Shenendehowa hockey bid begins on blue line
Included in the glossy media guide that the Shenendehowa hockey team puts out every year is a page dedicated to the offensive skills of all the great defensemen who have played for the Plainsmen, listing single-season and career records for goals, assists and points.
The current group of Shenendehowa blueliners will never make those lists; there’s not a Bobby Orr in the bunch. But if the Plainsmen want to dethrone Saratoga Springs as the king of Section II, it’s the defense that will hold the key.
The second-seeded Plainsmen (12-7-1) will take the first step down a path that they hope leads to the Section II championship game when they host Niskayuna/Schenectady (8-12-1) in the quarterfinals tonight at Clifton Park Arena at 7:30.
Saratoga Springs (16-3-1), the No. 1 seed, will begin its quest for a third straight championship, hosting LaSalle (3-16-2) at 6:45 at the Saratoga Springs Ice Center. The 7 p.m. games have Burnt Hills/Ballston Spa (10-9-1) at Shaker/Colonie (12-3-3) and CBA (9-7-4) at Bethlehem (10-7-3).
Like any coach, Shenendehowa’s Juan de la Rocha would love to see his defensemen become more involved in the offensive part of the game, but as long as they’re solid in their own end, he’s OK with that.
The Plainsmen defensemen are like umpires — as long as they’re doing their job correctly, no one seems to notice them.
“With this group, we don’t look at the scoresheet. We look at the plus-minus.” said de la Rocha Tuesday. “[Peter] Sacks occasionally gets on the scoresheet, but we don’t rely on them for goals. We rely on them to play sound defense, and that’s what we trust them to do.”
Sacks, a junior, is the only defenseman with more than 10 points (3-13). The regular group also includes seniors Riley Irving (2-4-6) and Andre Thibault (0-1-1) and juniors Ryan Rosmarin (1-2-3) and Tanner Cretti (0-4-4).
“If we didn’t trust them back there, they wouldn’t be on the ice,” said de la Rocha. “But they’ve got a lot of big-game experience. Sometimes, they make mistakes and we get exposed because of those mistakes, but they’re also quick to learn from those mistakes.”
Coachable — that’s the word de la Rocha brings up the most when he talks about his blueliners.
Thibault, who was voted the Most Improved Player after his sophomore year, has never scored a goal during his varsity career, but he’s played in 62 games in the last three years.
Rosmarin was a member of the practice squad last season, but has a plus-13 rating this year, and scored his first career goal in Shenendehowa’s 2-1 victory over CBA earlier this month.
Cretti was also a member of the practice squad last year, and Irving, who missed the 2010-11 season after having shoulder surgery, has been solid in the back for the last two seasons. After picking up six assists in 20 games last year, he scored his first two career goals this season.
The last defensemen to put up big offensive numbers for the Plainsmen were Patch Alber, who scored 33 points during the 2004-05 season, and Victor Barger, who had 20 goals and 14 assists in 2002-03.
“It would help if we got more offense from the back, breaking out or getting shots on goal,” said de la Rocha. “But that’s not who we are. What we do is bring good team defense to the table.”
Niskayuna/Schenectady was scheduled to play Guilderland/Mohonasen in the first round on Monday night, but the Mohawks were awarded a forfeit.