CLIFTON PARK — Roughly a month ago, Shenendehowa hockey coach Juan de la Rocha asked senior forward Colin Palmer to elevate his level of play down the stretch. Palmer has done just that, and Wednesday’s Section II Division I quarterfinal against the Mohawks was a glowing example.
Palmer scored the first four goals of the game and then tacked on an assist as the top-seeded Plainsmen beat the Mohawks 5-1 at Prestige Arena. The Mohawks — a team comprised of players from Niskayuna, Schenectady, Albany and Amsterdam schools — were coming off a victory in the play-in game over Burnt Hills/Ballston Spa.
Shenendehowa (14-7-1) advances to Sunday’s semifinal at Union College, while the Mohawks finish 8-15.
“I challenged him a little bit a month and a half ago. He was playing mediocre,” said de la Rocha of Palmer, who came into Wednesday’s game tied for second on the team in scoring with 12 goals and 14 assists. “After that, he did something different and changed his mindset. I think he’s come to terms that this is his final run as a senior, and he’s been playing out of his skin. He’s got a terrific shot, and it’s good to see him use it.
“Colin has great linemates, and they all work together very well. We don’t really have any leading scorers on this team. We score by committee. Everybody chips in. In fact, in our last game, the two goals we got were from kids who hadn’t scored all season.”
The game was marred by 19 penalties, including 14 by the Mohawks, who had four players disqualified.
“I was just hoping we would get through the game without any major issue or injuries,” de la Rocha said. “We played outstanding hockey when it was a hockey game, and we showed an amazing amount of discipline. Not to defend any type of behavior, but when you are passionate about what you do, and all of a sudden your season is coming to an end, it’s easy for things to get away from you. I think our kids showed a lot of discipline and courage not to respond with any type of retaliation.”
O’Connell said he discussed his team’s frustrations with de la Rocha.
“I actually talked to coach de la Rocha, who I’ve got a lot of respect for,” O’Connell said. “I apologized to him. My guys are good guys, and it was unexpected the way they reacted. That’s not our true personality as a team.”
Palmer got the Plainsmen on the board midway through the opening period on a power-play goal, assisted by top point producer Nolan Sullivan, who also set up his linemate with a perfect pass across the crease for Shen’s second goal of the period.
“I started off slowly this season,” Palmer explained. “I played defense last year, and it took me some time to get my feet under me. Then, we had to come back from quarantine, and I’ve been going pretty well ever since.”
Palmer notched an unassisted goal two minutes into the second period and then gave Shen a comfortable 4-0 cushion midway through the period on a feed from defenseman Thomas Hall.
Shenendehowa collected its final goal early in the third period when Brandon Stocker scored from Palmer and Sullivan, who had three assists to push his point total to 38.
The frustrated Mohawks were in the penalty box for much of the final period, but they did snap the shutout on a goal by Tyler Carroll, his fifth of the season.
Mohawks goalie Alex Doehla, who made 32 saves, was under extreme pressure throughout the game as Shen peppered the net constantly.
“My goaltender is a junior, and he’s from Albany High School,” said Mohawks coach Ryan O’Connell. “He’s been our anchor all year long. He’s been the main reason why we had eight wins. Without him, we maybe would have had one win. In many games this season, we would lose by one or two goals, and he’s been the reason we were still in the game at the end.”
In Wednesday’s other quarterfinal, No. 3 Adirondack defeated No. 6 Saratoga Springs 6-2. The Blue Streaks had won its first-round playoff game in triple overtime, as Saratoga Springs topped La Salle 3-2 on a game-winning goal from Jake Badar.
Mohawks 0 0 1 — 1
Shenendehowa 2 2 1 — 5
Mohawks scoring: Carroll 1-0, Wilber 0-1, Shenendehowa scoring: Palmer 4-1, Sullivan 0-3, Stocker 1-0, Hall 0-1. Goalies: Mohawks, Doehla, 32 saves; Shenendehowa, Snider, 13 saves.