By Bob Nuse, Sports Editor
Ian McNally knows the Mercer County Tournament is something special to his players.
“The finals of the Mercer County Tournament mean a lot to the kids,” said the Hun School ice hockey coach, whose team will face Notre Dame today at 5:30 p.m. at Mercer County Park in the championship game. “There is just a different feel to the game. The kids all know each other, the game is built up in the paper, and there are not only fans there from your own school but from all around the area as well.”
The Raiders reached the MCT final with a 6-3 win over Robbinsville in the semifinals on Tuesday. They will be looking for their third straight title when they face the Irish, who topped Princeton, 8-4, in the other semifinal.
“I know our kids are looking forward to playing them,” McNally said. “(Notre Dame) is pretty limited in how many games they can schedule outside of the CVC so we can’t play each other during the year. So this will be nice for both teams. All of the kids know each other and it’s a highly anticipated matchup.”
The Raiders led, 3-2, heading into the final period against Robbinsville before pulling away to win their semifinal. Tanner Preston scored two goals and assisted on two others to lead the offense for Hun, which will take a 15-7-2 record into the championship game.
“We have had that same draw three years in a row where we face Robbinsville in the semifinals,” McNally said. “They are a good program and they came at us pretty good game. Heading into the third period it was a one-goal game. But in the big games we seem to score right away in third and it happened again.”
Princeton saw its run through the tournament come to an end with an 8-4 loss to Notre Dame in the semifinals. Princeton, the sixth seed, had upset third-seeded Hopewell Valley in the quarterfinals to reach the semis.
“I told the guys that overall the tournament was a success,” Princeton coach Terence Miller said. “We were the sixth seed coming in and to make the semifinals and be one of the last two public schools standing was a positive. Our quarterfinal with Hopewell was a nice win for us. That was another positive to beat Hopewell in overtime. We had played them earlier this month and beat them. To beat them twice in five days and knock them off in the MCT was satisfying.”
Anthony Trainor, Brendon McCormick, Tooker Callaway and Luke Matteo each scored a goal for Princeton, which fell to 12-7-4 on the season.
“We knew what we were up against going in,” Miller said. “We gave up eight goals but we felt like the game was closer than our previous games with them. No one in the CVC has scored more than two goals against them and we got four goals. We tried to take some positives out of the game.
“When you play a team like Notre Dame you need the bounces to go your way if you are going to knock them off. We fought. After the second period we were down, 6-2, and in the (locker) room we said lets go out and try to win the third period and it was 2-2. At the end of the day I happy with their effort. They showed heart. Overall, I felt like the tournament was a good one for us.”
Princeton will open play in the state tournament on Saturday at 5:45 when the Little Tigers face Mendham at Mennen Arena in Morristown.
By Bob Nuse, Sports Editor