Freshman Bleyl shines for veteran-led Burnt Hills/Ballston Spa varsity hockey (w/5 photos)

Burnt Hills/Ballston Spa hockey's Tommy Bleyl skates during a drill at practice Thursday.
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Burnt Hills/Ballston Spa hockey's Tommy Bleyl skates during a drill at practice Thursday.

SCHENECTADY — Tommy Bleyl is quick.

Quick on his feet. Quick to find his teammates with a pass. And quick to gel with his new team — Burnt Hills/Ballston Spa varsity boys’ hockey.

The Burnt Hills-Ballston Spa freshman was also quick to make an impression on his new head coach.

“I did not know him from a hole in the wall. He just came out of the woodwork,” said James Buffoline, BH/BS’s 12th-year coach. “I actually just found out about him in early November — two weeks before tryouts.

“And he came to the tryouts, and he’s a special player. You can tell just his skating ability is just on par with kids four or five years older than him.”

The young right wing with six goals and seven assists in three games already does have a bit of pedigree. But outside the area, since he grew up playing for Schenectady Youth Hockey.

He spent several years playing in the Mid Fairfield Rangers program and then South Kent School, both in Connecticut, before coming out for his local high school team. He also just took part in USA Hockey’s Select-15 Player Development Camp in Amherst in July.

That being said, the player that Buffoline describes as “the most humble, nicest kid that you would ever want to meet” gives all of the credit to his linemates, juniors Jacob Boni and Maddox Friedman. Together, they have 25 points through four games.

“I would not be anywhere without them,” Bleyl said. “They’re so good. Maddox, Boni, their puck movement is amazing. So, without them, I don’t think I’d be anywhere near where I am.”

Buffoline said Bleyl has improved the level of his linemates this season, but he has seen an overall growth in a squad that returns 14 skaters and two goalies that played every or a significant number of minutes last season.

“First of all, I think all the players on our team are buying into our team system, and we’re playing a team game,” Buffoline said. “We talk to the kids constantly about, if you just let the puck do the work, nobody can outskate a hockey puck.”

Boni has also seen the growth in himself and his teammates back after a challenging season in which they went 5-14-1 overall and 4-9-1 in CDHSHL play.

“I think we have a much stronger team this year,” the junior forward said. “Things are just coming together for us. Last year was a little bit of a struggle. We weren’t exactly big, strong, fast. But this year, we’ve come together as a better team. We’ve worked hard over the summer. Overall, it’s just going to be a really good season for us.”

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The coach is confident in his team’s ability to compete with a lot of Section II teams this year. They’re scheduled to drop the puck on their league calendar against Adirondack Friday at 7:45 p.m. at Schenectady County Recreational Facility Ice Rink before taking on the CD Jets at the same time and place Saturday.

Buffoline sees sticking to the system as key, just as it was the last two weekends in their four tough non-league games — two against Cazenovia and Liverpool in the Syracuse Tournament and two against Canton and Potsdam on a North Country road trip. They came away 3-1, just losing 10-7 to Potsdam in a back-and-forth contest.

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That loss to Potsdam revealed a couple of things to Buffoline.

“It really showed me, as a coach, that our team in mentally strong and that we can persevere through adversity. … In the long run, I know we lost a game, but I think that’s going to be great for us down the road for team building,” Buffoline said.

It also highlighted the team’s depth. With Boni and Bleyl out, the squad weathered four early goals and fought back into the game. Assistant captain Joe Spade, who shifted from forward to defenseman this season, contributed five points — two goals and three assists — and Gavin Tribley had a hat trick to bring his total this year to six — he had eight all of last season.

“It’s definitely a great way to start,” Tribley said. “All my teammates have been setting me up. I just have to work hard in front of them and get a lot of those front of the net rebound goals. So, it’s just great, a little confidence builder off of banging in rebounds in the net.”

He also credited BH/BS’s third forward line of Aidan Trask and the Pickard brothers — Colin and Noah, a trio Buffoline said might be his best third grouping in a long time.

“I feel like it starts from our third line working hard, drawing penalties, then we can get our power play to get going,” Tribley said.

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The team scored three of its seven goals on the power play against Potsdam, and seven of 23 tallies this season have come when playing with the man advantage.

Senior defenseman Parker Caswell is the quarterback of that power play, according to his coach. Caswell spent last season with the Clifton Park Dynamo before returning to high school hockey for his final season. He already has eight assists on the season, but is also part of a strong defensive core that Buffoline credits for helping improve the offense with its speed, strong skating ability and puck control.

“We play strong. We play tough. And we play structured,” Caswell said. “I think that’s really important, and we work together, we talk … play the puck well, pass it, block shots, stuff like that.”

They play together. A bond that is built over time and on road trips.

“Everybody’s really close knit,” said captain Bernie Townsend. “There’s no real divide between Burnt Hills and Ballston Spa. Really, you would just think we’re all from the same school, the way we hang out and talk to each other.”

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