Even with a slow start, the top line in Section II hockey came up big again Saturday.
The senior trio of Nick Winters, Tyler Bullard and Devin Smith combined for four goals and nine points as the Blue Streaks beat pesky Williamsville North, 5-3. The win gives coach Dave Torres’ defending Section II champions a 9-1-1 overall mark as the calendar year comes to an end.
“Any time you ask those guys to step up, they do. They always respond. They did today, once again,” said Torres. “They’re the best line in the section, no doubt. They were the best line last year.
“They’re fun to watch. They’re so unselfish. They know where each other are on the ice at all times. They go hard and feed off each other.”
Torres needed his top line to play up to its capability against the Spartans, who shook off a 9-3 loss Friday night at Shenendehowa by scoring the first goal of the game. Eddie Rutkowski beat Streaks goalie Dakota Smith 3:27 in, his fourth goal in three games, and only the third allowed by Smith, who was 6-0-0 with a 0.45 goals-against average going into the game.
That got Saratoga’s attention, as the hosts responded with goals from Smith and Winters two minutes apart late in the period to take a 2-1 lead into the first break.
“We came out a little slow, then we got things together and moved the puck, forechecked hard, put pressure on their defense and got a couple of goals,” said Bullard, whose four-assist game gave him 16 for the season, to go with 13 goals.
Smith and Winters both finished with two goals, matching their output in a 6-1 win over LaSalle on Friday that gave Saratoga a 6-0-0 mark in Capital District High School Hockey League games.
“We might have looked at the Shen score from yesterday, when Shen beat them, 9-3. That might have stuck in our heads, but we got over it,” said Smith, who knocked home the rebound of a Brandon Wormley shot from the point for Saratoga’s first goal.
“And we didn’t have Matt and Ryan Flynn. It’s a pretty good sign when you don’t have two good players like that and win. I thought we played pretty well.”
All of the linemates agree that being together for a second straight season has helped their productivity.
“Playing for two years, we know where to throw the puck,” said Winters, who centers the line, and now has 11 goals this season. “I know where Tyler and Devin like to be when they enter the zone, whether they want to drive to the post or hold up for a drop pass.”
“We played together last year, too. That’s a big advantage,” said Bullard. “We just know exactly where each other are.”
“We’ve been together two years now in high school, and we’ve been playing together our whole lives,” said Smith, who shows 10 goals and eight assists through 11 games. “I think that’s really helped us.”
Even though Saturday’s goals weren’t classic finishes, the Streaks’ big line will take them.
“I’ve got to continue to drive to the net,” said Smith. “It seems like I’m getting all the garbage goals.”
“We’ll take garbage goals. They help the team win games,” Winters said.
With his No. 1 line working well together, Torres doesn’t worry about getting shut out.
“We’re always going to score goals,” he said,
Williamsville North 1 2 0 — 3
Saratoga 2 2 1 — 5
First period — 1, WN, Eddie Rutkowski (Will Stryker), 3:27. 2, Sara, Devin Smith (Brandon Wormley, Tyler Bullard), 10:37. 3, Sara, Nick Winters (Bullard, Smith), 12:37 (pp).
Second period — 4, Sara, Patrick Coyne, 1:51. 5, WN, Bryce Ferrell (Adam DiDonato), 4:45 (pp). 6, Sara, Winters (Bullard), 9:55. 7, WN, Brad Bailey (Ferrell), 13:54 (pp).
Third period — 8, Sara, Smith (Bullard), 13:26.
Goaltenders — Williamsville North, Matthew Ladd, 19 saves. Saratoga Springs, Dakota Smith, 25 saves.