The best rivalry in Section II hockey resumes tonight when Shenendehowa hosts reigning state champion Saratoga Springs in a 7:30 game at Clifton Park Arena.
The first of their two annual Capital District High School Hockey League meetings comes early in the schedule, which may give Shenendehowa an advantage based on players lost/returned from the 2012-13 season.
“We returned a good number of our scorers, gotten some players back and gotten some contributions from other players.” said Shenendehowa coach Juan de la Rocha, whose team won its only league game to date, and is 2-2 overall. “We’re off to a good start, as far as getting on the scoreboard. We’re producing well.
“But it’s a new group of faces, and that changes the chemistry of the team. We’re still learning about ourselves, but I like where we are right now.”
Seniors Kyle Marr and Ryan Mortka, and junior Peter Russo were among the top scorers on a Shenendehowa team that lost to the Blue Streaks in the 2013 sectional final. Also back are senior defenseman Peter Sacks and Ryan Rosmarin to lead a solid defense that is also bolstered by the return of 6-foot-1, 190-pound sophomore Cameron Kuhl, who missed his freshman year with a leg injury.
“We stress that as long as we take care of things in our defensive end, the goals will come,” said de la Rocha. “The defensemen are experienced, and getting Cameron Kuhl back makes us that much deeper.”
Saratoga coach Dave Torres is trying to make up for the loss of 80 percent of his goalscoring by putting together multiple lines that can contribute.
“We lost top players, all-state players, that you just can’t replace,” said Torres, who has led the Blue Streaks to the last two state final fours. “There might not be the outstanding individual talent like last year, but I can put three lines out there.
“I call them 1A, 1B and 1C. We don’t have to rely on one line for our scoring. So far, it’s worked.”
Both the Blue Streaks and Plainsmen lost their No. 1 goaltenders from last season. Ben Farstad has moved into the top spot for Shen. Sophomore Danny Hobbs and senior Zack Jones have gotten the most minutes so far in Saratoga’s four games.
Seniors Matt Klingbeil and Drew Patterson are the top returning scorers for the Blue Streaks, the only players back who reached double figures in points in 2012-13.
Saratoga is 2-0 in the CDHSHL, with wins over Guilderland/Mohonasen and Burnt Hills/Ballston Spa. The Streaks split their two games in the Donald Kauth Memorial tournament, losing to Mamaroneck, 4-3, and then defeating St. Joseph’s Collegiate.
“We lost that one game to Mamaroneck, then came back and beat St. Joseph’s, and then beat Burnt Hills, 3-0, and they have one of the better goalies in the section,” said Torres.
Shenendehowa also owns a one-sided win over Guilderland/Mohonasen. The Plainsmen lost to St, Joseph’s, 4-0, then bounced back to blank Mamaroneck in the Kauth tourney.
Shen dropped a 5-4 overtime decision to Pelham last weekend on the first night of a Westchester County trip. The second game, set for last Saturday against Rye, was cancelled due to the weather.
Both coaches are well aware of the intensity of the rivalry, which could again play out over three games should both reach the sectional final.
“We’re both usually near the top in hockey, but there’s a strong rivalry with most Shen-Saratoga games, in any sport,” said de la Rocha. “There are a lot of similarities in the two programs, and these kids have played a lot against each other from youth hockey on up.”
“It’s a great rivalry,” said Torres. “Look how we filled Union College the last two years [in the sectional final]. But with our crazy league format, this is just a one-point game.
“Would I like to beat them? Sure, we’d like to win all of our games. I think we’ve beaten them five of the last six games. I’d like that streak to continue.”