Although their climb doesn’t rival that of, let’s say, Sir Edmund Hillary, the first explorer to reach the summit of Mount Everest, the members of the Shenendehowa hockey team have finally completed their long trek to the top of the Capital District High School Hockey League standings.
But it remains to be seen if the Plainsmen can stay on top.
Entering the final two weeks of the regular season, the Plainsmen have moved 11⁄2 points ahead of Saratoga Springs in the league standings, and guess who the Plainsmen (9-1-1 CDHSHL, 11-5-1 overall) get to play next — the Blue Streaks.
The two rivals will clash at 6:45 Wednesday night at the Saratoga Springs Ice Rink, and the winner will have the inside track to the regular-season championship and the top seed for the Section II playoffs.
Although the Blue Streaks (10-0-0, 13-2-1) are still undefeated in the league, they trail the Plainsmen because of the league’s points system, which is about as easy to decipher as U.S. tax laws.
View photos of the first game between the teams this season, a 2-0 Saratoga win on Dec. 20.
Because Wednesday’s game is the second meeting of the two teams, the winner will receive one point.
After Wednesday’s game, Shenendehowa has two league games left, but can pick up only two more points if it wins both. Saratoga will have three games remaining, and the potential to earn five points.
Since opening the season with a 2-5 record, which included a 2-0 loss to the Blue Streaks, the Plainsmen have been on a tear, going 9-0-1.
“We learned a lot about ourselves when we were playing teams out of section,” said Shenendehowa coach Juan de la Rocha Monday after he had to cancel practice because of the weather. “We tinkered with our lineup multiple times and it’s been a process, to be honest.”
But the lineup that de la Rocha has been putting on the ice lately seems to be working very well.
“A lot of different kids have been getting on the scoresheet,” de la Rocha said. “We really don’t have a first line. They have their little niches. Anyone can go out there in any situation.”
Senior Brad Tardif (16-14) and junior Kyle Marr (17-13) share the scoring lead with 30 points, but play on different lines. Tardif is on a wing with center Nick Quigley and Dave Hunter, while Marr is alongside sophomore Peter Russo (8-18-26), with junior Ryan Mortka (9-12-21) on the other wing.
Throw in senior Kevin Miles (7-18-25) and wingers Max Papele and Nick Hansen, and the Plainsmen have three very potent lines.
The defense is anchored by senior goalie Brian Walter, who has been steadily climbing on his own, up the goaltender rankings in the CDHSHL. He enters Wednesday’s game with a 2.50 goals-against average and a .890 save percentage.
“His goals-against average at one point was four-something,” said de la Rocha. “But again, in the beginning of the year, we played a very tough schedule and in the beginning of the year is also when guys made a lof of mistakes. Marry those two things together, and it’s easy to see why his goals-against was where it was.”
One of the problems the Plainsmen will face Wednesday is shutting down the Blue Streaks’ offense. led by Tyler Bullard, the area’s top scorer with 46 points (24-22), on the Olympic-sized sheet at Saratoga Springs Ice Rink.
“You have to be careful against a guy like him, especially on the bigger surface, where he has more room to move,” said de la Rocha. “You have to be selective about how you defend a player like that. If you have to lunge or make a desperate move, that’s when he going to beat you. We have to be able to take good angles against him.”
The Blue Streaks saw their eight-game winning streak snapped by Suffern, 3-1, last weekend.