They’re where they want to be, thanks in large part to a player who has never been there before.
Senior Ryan Flynn had a hand in three first-period goals as Saratoga Springs earned another shot at an elusive second state hockey championship by beating Niagara Wheatfield, 4-1, Saturday in a Division I semifinal at the Utica Memorial Auditorium.
The 21-3-1 Blue Streaks, whose season ended in an overtime semifinal loss here last year, skated into their third state Division I title game in four years. They will meet Rochester McQuaid in today’s 3:30 final as they seek the program’s first state title since 1999.
McQuaid beat Massena, 5-1, in the other DI semifinal.
The Blue Streaks jumped on the Falcons early, making them pay for a pair of first-period penalties. Then Saratoga threw a blanket over a Niagara Wheatfeld team that had scored 108 goals in getting to its first state semifinal.
“That’s what we planned, coming out of the locker room,” said Saratoga coach Dave Torres of the quick start. “These guys came out flying. We knew we were going to come out and put them back on their heels, and that’s what we did.”
Flynn and his fraternal twin brother, Matt, both played for the Troy Junior Selects through their junior year of high school, joining the Blue Streaks this season.
Thanks to their efforts over the first 15 minutes, the Blue Streaks took control of the game.
Torres had put Ryan Flynn on the power-play unit during the week leading up to the game, replacing senior Devin Smith, who had missed practices after his grandfather died on Monday.
“During practice, it was working really well, so coach Torres just decided to try it during the game,” Flynn said. “It really worked out for us.”
Ryan Flynn set up his brother for the game’s first score, a power-play goal 2:57 into the game. He made it 2-0 when he finished a play with Tyler Bullard, scoring 12 seconds after the Falcons had taken their second penalty of the game.
Michael Parisi got the Section VI champs back into the game with a goal at 9:06, but 37 seconds later, Flynn found himself unchecked in the slot and ripped a wrist shot past Falcons’ goalie Nathaniel Sommers. Matt Klingbeil set up the goal, finding Flynn with a quick pass from the right boards.
“I was just trying to get it on net,” he said of the goal that restored Saratoga’s two-goal edge and stopped any momentum the Falcons’ could have gained. “It boosted the momentum for our guys.
“I didn’t take enough time to look around. I just got the puck, and fired it right away and fired it on net.”
“Our power play has been working all year,” said Torres. “That’s one of our strengths. Ryan did a nice job filling in.”
The importance of the quick start wasn’t lost on the Blue Streaks, who had knocked off defending state champ Suffern in last weekend’s regional game.
“It’s huge, especially in the final four and against a team like this that was ranked No. 1 in the state,” Flynn said. “To get a quick start on them showed everyone that we’re a team to be reckoned with.”
“That’s what we wanted to do, because that’s a good team,” said Matt Flynn, who tapped home his brother’s pass for his seventh goal of the postseason. “We wanted to come out and set the tone, play our game, get shots on the net and outwork them.”
Saratoga finished with a 25-11 edge in shots for the game, with goalie Dakota Smith seeing just five shots over the final 30 minutes. Tyler Bullard added a goal late in the third period for the final margin.
“We didn’t let that second one go in. We buckled down on defense,” Torres said. “If they don’t shoot, they don’t score.”
“All the teams in this tournament are good hockey teams, and they’re not going to give up,” said senior defenseman Brendon Wormley. “They’re not going to shut down. The start of the game was huge, coming out and getting those three goals.
“Eleven shots [allowed] in a semifinal game, that’s pretty good, right? It’s all the forwards coming back and back checking hard. It’s our defense getting the puck out of our zone.”
“We were talking earlier about how in our first periods, we were struggling,” said Devin Smith. “Now, we’re putting together 45 minutes of hockey. Our overall game is unbelievable right now.”
Another strong 45 minutes could be rewarded with a state title today.
“We’ve got to come out and play three good periods of hockey,” Wormley said.
Niagara Wheatfield 1 0 0 — 1
Saratoga Springs 3 0 1 — 4
First period — 1, Saratoga, Matt Flynn (Ryan Flynn), 2:57 (pp). 2, Saratoga, R.Flynn (Tyler Bullard, Brendon Wormley), 7:37 (pp). 3, NW, Mike Parisi, 9:06. 4, Saratoga, R. Flynn (Matt Klingbeil), 9:43.
Second period — No scoring.
Third period — 5, Saratoga, Tyler Bullard (Nick Winters, Devin Smith), 9:40.
Goaltenders — Niagara Wheatfield, Nathaniel Sommers, 21 saves. Saratoga Springs, Dakota Smith, 10 saves.