Shenendehowa coach Juan de la Rocha said his Plainsmen looked like two different hockey teams in Friday night’s Section II Division I semifinal game at Clifton Park Arena.
He liked the one that hit the ice for the second period much more than the previous version that had played to a 1-1 first-period tie with underdog Christian Brothers Academy.
“It’s always gut-wrenching going into a sectional game. Your season is on the line, and I think what you saw were some jitters,” de la Rocha said. “Plus, CBA was using a high trap on us, and it was pretty effective. We hadn’t seen it in a while, but the kids knew what to do. It’s just hard to make adjustments during a period.”
The Plainsmen switched to overdrive in the second stanza, pouring in five goals, the first three coming with less than two minutes elapsed, en route to a 7-2 triumph.
“Everyone was motivated,” said Shenendehowa senior forward Adam Hitchko, who had two goals and two assists in the decisive 15-minute stretch. “We were tied, and no one wanted to be tied. We came out flying.”
Hitchko set the tone with a big hit along the boards, and a tally soon after, just 54 seconds into the second period to kick-start a run of four unanswered goals.
“I think that first goal was a major boost,” said Shenendehowa’s career goal-scoring leader with 90. “That got everyone pumped up on our line, and on all the other lines.”
“That was the turning point,” de la Rocha said of Hitchko’s aggressive play. “When he layed their kid out in front of our student section, and then when he scored, we were a different team after that.”
Hitchko scored his second goal 1:32 into the second period, and 16 seconds later, Nate Palmer connected. Scott Brayden and A.J. Mangino sandwiched power play goals around a goal by CBA’s Steve Basile later in the period, and the Plainsmen (No. 1 seed, 20-2-3) went on to earn their third victory over Brothers (No. 5 seed, 7-13-6) this winter.
The win propelled the five-time defending champion Plainsmen into Thursday’s 7 p.m. title game at Union College against either LaSalle (No. 3 seed, 15-8-2) or Saratoga Springs (No. 7
seed, 7-15-3). LaSalle ended Shenendehowa’s 22-game unbeaten streak last week with a 3-0 victory to close the regular season.
“We have a huge opportunity, but we know whoever we play, it’s going to be a tough game,” Hitchko said. “Both of them are good teams when they want to play.”
Shenendehowa couldn’t wait to play that second period Friday night, after Bryan Hunter and CBA’s Mark Meybaum had exchanged goals just before.
“The goal we gave up was a mishap. We should have cleared it out,” Hitchko said. “A couple of guys did some yelling, but coach calmed us down and told us what we could do, and we went out and did it.
“The goal they scored got that anger in us. We wanted to just blow them away.”
And they did, in a superb period that saw Hitchko’s linemates, Alec Pacheco and Joe Macaluso, both pick up two assists.
“I thought they both played an excellent game,” Hitchko said. “They were hitting and pressuring the puck.”
After being outshot in the first period, 7-5, Shenendehowa held a 13-7 shot advantage in the second period.
“They’re a very skilled and experienced team,” said coach Ron Kuhl, who CBA teams are 0-12-1 in head-to-head matchups with de la Rocha’s Plainsmen. “They know how to win battles and close deals.”
E.J. Reutemann added a third-period goal for the Plainsmen, and, like Palmer and Mangino, finished the game with a goal and an assist. Jesse Elliot added a pair of assists, and Nathan Mellow made 16 saves for the state’s No. 3-ranked team.
“We came out and woke them up in the first period,” said Kuhl, whose Brothers eliminated Niskayuna/Schenectady Thursday night behind Andrew Blood’s 21 saves, 3-0. “They realized they were in a dogfight.”
CBA 1 1 0 — 2
Shenendehowa 1 5 1 — 7
First period — 1. Shen, Bryan Hunter (Jesse Elliot, A.J. Mangino), 8:54; 2. CBA, Mark Meybaum (David Grimes), 12:21.
Second period — 3. Shen, Adam Hitchko (Alec Pacheco, Joe Macaluso), :54; 4. Shen, Hitchko (Macaluso), 1:32; 5. Shen, Nate Palmer (Tom Asterino, E.J. Reutemann), 1:48; 6. Shen, Scott Brayden (Hitchko, Pacheco), 5:41; 7. CBA, Steve Basile (Mike Dougherty, Tyler Baron), 6:53; 8. Shen, Mangino (Elliot, Hitchko), 13:33.
Third period — 9. Shen, Reutemann (Palmer, Tim Wall).
Goalkeepers — CBA, Andrew Blood, 21 saves. Shenendehowa, Nathan Mellow, 16 saves.