January 18, 2012

Refreshed by Lengthy Holiday Break, Hun Boys’ Hockey Making Progress

MAKING HIS CASE: Hun School boys’ hockey star Alex ­Vukasin chases down the puck in recent action. Junior forward Vukasin has emerged as the top offensive weapon for the Raiders, having tallied a team-high 10 goals so far this season. Hun, now 6-3, heads to Maryland this weekend where it will play at the Landon School on January 20 and at Calvert Hall on January 21. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

Ian McNally had some misgivings as his Hun School boys’ hockey team got an extended holiday break.

“We took two whole weeks off and before the break we had two games cancelled there,” said first-year head coach McNally.

The break, though, seems to have done the Raiders good as they have started 2012 off by going 3-1, beating Hill 6-0 on January 6, Episcopal 7-1 on January 9, and Pennington 4-0 on January 13 with a 3-1 loss to LaSalle last Wednesday.

McNally believes the time off reinvigorated his players. “The break gave them a little time away for them to kind of miss it and want to compete again instead of just doing the same thing everyday,” said McNally, whose team improved to 6-3 with the win over Pennington. “I was very surprised; we came in from the break and have been playing very well.”

While McNally was disappointed with the loss to LaSalle last Wednesday, he still saw some positives in the effort.

“We certainly were sluggish at the start,” said McNally, whose team trailed 3-0 after two periods.

“In the third period, we dictated the play a little bit. If we hadn’t spotted them a lead, it might have been a different story. We started the year fairly strong and we have only gotten better every week. Unfortunately we lost today. It is not something I am going to worry about. In our league play, we have won every game and we are in first place so a lot of things are going right.”

The play of junior forward Alex Vukasin is certainly one of the things that has been going right for the Raiders.

“We expected Vukasin to be a dominant force on our team and since the break, he really has been,” said McNally of the speedy Vukasin, who scored four goals in the win over Episcopal.

“The Episcopal game was a coming out party for him this year. He dominated the game, he was on a plane of his own. We had to go without him for a couple of weeks before the break because he had hit his head. It wasn’t until after break that he was ready to actually do what he is capable of doing and now we are seeing what it is. We are certainly happy to have him healthy and playing.”

McNally is also happy with the play of sophomore forwards Alec Karanikolas and Spyridon Avgoustiniato.

“Alec has been given a bigger role this year,” said McNally. “He got his feet wet as a freshman and now he is has a regular shift and is a go-to guy as a sophomore. He has done great with it; he scored a couple of goals the other day. He is very coachable; he has been a gem for us. Spy keeps knocking in goals. He has three or four on his own; he just seems to find them. He is one of those kids who hangs out in front of the net and all of a sudden the puck comes and he bangs it in. He is definitely a right place, right time kind of guy.”

Senior forward Harry Hagen has been showing the right stuff for the Raiders.

“Harry Hagen has definitely been one of our strongest players to this point,” said McNally.

“He is scoring goals and he is also being a very good leader as the senior he is. We have only two seniors and we are kind of hurting for somebody to step up in that role. He does a lot of the little things right and he always wants to be on the ice.”

On the blue line, defensemen Eric Szeker and Brad Stern have been doing some good things. “We lean pretty heavily on Eric and Brad,” added McNally.

“They log the majority of the ice time and they have put up some points themselves. Brad is more of an offensive guy and Eric is more of a defensive guy. We have them playing at least half the games; they don’t get many breaks. They have been steady and reliable for us back there.”

Sophomore goalie Devin Cheifetz  has emerged as a reliable performer. “We knew Devin was a very key member of our team and we were just waiting for him to take over,” added McNally of Cheifetz, who had 41 saves in the loss to LaSalle.

“The Episcopal game was a huge one for him too. We won by a bunch of goals but it wasn’t a lopsided game. He definitely had a big part of that; I told him that was his best game of the year so far and today he was extremely active. He stopped the puck well and played the puck well. We have gotten to the point where we can not only feel comfortable with him but rely on him to greatly contribute to us winning.”

In McNally’s view, the team is headed in the right direction. “As we go forward, we are going to make sure week to week that we continue on this trajectory where you are playing your best hockey when it matters at the very end instead of being on a roller-coaster and going up and down every week,” said McNally, whose team heads to Maryland this weekend where it will play at the Landon School on January 20 and at Calvert Hall on January 21. “For us, the focus is to focus.”