When a team loses its No. 1 goaltender, its four top scorers and the core of its defense, it would be natural for a coach to look ahead to a rebuilding season.
But not Shenendehowa coach Juan de la Rocha. He looks at it as a challenge.
“For a team that lost 11 players to graduation and replaced those 11 with 11 new faces, I think this is a healthy, young hockey team,” said de la Rocha. “We’ll be fine.”
There’s a lot of enthusiasm around the Capital District High School Hockey League this season, because many teams are loaded with skilled players. But one familiar face will be missing at Saratoga Springs.
Coach Mike Ricupero, who led the Blue Streaks to the Division I state championship game last season, announced earlier this week that he’s taking a leave of absence “for personal reasons.” Jeff Harrington will take over the head coaching duties.
At Shenendehowa, de la Rocha admits it may take a little time for his young team, which has only four seniors, to become a cohesive unit.
“We lost a lot in experience,” he said. “So we might be a little off to start out, in that department. but I’m anxious to see how this group will do. We’re younger, but we’re much more skilled, as a whole, than we’ve been the last three or four seasons. Our skill level runs deeper.”
Junior Kevin Miles is the top returning scorer (7-7-14), and seniors Eric Chamberland and Joe Ferraro will anchor the defense is front of junior goalie Brian Walters. Walters only played 71 minutes last year as the backup to Brett Bernardo, but Walters got some playoff experience as a freshman, when Peter Rakowsky was out at the end of the season.
De la Rocha is excited about sophomore defenseman Peter Sacks (“He’s got an extra gear that other kids don’t have.”) and Cameron Kuhl, the first eight-grader to make the varsity roster since the early 1990s.
“I expect, this year and next, for us to be fighting our way back to the top,” said de la Rocha.
That means the Plainsmen will have to start beating Saratoga. Shenenedehowa was 17-5-1 last season, and three of the losses were to the Blue Streaks, including a 3-2 setback in the Section II Division I championship game.
The Plainsman open their season Saturday afternoon, hosting Niskayuna/Schenectady at 4 p.m.
Saratoga (22-3-1 last season) lost to Williamsville North, 3-2, in the state championship game last year and also suffered some big losses to graduation. But senior goalie Ryan Bourgeois, who carried the team in the playoffs, returns. He had a 9-2-1 record last year with a 1.84 goals-against average and a .908 save percentage.
Senior Alex Luse, who finished third in scoring in the CDHSHL (20-19-39) and was the only junior on the all-CDHSHL first team, returns to lead the Streaks’ offense.
If goaltending is the secret to success, pencil Niskayuna/Schenectady and LaSalle in for good seasons. Peter Mrazik split time in the Mohawks’ goal last year and had a 2.97 goals-against average. Ryan Franceschi was the No. 1 goaltender at LaSalle, and should benefit from an improved defense.
CDHSHL opponents are going to be in for a battle when they take on Glens Falls, as the Indians have one of the biggest teams in the league, led by senior forward Nick McKinney, who is 6-foot-3, 205 pounds. The defense will be anchored by 6-2, 190-pound Al Wright, and the Indians have a couple of other 190-pounders in Ryan Montgomery and Jim Randall.
Jeff Fraser takes over behind the bench at Christian Brothers Academy, and inherits a team that shouldn’t have problems scoring, as seniors Dean McMahon (13-12-25) and Evan Van Epps (9-15-24) return, as does junior defenseman John Bassett (6-14-20).
Bethlehem could be primed for a run at the CDHSHL title. The Eagles finished third in the league with a 10-4 record last year
(12-8-1 overall) and have two of the league’s most talented forwards in seniors Sam Vincent (11-16-27), a second-team all-star last year, and John Gosstola (15-7-22).
Other players to watch this season include Queensbury senior forward John Countryman (21-11-32); Guilderland/Mohonasen senior Shane Shields, one of the most underrated defensemen in the league, and Dutchmen senior forward Ryan Ghizzoni; Niskayuna/Schenectady forward Lucas Maloney (197-12-29); Burnt Hills/Ballston Spa senior forward Chase Godfrey (9-9-18); and Shaker/Colonie junior forward Sean Leach (16-12-28).
