Last year, Dave Torres’ idea of preparing for a Saratoga Springs hockey game was making sure the microphone at the Saratoga City Ice Rink worked.
This week, he’s been preparing a game plan for the regionals of the New York state tournament.
The Blue Streaks (17-6), who won their third straight Section II championship last week with a 5-1 victory over Shenendehowa, will host Massena (Section X, 18-4) at 3 p.m. today at the Weibel Avenue facility.
And Torres won’t have to worry about the microphone.
Until November, Torres’ involvement with the Blue Streaks was as a jack-of-all-trades volunteer. But when head coach Mike Ricupero resigned days before the regular season started, with assistant Jeff Harrington joining him, Torres’ role with the team changed.
“I coached back in the 1990s, with Bob Santamoor,” said Torres. “I was with Bob on the first Saratoga team that went to the state finals. But before this year, I’d been the announcer, I was the timekeeper for the last couple of years and I traveled with the team as a chaperone.
“I knew they had no one else to run the program, so I called [Saratoga Springs athletic director] Pete Sheehan to volunteer my services. I talked to ‘Coop’ about it. He’s a good friend of mine, and he told me to do what I had to do, so I decided to get back into coaching.
“I asked an old friend of mine, Tim Grande, to help me out, and we came into an uncomfortable situation and made it more comfortable for the kids. They really bought into my system.”
At first, Torres didn’t make a lot of major changes, But as the season progressed, the evolution of a different coaching style began to take place.
“I’m more of a defense-oriented coach because I was a goalie, and I really wanted to limit the number of shots we were normally giving up,” Torres said. “I changed the forecheck, then changed the power play, and stressed disciple, that everyone had to stay out of the box.
“The kids and the coaches have had a lot of fun this year.”
Along the way, Torres also put together two of the best lines in the area.
Senior center Alex Luse, the Capital District High School Hockey League player of the year, began the season with Nick Winters and Tyler Bullard on his wings, but Torres has since switched Kyle Paton and Tom Naples, both seniors, to Luse’s line and placed Devin Smith with Winters and Bullard.
Teams can no longer focus on shutting down the 5-foot-8, 150-pound Luse, who has 19 goals and 30 assists. Shenendehowa held him scoreless in the Section II Division I championship game, but Winters and defenseman Mike Layman picked up the slack with two goals each.
“Alex is the ultimate team player,” said Torres. “All he wants to do is win.”
Massena, ranked fourth in the state, could be a real test for the Blue Streaks, as the Raiders held the Islanders, a team comprised of players from Thousand Islands and Alexandria Bay, to just five shots on goal in a 4-0 win in the Section X championship.
“They’re very strong, defensively,” said Torres, “but they have a young goalie. We’ll try to break through their defense and use the size of our rink to their advantage.”
Sophomore Connor Paquin, who has a 2.09 goals-against average and six shutouts, will in goal for the Raiders. Ryan Chauvin, who began the year in prep school before returning to Massena in time to play hockey, is the leading scorer (13-14-27) in a balanced offense that also features senior Connor Dix (14-10-24), who had two goals in the Section X championship game, and Tyler Lashomb (12-12-24).
Eighth-ranked Saratoga has played in the last two New York state Division I championship games, and both times, had to win regional games on the road. Playing on home ice will be a luxury.
“The boys are pumped,” said Torres. “It’s always nice to get a big game in Saratoga.”
Queensbury, which defeated Glens Falls, 4-1, to win its sixth consecutive Section II Division II championship, will be facing a familiar foe when the Spartans (10-11) take on Section VII champion Saranac Lake at 2:30 today in a regional game at the Saranac Lake Civic Center.
The two teams met in the regionals last year, with Queensbury routing the Red Storm, 10-2.
Saranac Lane (14-7-1) centers its offense around senior Devin Darrah, who is averaging nearly three points per game (35-28-63). He’ll be shooting on Queensbury goalie Rob Orban, who has a 2.46 goals-against average and a .897 save percentage.