemate heading into the third period, Hun was determined to regain the momentum.
“We couldn’t give up, we had to keep pounding them,” said Brown, recalling the team’s discussion at the intermission before the third period. “We just have to keep working hard and pushing it; we can’t let up.”
Seconds into the final frame, Brown struck again feeding classmate Jon Bendorf, who proceeded to find the back of the net.
“I saw Benny, there was a free lane open to him and I just passed it to him and he finished it,” said Brown.
Minutes later, Bobby Wurster scored on a one-timer from the point to put Hun up 4-2 and the Raiders finished off Notre Dame with some stifling defense as neither team scored again.
“Everyone was blocking shots and working hard,” said Brown, reflecting on Hun’s third period effort. “We were making sure that no one was left open in front of the net, everybody got the back door people.”
At the final whistle, everyone on the Hun squad joined in a raucous on-ice
celebration which saw gloves and sticks flying.
For Brown, winning the MCT crown marked the fruition of a childhood ambition.
“It is huge,” said Brown. “I used to go to the West Windsor schools and I always watched the county tournaments when I was younger.”
Hun’s young guns dominated the tournament as classmate Evan Barratt was named MVP and the trio combined for three goals and five assists in the title game.
“We have been playing for a while, Benny is on my club team for six years and we have always been together,” said Brown, who competes on the Mercer Chiefs with Bendorf.
“We worked over the summer. All of us were on the district all-star team. I dish them the puck and they finish it.”
Hun head coach Ian McNally was not surprised that Brown triggered things for the Raiders.
“The start of the first and then the start of the third was big, I think Blake Brown was a big catalyst in all of that,” said McNally.
“He is the guy that gets everyone fired up before they go on the ice. He’s the guy giving fist pumps and yelling so it was good for him to be the guy that goes out and says follow me. They were both awesome goals.”
With Notre Dame tying the game at 2-2 and seizing momentum in the second period, McNally looked to get his guys fired up for a big final period as he talked to them at intermission.
“The message was you don’t know if you are going to have another chance like this; you always assume that you are going to play in a bunch of big games and championship games but you never know if you are going to get back,” said McNally.
“You are here now, take advantage of it, you never know when you are going to get back again.”
The Raiders responded with aplomb, producing spirited hockey at both ends of the ice.
“They were behind and they had to get a little desperate and score and we just kept them in their zone for minutes at a time,” said McNally.
“That was by far the best period of hockey we have played and it was good to see because it was a big stage and we don’t get too many games like this with a lot of fans and something on the line. I think they got excited and everybody rose to the occasion.”
Winning the title, the fourth county crown in program history, was an exciting moment for the Hun players.
“It means a lot to these guys; these guys have always been asking to play in it and we haven’t been able to,” said McNally, whose team topped Episcopal Academy (Pa.) 10-5 on Monday in the Independence Hockey League (IHL) semis to improve to 18-7 and was slated to face Academy of New Church on February 25 in the title game.
“Their classmates at school can relate to what the MCT is, they can’t relate to the IHL. In this week leading up to it, there was a buzz at school. People knew about it and the boarding kids got bussed over for it. For these guys it means a lot, it is the one that they wanted to win this year.”
McNally acknowledged that his trio of freshmen played a key role in winning the title.
“They were unreal tonight, every time they were on the ice, it was a goal scoring opportunity,” said McNally, reflecting on the player of Brown, Barratt and Bendorf.
“It is funny, I was harping on them to get off the ice faster than they do … but sure enough in a one-and-a-half minute shift they turn around and score a goal so it is hard to get too mad at those guys.”
Senior goalie Devin Cheifetz made things hard on Notre Dame in crunch time, recording 28 saves on the evening.
“Devin was awesome today; I have been with Devin a long time in club and high school hockey and when it is really on the line, he shows up,” said McNally.
“He got better throughout the game. In the third period, he was so confident and poised. You are just assuming that he is going to save it. It was one of his better games of the year.”
It has been an awesome winter for Hun, even though the team’s immaturity has McNally pulling out his hair at times.
“It is youthful enthusiasm; the reason we get into shootout games is the energy level is up and down,” said McNally.
“You saw it again tonight. We scored in bunches and then the other team gets momentum for five or six minutes and we just hold on tight. That is how the team has been, we just thrive off a high energy shift by the younger guys.”
Brown, for his part, likes the way Hun brings the energy on a constant basis.
“Everybody works their butts off and everybody plays their hearts out every shift,” said Brown.