When the Ithaca High School hockey team packs its bags for the short trip across town for today’s New York state regional game against Section II champion Saratoga Springs, the Little Red might want to throw in an oil can.
They might be a little rusty.
The Little Red, who haven’t played a game since Feb. 9, will host the Blue Streaks at 1 p.m. at The Rink in Ithaca, with the winner advancing to next weekend’s Division I semifinals at the Utica War Memorial Auditorium.
Because they’re the only hockey team in Section IV, the Little Red (11-6-3) play Section III teams during the regular season, and always receive a bye into the regionals. Their last regular-season game was 25 days ago, when they defeated Cicero-North Syracuse, 7-3. Since then, they’ve had two scrimmages to try to stay sharp.
“They always get a bye, so I don’t know how much that plays into their motivation, because they go [to the regionals] every year,” said Saratoga coach Mike Ricupero. “I don’t know if they’ll want it as much as we do.”
The Blue Streaks (17-4-1) won their first Section II championship in 10 years by defeating defending champion Shaker/Colonie, 3-1, last week, and are bidding to return to the state semifinals for the first time since that same year. Ironically, that was also the last time Ithaca won the state championship.
“We don’t want to look at this like we’re playing with house money,” said Ricupero. “The whole making history thing is gone, and the excitement has died down a bit. Now, we’re focused on beating Ithaca.”
The Little Red rely on a defense anchored by junior goalie Cooper Belyea (2.17 goals-against average, .927 save percentage) and captain Gabe Mendola to shut down its opponents, because the offense doesn’t score a lot. Senior Tyler St. Denis is the team’s leading scorer with 18 points (10-8) in 20 games. He also has five game-winning goals.
“They’re a lot like LaSalle, packing it in and blocking shots,” said Ricupero. “They don’t let a lot of pucks get to the net. They play good defense, and from their defense, they try to be opportunistic.”
Steve Cash leads the Saratoga scoring with 33 points (20-13). Four other players have over 20 points, and defenseman Luke Fauler scored two of the goals in the win over Shaker/Colonie in the championship game.
“If we dump it in and force them into turnovers, I think we’ll be alright,” said Ricupero. “But the defense has to tighten up.”
Division II champion Queensbury will also be going on the road, heading south to take on Section I champion Rye at 8 p.m at Rye Playland.
This will be the third meeting of the two teams this year. Rye defeated the Spartans to win the championship of the Queensbury Tournament on Nov. 28, and the Spartans came away with a 4-2 win on Dec. 19, on neutral ice.
Queensbury (15-7-1) won its fourth straight Section II title by upsetting top-seeded Bethlehem, 4-2, last weekend, while Rye (15-5-3) routed Yorktown, 7-1, in the Section I championship game.
Spartans goalie Dylan Hafner has allowed just three goals in three postseason games, compiling a 1.18 goals-against average with a .941 save percentage. Kevin Valenti (29-15-44) and Anthony Langevin (17-21-38) are Queensbury’s top scoring threats.