Hockey: Saratoga trio making a difference at Oswego
It’s an unusual position for this trio of Saratoga Springs alums.
Brendon Wormley, Devin Smith and Nick Winters find themselves on a team fourth in the league, heading into a postseason as something other than an anticipated finalist.
The one familiar aspect of it all is these three freshman forwards for Oswego State’s club team are still together.
“We all talked about it as we were narrowing our college choices down,” Wormley said. “All three of us knew that Oswego was definitely up on the list. We all wanted to continue playing hockey. We did really all just make the decision on our own, as far as where was best for us, but it was talked about in the locker room last year and after the season.
“Once we decided we were going to play together, it was a good feeling knowing we were going to go into this season knowing some guys in the locker room and not going into it blind.”
Wormley is a business administration major, Smith a wellness management major and Winters a bio-chem major.
Coach Jay Peacock is familiar enough with Section II athletics to know getting three guys from the Blue Streaks’ roster, a roster that won last year’s NYSPHSAA Division I championship, is a sweet deal.
Peacock is an Albany Academy alumnus and was the athletic director at Schenectady from 1997-2000.
“They’ve contributed in such a huge way that it’s made us a real power in the league we play in,” Peacock said. “And we play in a league where the top teams draw a lot of their kids from junior programs, so we’ve got 18-year-old freshmen playing against 21-year-old freshmen.”
In 25 games, the Lakers have 16 regulation wins, one in overtime, one tie, five regulation losses, one in overtime and one in a shootout.
They have three games left on the schedule before playing No. 5 Canisius in the quarterfinals of the Northeast Collegiate Hockey League tournament on Feb. 28. The league is one of seven in the American Collegiate Hockey Association.
In their last two seasons at Saratoga, the trio combined for 70 goals and 118 assists. In a combined 57 games as freshmen at Oswego State, they have 20 goals and 31 assists.
Peacock said last season, his rookies posted maybe five goals. Wormley has nine goals and 18 assists in 25 games this season.
Smith is playing on a line with another freshman and a junior, and he has six goals and 10 assists in 20 games. Winters has five goals and three assists in 12 games and has spent more time getting the puck into open areas for his more experienced linemates, Peacock said.
“It’s definitely a lot quicker,” Smith said. “You’ve got to move the puck a little more, you’ve got to know where your teammates are. I’m on a line with two good hockey players, and it’s made it easier for me because they play pretty much the same style I do. Overall, though, the game is much quicker than in high school.”
“It’s faster, quicker, but it’s been nice to know you’re playing with two guys who, you know what they like to do,” Winters said. “If you get out there with Brendon on the point, you know if you get the puck to him, it’s going on goal. Little things like that that you know are going to happen, that makes it easier.”
All three were captains last season with Saratoga. This season, they are, for the most part, letting the upperclassmen run the show.
Wormley said he took a couple of weeks to get acclimated, but being a talker, he eventually started stepping in and offering his thoughts in the locker room.
Smith and Winters take slightly different approaches.
“We’ve been captains before, we’ve been leaders on a team, and we know when to step up and say something,” Smith said. “Being a freshman, I just try to lead by example and work as hard as I can.”
Winters prefers to help any teammates in need with one-on-one conversations.
“I like, when you’re on the ice or on the bench, just between linemates, helping them out or talking through plays,” he said. “Just giving help when it’s needed here and there.”
Buffalo and Syracuse are the top dogs in the league and received byes to the semifinals, but the young Lakers have a confidence of champions and are excited about the challenge.
“In the playoffs, everybody knows anything can happen,” Wormley said. “Anybody can beat anybody. While Syracuse and Buffalo are definitely the top right now, we know they’re not that much better than us and we could definitely pull an upset in there and come away with the championship.”