EAST GLENVILLE — Albany Academy’s Jackson Bissell left his Bauer goalie stick behind in the garbage outside the visitors’ locker room — standing upright with a crack at the bend in the paddle.
It had done its job — the battle was won.
The senior from Clifton Park went toe-to-toe with Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake/Ballston Spa’s rookie phenom — and All-Section II forward — Tommy Bleyl Monday. The Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake freshman beat Bissell — a second-team all-star himself — three times, but not a fourth. That secured the No. 11-seed Cadets a 4-3 win, and a spot in the Section II Division 1 boys’ ice hockey quarterfinals.
Bleyl actually did come right back at Bissell off the face off that followed his third goal with 5:30 to play in the game. He picked up a loose puck just outside the offensive zone along the left side boards and barreled in on Bissell, a familiar sight all afternoon. Bleyl deked right, trying to draw Bissell toward the middle of the goal, so he could slide the puck in at the left post, but Bissell didn’t bite.
That was the case most of the night. The Academy goaltender saved 44 shots Monday, but it was his battle against Bleyl, who scored his fourth hat trick of the season, that ended up defining the game — deciding the victor.
“Man, every time I saw him with the puck I was a little nervous. I’m not going to lie. Like, ‘Get him off the puck,’” Bissell said.
The senior had plenty of respect for the freshman. But, the goalie got the win, and the forward tipped his cap right back.
“He’s a great goalie. He made a lot of great saves on me,” said Bleyl, who finished the season with 26 goals. “He got the better of me at the end of the day. I felt like if I could just get one more pass, then we could have won, but I didn’t.”
Bissell stonewalled Bleyl when it counted the most, but the goalie was quick to highlight the team effort that secured Albany Academy a spot in the next round. The Cadets disrupted BH/BS’s offense throughout the game. They remained organized in the defensive zone and forced BH/BS to take most of its shots from the perimeter — lowering the chance of success.
Despite Bleyl scoring twice in a four-minute span off rebounds of shots from Parker Caswell and Will Mehling, the strategy was a winning one.
“We’ve been playing hard and battling like that for the last four games, and we won three of them now,” Albany Academy head coach Ken Lancto said. “It’s something that we put an emphasis on during the week of practice, just kind of battling against each other.
“That’s what our identity kind of evolved into, is grinding, battling, blocking shots, trying to make simple plays all the time, and just working as hard as we possibly can.”
Lancto highlighted his captains for setting that tone, but Monday it was a small moment from one of them that may have helped keep the game going Academy’s way.
Academy freshman Chad Safranko had made a stray pass from behind his own net 13 seconds into a Cadets power play with a 1-0 lead in the second period. It found Bleyl’s stick right in front of Bissell. Bleyl drew Bissell right, then slid it around him to tie the game, leaving Bissell writhing in pain. He said after the game that Bleyl landed on his left knee as he finished the play.
Right after the goal, one of the Cadets’ captains gave Safranko a pat on the back and a little encouragement in a tough moment. A moment that, in other games, energized the BH/BS student section and led to more BH/BS goals. This time, the Cadets were back on the man-advantage 3:27 later, Safranko got the puck at the point and sent it toward the net, where Alex Swinnie tapped it in to put the visitors back ahead 2-1. Max Flik scored with 54.6 seconds left to make it 3-1 after two periods.
Safranko had turned the tide back.
“We talked about it. Just try to control your emotions as much as possible,” Lancto said. “Never get too high, never get too low, right? Mistakes are going to happen, very good things are going to happen, and it’s a matter of how you bounce back.”
Balancing emotions will be on Lancto’s mind as his team prepares to take on No. 3 seed Shenendehowa at 3:15 p.m. Wednesday at Prestige Services Arena in Clifton Park. The Plainsmen knocked off the Cadets 6-2 in the Section II semifinals last season, and this season Shen won 2-0, the second goal an empty-netter.
As for BH/BS, Bleyl said that Monday was his last game for the garnet and gold. He plans to transfer next school year, but has not decided yet. Nevertheless, as he has said all season, this year, these fans, this team are all in his heart.
“I’m sorry I didn’t get to go up and jump up into the boards at all today, but usually I do that when I score,” Bleyl said. “I love when they cheer my name and everything. It’s a great feeling.”
“I love the entire team,” Bleyl said. “I love the home games, the away games. I wish there was more. I wish I could do more of it. I love the captain. He’s been a great leader, Bernie [Townsend]. Coach [James] Buff [Buffoline], Merge [Robert Mergen], Coach [Kyle] Grace, they’re all amazing coaches. I’m going to miss it a lot, and it was a great experience.”
LaSALLE, CBA ADVANCE
Bleyl’s Mid-Fairfield Youth Hockey teammate, La Salle freshman Chase Rose, scored a hat trick of his own, leading No. 7 seed La Salle to a 6-1 win over the No. 10 Storm in first-round playoff action. Rose now has 21 goals on the season.
Braxton Shields, Michael Nocera and Ethan Lashway also scored for La Salle. Klaidi Gjini scored for the Storm. La Salle advances to play at No. 2-seed Bethlehem Wednesday at 7 p.m.
In the other first-round contest, No. 8 CBA pushed past the No. 9 Mohawks 5-1. Junior Connor Foley scored for the Mohawks, and goalie Alex Doehla saved 28 shots. The Brothers advance to play in Glens Falls Wednesday at 7:45 p.m. against the No. 1 Adirondack Rivermen. The final quarterfinal is Thursday between No. 4 Capital Region Jets and No. 5 Saratoga Springs at 4:15 p.m. at Albany County Hockey Training Facility.
Albany Academy 1 2 1 — 4
Burnt Hills/Ballston Spa 0 1 2 — 3
Albany Academy scoring: Davis 1-0, M. Flik 1-0, Rinehimer 1-0, Swinnie 1-0, A. Murphy 0-1, Safranko 0-1. BH/BS scoring: Bleyl 3-0, Casewell 0-1, W. Mehling 0-1. Goalies: Albany Academy, Bissell 44 saves. BH/BS, Shear 11 saves; Pooler 2 saves.
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