Hun Boys’ Hockey Repeats as Purple Puck Champs, Hopes Winning Tourney Will Lead to Strong Finish
ENCORE PERFORMANCE: Hun School boys’ hockey player Frank Vitucci, left, battles a foe for position in recent action. Sophomore forward Vitucci starred last week as Hun won the Purple Puck tournament in the Washington. D.C area for a second straight year. The Raiders, who edged St. Joseph’s Prep (Pa.) 5-4 in an overtime shootout last Thursday to win the tournament and improve to 6-4-2, host Wyoming Seminary (Pa.) on January 6 before playing at Lawrenceville on January 11. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)
Having sputtered to a 1-4-2 start this season, the Hun School boys’ hockey team saw its annual trip south to the Purple Puck tournament in the Washington, D.C. area as a chance to right the ship.
“We had played mostly home games so it was time to get on the road and cure whatever struggles we were having,” said Hun head coach Ian McNally. “We were hoping that would be the case and it ended up being just right.”
The Raiders got off on the right foot at the tournament, cruising to an 8-1 win over DeMatha Catholic (Md.) in its first game of the opening round, displaying scoring balance as eight different players found the back of the net.
“We had the same offensive guys that we had last year, we just hadn’t had a game like that where we broke out with five or six goals,” said McNally. “It was unexpected, it was pretty neat.”
Building on that breakthrough effort, Hun topped Calvert Hall (Md.) 6-1 and O’Connell (Va.) 7-0 to wrap up pool play. In the final rounds on Thursday, Hun beat O’Connell 7-0 in the semis and then edged St. Joseph’s Prep (Pa.) 5-4 in an overtime shootout to win the title for a second straight year.
There was a definite sense of deja vu as Hun had posted an overtime win in taking the Purple Puck championship game last year with Kyle Pettoni coming through in the shootout.
“It was an exact play-by-play of last year when we played Gonzaga in the final, same score, same everything,” noted McNally, whose team was ahead 3-1 in the first period against St. Joseph’s but had to rally from a 4-3 deficit to force the overtime shootout.
“Last year we put Pettoni in the shootout because he had scored a couple of goals in the championship game. It was not typical for him but he comes up big in big games. So he scored a couple and we thought we would just throw him in the shootout. He said it was the first penalty shot he had ever taken and he scored to win it. We put Pettoni in the shootout this time because he had done it last year. It was the exact same move, a top shelf shot.”
In McNally’s view, coming through with the back-to-back titles was a confidence builder for coaches and players alike.
“That is the feel good part for the kids,” said McNally. “What we wanted to get out of it was scoring goals and feeling good again, and we got that. Obviously that is only a moral victory. At the end you want to be skating around with the trophy.”
Even though Hun has suffered more losses already this season than last winter when it went 22-3-3, McNally believes the team can add to its trophy case.
“We told the kids after the first month, this is not going to go the same way as last year,” said McNally.
“We are not going to win 22 games because we are already starting to lose a bunch. At the end of the day we could still be just as successful. We were going to D.C. and we could win that and we have the tournament at the end of the year and if we win that, you will forget that we ever lost those games. For coaches, we are happy that they started playing the way we usually do and for the players, they are feeling good to get wins again.”
McNally believes that the production he got last week from his top line of sophomore Frank Vitucci along with juniors Jon Bendorf and Blake Brown, bodes well for the rest of the season.
“I think we didn’t put enough stock in the fact that Bendorf, Vitucci, and Brown hadn’t played as a line and now they did,” said McNally
“I think all three of them had 14 points this week so those three were pretty strong. At the end of the day, those are three highly offensive players who can score basically on every single shift and when that happens, it opens up space for the other lines as well.”
With the Raiders facing some strong foes in upcoming action as they host Wyoming Seminary (Pa.) on January 6 before playing at Lawrenceville on January 11, McNally is looking for his players to build on their performance at the Purple Puck tourney.
“It came at a pretty strong time because we were down in the dumps going into the break,” said McNally.
“These are statement games for us. You have got to have confidence going in to play your best. We are at least able to play our best now and we will see how it goes from here.”