Kyle Marr was equal parts sneaky and swift.
The Shenendehowa assistant captain leaked out into the neutral zone several times in the first period of Tuesday’s Section II Division 1 championship game against Saratoga Springs, starting rushes that provided the first two goals in a 5-0 Plainsmen win at Union College’s Messa Rink.
On rushes, he turned up the ice to see wide-open spaces and teammates rushing on with him. He dished to Ryan Mortka for the opening tally and fed Nick Quigley for a 2-0 lead.
“Your eyes definitely widen up a little bit when you see they don’t have as many guys back,” Marr said. “Nobody wants to play defense, really. What do you play sports for? You want to score goals. So your eyes sort of widen up. When you’ve got teammates who are driving hard to the net like Quigley, guys who are looking for the puck like Morty was, it just comes together.”
The Plainsmen (16-6-1) will take a five-game winning streak into regional play on Saturday when they host Section I champion Scarsdale (20-3-0), which topped Suffern, 4-3, in Sunday’s final. The Raiders have won nine straight games.
Shen coach Juan de la Rocha said the transition game was the best way to find quality chances against a stingy Saratoga defense.
“The rush has been something we’ve been talking about a lot, especially against teams like this, where if you allow them to, they will pack it in and not give you the lanes,” he said. “While we have them on the rush, that’s your opportunity to take advantage.”
At 7:55, Marr took a long pass just shy of the Blue Streaks’ zone, skated it in along the left boards and sent a pass across to Mortka as he skated up the right side of the slot.
At 10:40, Marr again was coming up the left boards and sent a pass to Quigley as he skated ahead through the left circle, and Quigley redirected the puck past Saratoga goalie Danny Hobbs for a 2-0 lead.
“We wanted to change our forecheck a little bit and our breakout,” Saratoga coach Dave Torres said. “We made some adjustments, and I thought we dominated in the first half of the second period, and then for some reason, we went back to the bad habits and weren’t getting the puck out of the zone.”
Marr had a three-point night, adding a power-play goal with 37.5 seconds remaining in the game to provide the final margin of victory. Peter Russo and Cameron Kuhl also scored in the third, Russo on another rush and Kuhl with a shorthanded and unassisted wrister after a takeaway in the neutral zone.
On the other end of the ice, Shenendehowa goalie Ben Farstad had eyes on every first shot, and often he had teammates sweeping rebounds or loose pucks to the boards, keeping things relatively simple for him.
“That’s a big part of what [assistant coach Bryan] Hunter on defense is really preaching, to get to those loose pucks and win the one-on-one battles,” Farstad said. “Anything you can do can lead to a bad opportunity or bad break, and tonight I think we got the good bounces.”
“Farstad played a great game,” said Torres. “He was stopping the first puck, and the defensemen were clearing the rebounds. We weren’t getting second opportunities on rebounds. That’s key, if you can’t get rebounds — 85 percent of your scoring comes from rebounds, and we weren’t able to capitalize on them.”
In the regular season, Saratoga (14-6-3) tied Shenendehowa, 3-3, Dec. 18 on the road and beat the Plainsmen, 5-0, Feb. 6 at Weibel Avenue Rink.
The Blue Streaks had won the last four Section II championships, including three wins over the Plainsmen. Last season, they parlayed the local title into a Division 1 state championship.
For the Plainsmen to reclaim the sectional crown meant a lot to the players who had grown up watching Shen win the title from 2003-2008, six straight years, only to fall short until Tuesday.
“I feel like it’s just poetic justice my senior year, to do that for all my boys, to go out there and get the shutout. It’s an unbelievable feeling,” Farstad said. “I sat in the locker room and I watched some of the seniors last year, some of my best friends, cry. I said there’s no way I’m going out like that. There’s absolutely no way. So I came ready to play tonight, and I think the whole team did.”
Now they have to carry this momentum into their preparation for Scarsdale.
“That definitely lifts a pretty big weight off our chests, but the journey’s not over,” Marr said. “As big a win as this one might seem, tomorrow’s a new day. We’re going to have to work hard. That’s a good team. They beat a team [Suffern] we’ve already lost to. We’ve got some work ahead of us, but there’s a big weight off our chests, and we’re going into that game pretty confident in what we can do.”
Saratoga Springs 0 0 0 — 0
Shenendehowa 2 0 3 — 5
First Period — 1, Shenendehowa, Mortka (Marr), 7:55. 2, Shenendehowa, Quigley (Marr), 10:40.
Second Period — None.
Third Period — 3, Shenendehowa, Russo (McDonough, Tate Cretti), 1:03. 4, Shenendehowa, Kuhl, 6:16 (sh). 5, Shenendehowa, Marr, 14:22 (pp).
Goalies — Saratoga Springs, Hobbs, 17 saves. Shenendehowa, Farstad, 22 saves.