Although Shenendehowa coach Juan de la Rocha only had one practice to prepare for tonight’s Section II Division I semifinal, there was no question where he was going to put the emphasis — on defense.
The Plaismen (13-6-2), who will host defending Section II champion Shaker/Colonie (13-6-2) at 7:30
tonight at Clifton Park Arena, turned back Niskayuna/Schenectady, 9-3, in Wednesday night’s quarterfinal, but de la Rocha wasn’t happy with his team’s defensive presence.
“Shaker has a lot more offensive threats than Niskayuna,” said de la Rocha Thursday. “I don’t want to see us get in the habit of being lax on the backcheck or in our defensive awareness. If we do that against Shaker, we’re going to be in for culture shock.”
The Jets, who blanked CBA, 4-0, in the quarterfinals, have one of the area’s top offensive lines, featuring Corey Brustle (19-27-46), Ryan Phillips (28-13-41) and Brian Seniw (15-19-34). Seniw had a goal and an assist against CBA, and Brustle and Phillips each picked up assists.
“I know we’re capable of shutting them down, because we did two weeks ago,” said de la Rocha, referring to the Plainsmen’s 3-2 victory on Jan. 29. “It’s funny because a couple of weeks ago, we were searching for goals. Now, we’re scoring, but in the last three games, we’ve had to worry about the defense.”
Although juniors Matt Dempsey (14-16-30) and Mike McCarthy (13-15-28) are on Shenendehowa’s top line, the second line, which features senior Derek Discanio (9-17-26) and juniors Jason Wade and Kevin Sankel, could be just as important in tonight’s game.
“I like our McCarthy line against the Brustle line, but I think our best matchup is our second line,” said de la Rocha. “In fact, they had two of the three goals the first time we faced Shaker, and they had a lot of opportunities.
“That line was actually born during the Shaker game, when Tony Barone broke his ankle. That was the first time we put that line together.”
Freshman Brian Walter will be back in the nets for the Plainsmen, while Jim Lanne, a first-team all-Division I selection, will start in goal for the Jets.
“I thought Jimmy played his best game of the year against CBA,” said Shaker coach Steve Hudak. “He made a couple of key saves that didn’t allow CBA to get back into the game.”
Although Hudak thought the Jets “were flat” against CBA, he was happy to see some support players come through. Ian Mahota scored his fifth goal of the year against the Brothers, and Chris Cusack scored his fourth.
“That’s what we’ve been hoping for all year,” said Hudak. “When one line is off, another picks them up, and they finally did. But everyone has to play well Friday. Shen is solid, and they’ve been getting better and better all year. We need to be at the top of our game.”
The other semifinal will be played Saturday night, when top seed Saratoga Springs hosts LaSalle at 5:45 at the Weibel Avenue Rink.
The Streaks, looking for their first sectional title since 1999-2000, have a solid offense led by Stephen Cash (20-12-32), Garrison Grant (12-12-24) and Cody Nizolek (13-10-23). Nizolek, the Player of the Year last season, missed a number of games because of a shoulder injury, but is back in top form.
The Streaks also have one of the area’s top goalies in Graeme Bulmer, who finished third in the Capital District High School Hockey League with a .905 save percentage and a 2.03 goals-against average.
The Division II tournament will begin on Saturday, with No. 4 seed Burnt Hills/Ballston Spa (4-14-1) facing South Glens Falls/Hudson Falls (3-16-1) at 12:15 p.m. at Messa Rink at Union College, and No. 3 seed Queensbury (12-7-1) hosting Mohonasen/Schalmont (1-19-0) at 6:30 at the Lake George Forum.
Burnt Hills/Ballston Spa posted a 5-1 win over South Glens Falls/Hudson Falls in their only meeting in the regular season. Max Munsey leads the Spartans scoring with 28 points (14-14), and Frankie Emmer comes into the game with 17 points (6-11).
Queensbury, the three-time defending Division II champion, boosts a stingy defense anchored by Anthony Soprano, who was voted to the All-CDHSHL team, which encompasses both divisions. Kevin Valenti (29-15-44) was the leading goalscorer in the CDHSHL during the regular season, and is third in the overall league scoring race.
The top two seeds in Division II, Bethlehem and Glens Falls, have byes into next week’s semifinals.