Sometimes, there’s really no sense trying to dissect a loss.
Sometimes, one team is just better than the other.
That was the case Sunday, when Section III champion West Genesee completed an undefeated season with a 3-0 victory over Section II titlist Saratoga Springs in the New York state Division I hockey tournament championship game at Memorial Auditorium.
The Wildcats (25-0) scored 24 seconds into the game, limited Saratoga (19-5-1) to 11 shots on goal and left the Blue Streaks hoping for a lucky bounce just to stay in the game.
“West Genesee was just the better team,” said Blue Streaks coach Mike Ricupero, who guided Saratoga back to the state final four for the first time in 10 years in just his second season behind the bench.
Why even bother to argue?
Seniors Erich Haney, Adam King and Zach Lewis, who make up the Wildcats’ top line, were named to the all-tournament team, as was senior defenseman Ryan Michel. Haney also walked off with most valuable player honors, and Michel was named the New York state Player of the Year.
While the Streaks struggled to generate any offense, senior goalie Graeme Bulmer ended his career with an outstanding effort, making 25 saves and earning a spot on the all-tournament team.
“All you can ask of a goaltender is to keep you in the game, and Graeme did that today.” said Ricupero.
Bulmer wasn’t even fazed when the Wildcats, who won their first state title since 2001, scored just 24 seconds into the game. Haney and King broke in on a two-on-one, and even though King sent his first shot wide, Lewis sent the errant puck back in front, and King slapped it past Bulmer.
“That happened to us in the sectional championship game [against Shaker/Colonie], as well,” said Bulmer. “We’re used to it. I just tried to focus on regaining my composure, and staying in the game.”
“That first goal did two things,” said Ricupero. “First, it woke us up. Second, it showed we needed to play our game. I thought we were just standing around the first two or three minutes. We needed to dictate play, and we didn’t.”
But the Wildcats had already set the tone, and the Blue Streaks didn’t get their first shot on goal until the 6:57 mark of the first period.
Saraatoga nearly pulled even at 12:34, when senior Mike Regan took a long lead pass and came in on a breakaway. But Wildcats goalie Anthony Militello dropped down and stopped the shot as Regan was fighting off a backchecker.
The Streaks were completely bottled up by West Genesee’s forecheck in the second period, getting just one shot on goal, a harmless shot from the right point by Alex Luse, But Bulmer kept the ship from sinking.
“We weren’t getting to the loose pucks, and we always seemed to be a half-step behind,” said Ricupero. “We couldn’t get into their zone so we could create pressure on the puck. They really knew how to clog the middle of the ice.”
But with the score still 1-0, no one was throwing in the towel.
“It was a 1-0 game, and we were a good break or a lucky bounce away from being tied,” said Ricupero. “I told them we just had to keep playing our defensive roles, and keep playing our system.”
When Michel took a tripping penalty at 3:03 of the third, Saratoga finally put on some serious pressure, and the power-play unit of Regan, Dan Going and Conor Murphy created a couple of great opportunities, but nothing found the back of the net.
“I thought we were going to bury one there,” said Ricupero. “That was a little deflating, when we didn’t score.”
The Wildcats then put the game out of reach with two goals in a span of 42 seconds.
Michel got the first one, when he raced down the right-wing boards, cut across the middle and slid the puck past Bulmer’s outstretched right pad at 7:00.
Just 42 seconds later, Haney’s shot from the right circle rocketed through Bulmer’s pads, and the Wildcats had their third state crown.
“We said from Day 1 that we wanted to get to the state championship game,” said Bulmer. “So it’s been a successful season, I’d say. We played our hearts out.”
“We knew West Genesee was going to be a good team,” said Ricupero. “All I could ask for was for the effort to be there, and it was. We just didn’t cash in on the opportunities we had.”
Saratoga Springs 0 0 0 — 0
West Genesee 1 0 2 — 3
First period — 1, WG, King (Lewis), :24. Penalties — Luse, Sar (interference), 5:57; Shaney, WG (slashing), 8:30; Luse, Sar (elbowing), 13:47; Murray, Sar (tripping), 14:34.
Second period — None. Penalties —
Going, Sar (roughing), 10:47.
Third period — 2, WG, Michel, 7:00. 3, WG, Haney (King), 7:42. Penalties — Michel, WG (tripping), 3:03.
Shots on goal — Saratoga Springs, 4-1-6 — 11; West Genesee, 9-12-7 — 28.
Power-play opportunities — Saratoga Springs, 0-2, West Genesee 0-4.
Goalies — Saratoga Springs, Bulmer
(28-25). West Genesee, Militello (11-11).