It was hard enough for Shenendehowa hockey coach Juan de la Rocha to keep his team from looking ahead to a fourth straight matchup in the Section II final with arch-rival Saratoga Springs.
When Niskayuna/Schenectady showed up for Saturday’s semifinal without starting goaltender James Blanchfield, de la Rocha’s level of concern rose.
De la Rocha’s priority changed from getting to the title game — Shen had won the teams’ regular-season game, 12-1 — to making sure the Plainsmen kept their focus.
His top-seeded skaters eased their coaches’ minds by staying disciplined — both mentally and physically — in a 12-0 win. The Plainsmen scored early and often against the fourth-seeded Mohawks, who had to go with freshman Katerina Wehe in goal. According to her coaches. Wehe had played only 15 minutes this season.
“We still played with tenacity. We still got after it, and that’s what I wanted,” said de la Rocha of his 15-6-1 team that advanced to Tuesday’s final at Union College. “I didn’t want to see a lot of coasting. I wanted us to win all the 50-50 battles. I wanted us to win all the races to loose pucks. On top of that, I didn’t want to see anyone get too indiviudual with the puck.
“Those three things, we did a good job. Just as importantly, we didn’t get ourselves into penalty trouble that they were getting into. Your No.1 concern as a coach in a game like this is that you keep control of your team.”
Blanchfield, a 10th-grader, had played in 20 of Niskayuna’s 21 games prior to the semis.
But Mohawks head coach Sean O’Connell got a call from the player’s mother Saturday morning, informing him that he would most likely be without his goaltenders. With senior Stephen Pearse making college visits, O’Connell had no choice but to go with the 14-year-old Wehe,
“It was either food poisoning or a stomach bug or something. When his mother called, he couldn’t even get up,” said O’Connell, who was hoping Blanchfield would be able to get to the game. He informed the team of the circumstances when they arrived at Clifton Park Arena,
“We talked to her, told her to go out and play her game. We talked to the boys, told them they were going to have to play strong in front of her.
“It was going to be a tough game anyway. Not only are they a talented team, they’re also pretty deep. They run four lines. She made 36 saves, and took a lot of shots. I think that’s respectable.”
Nisk./Schen. 0 0 0 — 0
Shenendehowa 6 4 2 — 12
First Period — 1, Shen, Peter Russo (Auustin McDonough), 1:37. 2, Shen, Kyle Marr (Ryan Mortka), 3:44. 3, Shen, McDonough (Russo), 8:45. 4, Shen, Marr (Nick Quigley, Mortka), 10:37. 5, Shen, Tate Cretti (Cameron Kuhl), 11:14. 6, Shen, McDonough (Cretti, Kuhl), 13:50.
Second Period — 7, Shen, Peter Sacks, 3:00. 8, Shen, Nick Young (Tucker Marvin), 3:46. 9, Niklas Mckone , 5:18. 10, Tyler Lesniewski, 11:00.
Third Period — 11, Shen, Russo (Cretti, Kuhl), :55. 12, Shen, Lesniewski, 14:57.
Goaltenders — Niskayuna/Schenectady, Katerina Wehe, 36 saves. Shenendehowa, Ben Farstad, 8 saves.