SCHENECTADY -- It took two seconds to get from Scotia-Glenville High School to Voorheesville High to Mohonasen High on Friday night.
The GMSSV Storm only hit one red light -- the goal light.
TJ Pierce finished a bang-bang-bang passing play in the slot to give the Storm a 1-0 lead with 12:36 left in the second period, and the Storm added Alex Bzdell's empty-netter with 3.9 seconds left in the game for a 2-0 Capital District High School Hockey League victory over the NASA Mohawks at Messa Rink.
On a night also devoted to a charitable endeavor, an added bonus for the Storm was hoisting the Hockey Fights Cancer Cup afterward, and when asked whether the trophy would rotate among the five schools that comprise his team, Bzdell said, "That is neutral; we'll figure out someplace for it."
These two teams are adept at figuring out logistical puzzles that most scholastic teams don't face.
Merged programs are not unusual in hockey, a sport in which the number of players at any given school may not be nearly enough to field a varsity team. So they assemble programs combining players from multiple schools.
In the case of the Storm-Mohawks matchup, eight schools were represented, with Schenectady High part of the Mohawks group, but not actually fielding any players this season.
On the game-winning goal, Bzdell (Scotia) passed to Liam Spollen (Voorheesville), who gave it to Pierce (Mohonasen) for the finish. Players from Schalmont and Guilderland are also on the team.
NASA (0-1 CDHSHL, 0-5 overall) is composed of mostly Niskayuna players, with three each from Albany and Amsterdam, which is part of the Mohawks for the first time this season.
GMSSV (2-0, 2-0) added Schalmont and Voorheesville in recent years, putting kids from two fierce Rotterdam rivals, Mohonasen and Schalmont, in the same locker room and on the same ice. Both coach Jim Archibald of GMSSV and Ken Lancto of NASA said bringing players from multiple schools isn't a problem, and actually can be a source of unity and solidarity through the shared experience of grinding through a hockey season.
"We have a great philosophy: It's team, team, team, team, team," Archibald said. "There's no school, we're one team. We come from five different communities, but we play as one."
"I played on a combined team in high school," Lancto said. "Some kids you've never seen before. They're all here for the same reason, though, which is have fun and play hockey.
"There's never any issues with 'I go to this school, you go to that school.' We're all here to be hockey players. I couldn't ask for a better group of players, because there's no issues, no cliques, none of that that's causing us to have issues on the ice."
"I played against quite a few of them [hockey teammates] during the lacrosse season, but it's just fun to come together and forget our differences with the schools and just play hockey," Bzdell said.
"Organizing the schools to get them together, getting news out to everybody, that's always kind of hard. Figuring out, if one school cancels, the rest of them have to cancel, so we're always trying to figure out which one calls it first."
Toward the end of a 0-0 first period with scant scoring chances for either team, the Storm found themselves in a predicament when senior captain Garrett Murphy (Schalmont) was called for a four-minute major penalty with 2:58 left.
For the penalty kill stretch heading into intermission, the Storm limited the Mohawks to just a harmless dump-in shot on goal from the blueline just before the buzzer.
The Mohawks had some good chances in the remaining 1:02 to start the second, but goalie Ryan McKone (Scotia) made three saves to kill the rest of the Murphy penalty.
Having weathered that, the Storm put together a nice passing play in front of Mohawks goalie Joe Rosi, and Pierce buried it for a 1-0 lead.
"That [killing the major penalty] was huge," Bzdell said. "We got our momentum going, and our offense started to get going.
"I don't even know what happened [on the goal], it happened so fast. I got it to Liam, he got it to TJ and he fired it right in from the slot. Tic-tac-toe play."
Late in the third period, the Mohawks had a difficult time getting out of their defensive zone to allow Rosi to skate to the bench for an extra skater. He finally made it off with 32 seconds left, but Bzdell iced it with a long, high flip out of the defensive zone that skittered toward the net and just snuck inside the right post for a 2-0 lead.
Goalie McKone was credited with the only assist.
"My man Ryan, that was awesome," Bzdell said with a laugh. "I was just trying to kill the clock. I had no idea that was going in. I actually turned around to go change, and I was like, 'Oh my god, is that going to go in?' "
"We started out a little slow and recovered a little too late," Lancto said. "Our goalie played great, Joe Rosi. That was his first start of the year. He kept us in it, for sure."
Because many of the players from the various schools have played together in youth hockey, there's a built-in familiarity before they get to the high school level.
That makes it a little easier to adjust to the confluence of players from many directions.
But there are still more than a few hurdles these teams have to get over that teams from under one roof don't experience.
"It's definitely difficult," Lancto said. "We have kids driving all the way from Albany to here, so getting to practice is sometimes tough for them. Kids are coming from Amsterdam.
"It's nice, because a lot of those kids played up through Schenectady Youth Hockey with some of our younger kids. They're familiar with each other. They may not have seen each other for awhile, so it's kind of a nice little reunion."
"Six years ago, when they asked us to help out, we were oh-and-56," Archibald said. "Last year, I think we were 7-11-3. Here we are, we're providing an opportunity for the kids to play a sport they grew up playing. Because most of these kids have been playing since they were 5. The last thing you want to do when they get up to high school is say, 'Oh, sorry, there's no place for you.' "
"It's just so unique," Bzdell said. "You play with the same kids for a lot of different sports, but to get a chance to play with kids you don't normally play with is such a unique experience.
"You start bonding right away. Everyone's just excited to come back and play hockey."
GMSSV 0 1 1 -- 2
NASA 0 0 0 -- 0
GMSSV scoring: Pierce 1-0, Bzdell 1-1, L. Spollen 0-1, R. McKone 0-1.