All year long, the one constant for the Shenendehowa hockey team has been the presence of Peter Rakowsky in goal.
The senior was third in the Capital District High School Hockey League in minutes played, and compiled a 9-6-2 record as the Plainsmen locked up the No. 2 seed for the Section II tournament.
But when the Plainmen (12-6-2) host seventh-seeded Niskayuna/Schenectady in the opening round of the playffs at 7:30 tonight at Clifton Park Arena, Rakowsky will be on the sidelines.
According to Shenendehowa coach Juan de la Rocha, Rakowsky has “joint issues” that are complications from a previous illness, and won’t be allowed to play until he gets medical clearance. “He’s been out for a week and a half, and right now, it doesn’t look like we’ll get him back,” said de la Rocha Tuesday.
That will put freshman Brian Walter in the nets tonight against the seventh-seeded Mohawks (4-14-2).
“He started against Guilderland and LaSalle last week, and gave up one goal in two games,” said de la Rocha of Walter. “In the beginning of the year, he was our third-string goalie and I wanted him to continue to play youth hockey, where he would get the game time to continue to develop. But he’s battled hard, worked his way to No. 2 and now is the starter.”
Defense and goaltending have been key factors in Shenendehowa’s success this year because, unlike in years past, there is no dominant scorer. In fact, the Plainsmen have no one in the top 20 in scoring in the CDHSHL. The balanced scoring is led by senior Derek Discanio (9-17-26) and juniors Matt Dempsey (13-12-25) and Mike McCarthy (11-14-25). Discanio is playing for the Plainsmen for the first time, after transferring in from Averill Park.
“We don’t have the [Bryan] Hunters or the [Adam] Hitchkos, but that doesn’t mean we’re not dangerous,” said de la Rocha. “It’s really been a team effort.
“In the beginning of the year, we started off slow, and probably some of that was because we played a tough schedule early on. We were struggling to score five-on-five, and then we lost a couple of key players. Matt Findlay went down for the year, and he was our top scorer. then Tony Barone broke his ankle, and he was a first-line guy. So we’ve had to make a lot of changes.”
Although Niskayuna-Schenectady has one of the youngest teams in the CDHSHL, listing just two seniors on its roster, Shenendehowa is also down to two seniors — Discanio and defenseman Tommy Asterino, a first-team Division I selection.
“Usually, we’ve got nine or 10 seniors, but the team we’re playing with every day is the team we’re going to have next year, with the exception of the two seniors,” de la Rocha said.
“When you get to this point in the year, you usually rely on your seniors, but we don’t have that luxury. These kids have to navigate on their own.”
Niskayuna/Schenectady is in familiar territory. Last year, the Mohawks were the No. 7 seed, but pulled off two upsets to advance to the championship game.
Junior Sam Hartz is the Mohawks’ leading scorer with 27 points (15-12), and he gets support from senior Nick Torcivia (9-8-17) and freshman Lucas Maloney (6-8-14).
Sophomore goalie Peter Mrazik led the league in minutes played (849).
In tonight’s other quarterfinal, defending Section II champion Shaker/Colonie (12-6-2) hosts sixth-seeded Christian Brothers Academy (6-14-0) at 7:30 at the Albany County Hockey Facility.
The Jets have an explosive offense led by All-CDHSHL pick Corey Brustle (19-26-45) and first-team Division I all-star Ryan Phillips (17-21-38). Another first-team selection, Nick Kyratis, anchors the defense in front of goalie Jim Lanne (2.36 goals-against average).
Steve Basile (11-10-21) and Mike Dougherty (11-9-20) are CBA’s top offensive threats, while Steve Tomaro (3.42 GAA) and Zach Baron (4.22 GAA) have split the goaltending duties.
Saratoga Springs, the winner of the Delvecchio Cup as the overall CDHSHL champion, has a bye into Saturday’s semifinal round.
The Blue Streaks will take on fourth-seeded LaSalle, a 3-2 winner over Guilderland on Tuesday night. Vinnie Planz had the game-winning goal for the Cadets (10-11-0), who had a 2-0 lead in the first period.
Shane Tybur and Ryan Ghizzoni scored for the Dutchmen, who finished the year at 7-13-1.
The Division II playoffs are scheduled to begin on Saturday.
Guilderland 1 0 1 — 2
LaSalle 2 0 1 — 3
First period — 1, LSI, Mitch Allen (Kyle Sacks), 4:53. 2, LSI, Mitch Wacholder (Alex Verchereau, Vinnie Planz), 10:31. 3, Gui, Shane Tybur (Robby King), 14:22 (pp).
Second period — None.
Third period — 4, LSI, Planz (Wacholder, Verchereau), :42. 5, Gui, Ryan Ghizzoni, 6:34 (pp).
Goalies — Guilderland, Nigel Simmons 8-8-7 — 23; LaSalle, Brett Bernardo, 6-7-8 — 21.