It’s a good thing the Saratoga Springs and Pittsford hockey teams will be wearing different colored jerseys Saturday afternoon when they square off in the New York state hockey tournament semifinals at the Utica Memorial Auditorium.
In all other aspects, the two teams are almost identical.
Both teams are loaded with seniors, have a defensive-oriented style of play and have veteran goaltenders with out-of-this-world statistics.
Oh, yeah, and they’ve already played each other once this year, so there will be no surprises.
“It’s going to be fun,” said Blue Streaks coach Dave Torres. “The crowd is really going to be into it, and we’re going to bring our best.”
The Blue Streaks (18-6), ranked fourth in the state, are making their third straight appearance in the state semifinals, and two years ago, they defeated the Panthers, 4-3, to reach the championship game.
Section V champ Pittsford is 22-2, ranked second in the state and advanced to the semifinals with a 4-1 victory over Section IV champ Ithaca, a game in which the Panthers held the Little Red to 14 shots on goal.
For the statistics buffs, Pittsford has some gaudy ones, but here’s the best. Pittsford went 9-0 during the month of December and outscored its opponents, 49-1, in the process.
A lot of their success has been the result of the play of goalie Luke Loveys, one of 12 seniors on the Panthers’ roster. The 5-foot-8, 170-pounder had a 14-1 record during the regular season with a head-shaking 0.83 goals-against average and a .953 save percantage.
In four playoff games, he’s stopped 51 of the 53 shots he’s faced.
But Torres doesn’t want to talk about goaltenders unless the discussion is about his senior, Ryan Bourgeois.
“Ryan is so focused, it’s not funny,” said Torres. “I’m the goalie coach, so I’m also his personal coach, and we talk every day about mental preparation. When you get to this level, you’ve got to be mentally prepared, and that’s where I think he has the edge.”
Torres also likes the fact that many of his players will be going back to the Utica Memorial Auditorium for the third time.
“A lot of my guys have been in big games at the Aud,” said Torres. “They know how to handle the pressure.”
Pittsford and Saratoga played during the regular season, with the Panthers posting a 4-3 victory on Jan. 14. Saratoga hasn’t lost since, running up a 9-0 record and outscoring its opponents, 50-7.
“We didn’t use three consistent lines against them, and that was our downfall. We ran out of gas,” said Torres.
“We’ve made changes since that game. We’re a totally different team now. In January, we were giving up too many scoring opportunities. I wasn’t crazy about that, because our goalie was getting bombarded. Our backchecking wasn’t as good as I wanted it. But we made some changes, and the kids bought into playing team defense.”
While Pittsford is known for its defense and goaltending, the offense is steady. Sophomore Max Kaufman is the leading scorer with 17 goals and 15 assists, and he’s the only Panther with a hat trick this season. Seniors Marc Weyl (16-15-31)and Taylor Howard (9-14-23) are consistent, and the Streaks have to be aware of defenseman Nico DiPasquale (9-13-22), especially when the Panthers are on a power play.
Howard scored two of the goals against Ithaca.
Saratoga senior center Alex Luse enters the final weekend of his scholastic career with 49 points (19-30), but he hasn’t scored a point in the last two games, and hasn’t scored a goal in the last three.
But there are plenty of players who have picked up the slack, including Nick Winters (17-19-36), defenseman Mike Layman (15-18-33) and Tyler Bullard (15-17-32).
In the first semifinal Saturday at 10 a.m., Section III champ West Genesee (24-0-0, No. 1 in New York state), the 2010 state champion, will take on Suffern (20-2-2, Section I). The winners will play in the championship game at 12:30 Sunday.