Home rink: Bethlehem Area YMCA.
Coach: Andre Rodrigue.
Last year’s record: 10-4-0 CDHSHL, 12-8-1 overall.
Top returning players: Senior forward San Vincent, senior forward John Gosstola, sophomore forward Andrew Carroll, senior defenseman Nick Parente, senior defenseman Sean Moran.
Home rink: Schenectady County Recreation Facility.
Coach: Jim Buffoline.
Last year’s record: 2-11-0 CSHSHL, 4-14-0 overall.
Top returning players: Senior forward Chase Godfrey, junior defenseman Clark Grabb, junior forward Nick Van Liew, junior goalie Will Lamparelli.
Home rink: Albany County Hockey Facility.
Coach: Jeff Fraser.
Last year’s record: 7-7-0 CDHSHL, 13-9-0 overall.
Top returning players: Senior forward Evan Van Epps, senior forward Dean McMahon, junior defenseman John Bassett, junior goalie Dakota Smith.
Home rink: Glens Falls Recreation Center.
Coach: Mike DiFiore.
Last year’s record: 4-6-0 CDHSHL, 9-10-2 overall.
Top returning players: Senior forward James Rizzo, senior forward Nick McKinney, senior defenseman Al Wright, senior defenseman Ryan Montgomery.
Home rink: Achilles Center at Union College.
Coach: John DeRubertis.
Last year’s record: 4-9-0 CDHSHL, 6-16-0 overall.
Top returning players: Senior forward Ryan Ghizzoni, senior defenseman Shane Shields, senior defenseman Bram Peterson, senior goalie Nigel Simmons, senior forward Andrew Mundweiler.
Home rink: Hudson Valley Community College.
Coach: Tim Flanigan.
Last year’s record: 3-14-0 CDHSHL, 3-18-0 overall.
Top returning players: Senior forward Matt Wagner, senior forward Mason Goss, senior goalie Ryan Franceschi, senior defenseman Brian Kiley.
Home rink: Schenectady County Recreational Facility.
Coach: Todd Templeton.
Last year’s record: 6-7-0 CDHSHL, 8-12-1 overall.
Top returning players: Senior forward Lucas Maloney, senior goalie Peter Mrazik, senior defenseman John Marra, senior forward Devon Patrick.
Home rink: Lake George Forum.
Coach: Dean Williams.
Last year’s record: 11-1-0 CDHSHL, 18-3-2 overall.
Top returning players: Senior forward John Countryman, senior forward Brad Willows, senior defenseman Brandon Edwards, senior goalie Rob Orban.
Home rink: Saratoga City Ice Rink.
Coach: Jeff Harrington.
Last yeaar’s record: 13-1-1 CDHSHL, 22-3-1 overall.
Top returning players: Senior goalie Ryan Bourgeois, senior forward Alex Luse, junior forward Devin Smith, junior defenseman Brendon Wormley, junior forward Nick Winters.
Home rink: Albany County Hockey Facility.
Coach: Steve Hudak.
Last year’s record: 8-4-0 CDHSHL, 10-10-1 overall.
Top returning players: Junior forward Sean Leach, junior forward Mike Mineau, senior forward Joey Chiara, junior defenseman Andrew Serafino, senior defenseman Derek Hildenbrandt.
Home rink: Clifton Park Arena.
Coach: Juan de la Rocha.
Last year’s record: 11-2-0 CDHSHL, 17-5-1 overall.
Top returning players: Junior goalie Brian Walters, junior forward Kevin Miles, junior forward Brad Tardif, senior defenseman Eric Chamberland, senior defenseman Joe Ferraro.
South Glens Falls/Hudson Falls
Home rink: Glens Falls Civic Center.
Coach: Derrek Tuthill.
Last year’s record: 0-12-0 CDHSHL, 1-20-0 overall.
Top returning players: Senior forward Kurt Atkins, senior defenseman Andre Turcotte, senior goalie Noah Price.