The Shenendehowa hockey team has a 20-2-3 record, breezed to the Capital District High School Hockey League Division I regular-season championship and is bidding for its sixth straight Section II crown.
And according to Plainsmen coach Juan de la Rocha, his team will be the underdog in tonight’s championship game against LaSalle at 7 at Union College.
“That’s what I told my team
today,” said de la Rocha after practice on Monday. “We haven’t beaten them yet this season.”
LaSalle (15-8-2) has a win and a tie against the Plainsmen. The 3-0
victory ended Shenendehowa’s
22-game unbeaten streak, and spoiled Shen’s Senior Night.
“We’re going to change things up a little bit,” said de la Rocha. “We’re trying to find ways to get a little more offense. We’ve got to get more shots on goal.”
LaSalle is looking for its first Section II title since 2001, and coach Tim Flanigan isn’t buying into the Shenendehowa-as-underdog theory.
“They’ve proven they’re one of the best teams in the state,” said Flanigan, a former goalie at Union College.
The key tonight, as it was in the previous games between the two teams, will be the play of LaSalle goalie Brendan Wager, the only junior on the all-CDHSHL team. Wager led the league in save percentage (.939), and has allowed only three goals in in his last three games.
“He’s played great for us,” said Flanigan. “He was injured early in the season and didn’t play in as many games as we expected, but he’s one of the best in the league. I look for him to set the tone on Thursday.”
The Cadets struggled offensively early in the season, but Flanigan kept tinkering with his lines until finding the combinations he liked. One of his biggest moves was shifting all-league defenseman Pete Bonelli forward to center his second line.
“Once we found the right combinations, we started to produce more offensively,” said Flanigan. “We’ve been scoring more in the last 10 or 12 games. But when we weren’t scoring, it made us take a look at what we were doing defensively, and by tightening things up, we got better defensively and on the penalty kill.”
LaSalle’s top line consists of
seniors Mike Walsh (17-21-38) and Zach Crowley (15-19-34) and sophomore Niall Cahill (12-9-21).
The Cadets have done a good job containing Shenendehowa’s explosive offense, led by senior Adam Hitchko, the Plainsmen’s career leader in goals. But the law of averages would seem to be in Shenendehowa’s favor.
“I like the position we’re in,” said de la Rocha. “I think it would be a lot tougher for us if we had already beaten them twice.
“We just have to minimize our mistakes, and make the most of our opportunities. In the first game [against LaSalle], I didn’t think we played well, and still had a 2-2 tie. If you look at the last game, their first goal came off a centering pass that was deflected, the second was a turnover that became a two-on-one and the third was an empty-netter. So I really don’t think we played that bad. But you can’t expect to win if you don’t score goals.”
Although de la Rocha didn’t go into specifics about his proposed changes, he could reunite his big line of Hitchko, Jesse Elliott and Bryan Hunter, all seniors. Elliott won the CDHSHL scoring title with 50 points (20-30), but hasn’t scored a goal in the last two games. Hitchko, who has been playing on a line with Joe Macaluso and Alec
Pachecho recently, has 45 points (28-17), while Hunter goes into tonight’s game with 44 (19-25).
Shenendehowa reached the championship game with a 7-2 victory over Christian Brothers Academy, with Hitchko getting two goals and two assists, while LaSalle defeated Saratoga Springs, 5-1, in the semifinals.