Shenendehowa reclaims Section II Division 1 championship
It had been six years since the Shenendehowa hockey team last skated the Section II Division 1 championship plaque around the rink.
Six years of frustration, usually at the hands of the Saratoga Springs Blue Streaks, who had won the last four. Saratoga carried its momentum from last year’s sectional win all the way to a state crown.
The Plainsmen won the regular-season title, the Delvecchio Cup, this season, but were 0-1-1 against Saratoga in the season series. They had tied Dec. 18 in Clifton Park, 3-3, and the Blue Streaks had pinned a 5-0 loss on the Plainsmen on Feb. 6 in Saratoga Springs.
In Tuesday’s sectional championship, the Plainsmen finally figured out the Blue Streaks and returned the favor of their last matchup with a 5-0 win at Union College’s Messa Rink.
Shenendehowa slipped forward Kyle Marr out into the neutral zone several times in the opening period to get a rush started, and the Plainsmen scored their first three goals on the rush, the first two in the first period with Marr as the catalyst.
“The rush has been something we’ve been talking about a lot, especially against teams like this, where if you allow them to, they will pack it in and not give you the lanes,” Shenendehowa coach Juan de la Rocha said. “While we have them on the rush, that’s your opportunity to take advantage.”
Marr took a long pass from his own zone just shy of the Saratoga blue line and skated it in along the left boards. His pass hit Ryan Mortka as he skated down the right side of the slot, and Mortka tucked the puck away for a 1-0 lead at 7:55 of the first period.
At 10:40, Marr was again carrying the puck up the left boards, this time with Nick Quigley ahead of him in the left circle. He sent the puck up to Quigley, who then sent it past Saratoga goalie Danny Hobbs.
“Your eyes definitely widen up a little bit when you see they don’t have as many guys back,” Marr said. “Nobody wants to play defense, really. What do you play sports for? You want to score goals. So your eyes sort of widen up. When you’ve got teammates who are driving hard to the net like Quigley, guys who are looking for the puck like Morty was, it just comes together. Me finding guys backdoor or finding guys inside, it’s nothing I’m doing. It’s just hard work by them.”
“We tried to counter that,” Saratoga coach Dave Torres said. “We told them they were always hanging a guy, and we had to stay back and not pinch so much on defense. We got into habits where we would pinch in. What are you going to do?”
Down, 2-0, Torres got through to his guys in the first intermission, and they were executing better in the second period, but even then were unable to capitalize on a pair of power plays.
“We wanted to change our forecheck a little bit and our breakout,” he said. “We made some adjustments, and I thought we dominated in the first half of the second period, and then for some reason, we went back to the bad habits and weren’t getting the puck out of the zone. We tried to be selfish and not really put the puck on net. We wanted to keep it simple, just pucks on net and get rebounds.”
Rebounds weren’t made available to the Blue Streaks, though. Farstad made sure all the first shots he saw stayed in front of him, and from there, he was either able to handle the rebound or his teammates were sweeping it to the boards.
“Farstad played a great game,” Torres said. “He was stopping the first puck and the defensemen were clearing the rebounds. We weren’t getting second opportunities on rebounds. That’s key, if you can’t get rebounds — 85 percent of your scoring comes from rebounds, and we weren’t able to capitalize on them.”
“That’s a bit part of what [assistant coach Bryan] Hunter on defense really preaching to get to those loose pucks and win the one-on-one battles,” Farstad said. “Anything you can do can lead to a bad opportunity or bad break, and tonight I think we got the good bounces.”
“My goaltender was outstanding tonight,” de la Rocha said. “We did a great job of keeping things to the outside for him, but when they got inside and got shots on, we controlled everything. From the D zone out, we were able to control things and not scramble.”
Farstad stopped all 22 shots he faced. On the other end, Hobbs made 17 saves.
Just 1:03 into the third period, on another rush, Austin McDonough fed Peter Russo for the finish and a 3-0 lead.
“They say the two-goal lead is the worst in hockey,” Farstad said, “so when we got that [third goal], that’s when I started to feel a little more confident and I started coming out, attacking the puck a little bit more and being a little more aggressive.”
“That was a tough one,” Torres said. “Even though we were down, 3-0, I still think my team is good enough to come back from that deficit. We just couldn’t get it going. We had power-play opportunities. Credit to them. They’re known for taking a lot of penalties, but they stayed out of the box.”
Even when they were in the box, the Plainsmen didn’t let up. Defenseman Cameron Kuhl forced a turnover in the neutral zone on a penalty kill and skated in, firing a wrister to the top corner for a 4-0 lead at 6:16 in the third.
“Our defensemen gave us that physical presence tonight,” de la Rocha said. “They played our game. They controlled the neutral zone well, they didn’t go out of their way for a hit, but when it presented itself to them, they took advantage of it. I really think they put us in a position to be a little more aggressive up front. It was a great team effort tonight.”
Marr finished the scoring with 37.5 seconds left in the game on a power play.
“This is a big one,” Marr said. “Going back to when we were little kids and watching them win five or six in a row. You watch that, then you come here and your in the stands or on the ice watching Saratoga win five in a row. It hurts inside. You see that, and all you want to do is come out here and lay it on the line. Everybody did that tonight. It was an all-around team effort.”
“A lot of them have been around since their sophomore years, the ones that are seniors now, so they’ve tried and failed twice,” de la Rocha said. “They’ve always given good efforts, but we’ve been a little bit younger in the past. I think our experience and our age helped us out a bit tonight.”
“I feel like it’s just poetic justice my senior year, to do that for all my boys, to go out there and get the shutout,” Farstad said. “It’s an unbelievable feeling. I sat in the locker room and I watched some of the seniors last year, some of my best friends, cry. I said there’s no way I’m going out like that. There’s absolutely no way. So I came ready to play tonight, and I think the whole team did.”
The Plainsmen will host Section I champion Scarsdale on Saturday at 4 p.m. Scarsdale beat Suffern in their championship game, 4-3. Suffern scored a 3-1 victory over Shenendehowa on Jan. 18, but the Plainsmen have a full head of steam heading into regional play.
“That definitely lifts a pretty big weight off our chests, but the journey’s not over,” Marr said. “As big a win as this one might seem, tomorrow’s a new day. We’re going to have to work hard. That’s a good team. They beat a team we’ve already lost to. We’ve got some work ahead of us, but there’s a big weight off our chests, and we’re going into that game pretty confident in what we can do. If we just stick to our game plan, I think this team can go pretty far.”