The Saratoga Springs hockey team is on a mission.
“There hasn’t been a [Saratoga] state championship since 1999. That’s a long time,” said Blue Streaks coach Dave Torres, whose team takes on Niagara Wheatfield of Section VI (Buffalo) this afternoon at 2:30 in a state Division I semifinal at the Utica Memorial Auditorium.
“This is a group of kids, I believe, that can bring it back here.”
The Blue Streaks, winners of four consecutive Section II championships, are making a fourth straight trip to the state Final Four.
They lost in the semifinals in overtime a year ago, and fell in the state championship game the two years prior to that.
Torres hopes this year’s addition of three seniors who had not been with the program — twin brothers Matt and Ryan Flynn and goalkeeper Dakota Smith — will make a difference. The Flynns had played junior hockey through their junior year of high school, and Smith had attended and played for CBA prior to this season.
“None of them have experience at the Aud, but they’ve had big time experience the last few weeks,” said Torres. “Those three guys played in a hostile environment down in Suffern.”
Saratoga knocked Suffern, the defending state champion, from the tournament with a 3-2 win on the Mounties’ home ice last weekend.
“We were confident going in. We weren’t nervous,” said Torres. “We played our game.”
Senior Tyler Bullard, who leads the 20-3-1 Blue Streaks in scoring (29-26-55) wants his final weekend of high school hockey to end on a similar note.
“That was a big win,” said Bullard, who scored the winning goal against Suffern. “We played well, and we need to play like that this weekend.
“It’s a bittersweet weekend. If we don’t win it, we’ve come up short. If we win a state title, it’s the last time we’ll all be playing together.”
Smith, who has stopped 53 of 55 shots in the four postseason games, wanted the chance to play for a state title before he graduated. He posted three straight shutouts in the Section II tournament.
“This is what I was hoping for. I’m excited to be playing this weekend,” said Smith, whose .924 save percentage led the Capital District High School Hockey League this season. “I think we knew we could be here. But you can’t look that far ahead.”
Matt Flynn has six goals and six assists in the postseason. He and his brother have played with both Bullard and Drew Patterson during the season. Torres had Bullard center for fellow seniors Nick Winters (19-27-46) and Devin Smith (15-18-33) most of the season.
“Our depth is what has been carrying us all year,” said Torres, who also has Section II all-star Brendon Wormley anchoring the defense and quarterbacking the power play.
Niagara Wheatfeld (18-4-2) got to its first state Final Four by beating Ithaca, 5-1, last weekend. The Falcons don’t have a forward with Bullard’s output, but show seven players with 19 or more points. Justin Durkee had a team-high 16 goals and 28 points.
“They’re a fast team. They have three good lines. They have a nice forecheck,” said Torres. “They don’t have the scorers we have. I don’t know how strong their goaltending is. We’ll see.
“We expect a physical game, that’s how they play out there. They [western New York teams] backcheck well. They skate real hard.
“Like I’ve said all along, the only team that can beat us is Saratoga. If we’re going to lose, we’re going to beat ourselves.”
Rochester McQuaid and Massena play in the other semi, with the winners meeting Sunday at 3:30 p.m. in the state championship game.
“We know what we’re after, a state championship,” Torres said. “I want to win this for these guys. It’s important, not only to the players, but the school and the community.
“I’m confident they’re going to leave everything they have out on the ice Saturday and Sunday.”