When Saratoga Springs hockey coach Dave Torres wanted to plug some holes in his defense late in
December, he did the logical thing.
He raided his offense.
During a four-game stretch in late December, the Blue Streaks allowed 16 goals, but since moving seniors Mike Layman and
Jamie Bartoszek back to defense, the Streaks have given up just 11 goals in the last 10 games.
But the defense is sure to be tested tonight, when the Streaks (16-6), ranked eighth in the state, face rival Shenendehowa (13-9) for the Section II Division I championship at 7 at Union College. The game will be televised on TWCS-3.
Tonight’s game is a rematch of last year’s championship game, won by Saratoga, 3-2.
Switching Layman and Bartoszek, who was the Streaks’ third-leading scorer last year, to new positions has been good for both the offense and the defense.
“Mike Layman is our catalyst,” said Torres. “I’ve got him teamed with Brendon Wormley, and I think they’re the best group in Section II. But Layman is the playmaker. When he plays well, we play well.
“Since I moved him and Jamie back, the defense has been flawless. Both handle the puck well, make smart decisions and really help us on the breakouts.”
The Streaks’ offense hasn’t suffered, as Saratoga has scored 107 goals in 22 games. Senior Alex Luse, who had two goals in last year’s championship game, tops the scoring chart with 49 points (19-30), but juniors Nick Winters (15-19-34) and Tyler Bullard (15-15-30) team up on Saratoga’s potent second line, and Layman (13-15-28) obviously hasn’t forgotten how to score.
“We’ve got three strong lines,” said Torres. “We don’t rely on one guy on offense, and we don’t rely on Ryan [senior goalie Ryan Bourgeois] to save us. We don’t care who scores, as long as the end result is a Saratoga win.”
The Streaks, who take a seven-game winning streak into tonight’s game, also have 10 seniors who are trying to win their third straight league championship.
In contrast, the Plainsmen have only four seniors, but Shenendehowa coach Juan de la Rocha isn’t conceding anything to the Streaks.
“I’ve got a young group, but they’re experienced,” said de la Rocha. “They’re just not experienced in the green jerseys. They might be young, but they know how to play.”
Shenendehowa and Saratoga split their regular-season series, with each team winning at home. The Plainsmen won the first meeting, 4-2, despite getting only 17 shots on goal. Bourgeois struggled in that game, posting a .765 save percentage, and de la Rocha’s plan is to put a lot of pressure on him tonight.
“In the last game [a 5-1 Saratoga win], we didn’t do a good job testing him,” said de la Rocha. “We didn’t make him work too much.
“That’s one of the things we want to be able to check off at the end of this game. We want to make him work for everything. In the last game, we just seemed to be content to put shots on net, and we were putting them right in his chest.”
Bourgeois comes into the championship game with a 1.83 goals-against average and a .912 save percentage. Shenendehowa will counter with junior Brian Walter (2.61 GAA, .892 SP). Walter was the backup to Brett Bernardo last season and didn’t see any postseason action, but he’s handled pressure before. He became Shenendehowa’s playoff goalie as a freshman after Peter Rakowsky became ill late in the season.
Junior Kevin Miles is Shenendehowa’s leading scorer with 33 points (12-21), while junior Brad Tardif checks in with a team-high 19 goals. On paper, the Plainsmen don’t have the firepower to stay with the Streaks, but de la Rocha likes the idea of being the underdog.
“They’re the ones going for three in a row,” he said. “The pressure is on them.”