SCHENECTADY — Remember a few years back when a big-time run propelled Shenendehowa to the Section II final?
The Plainsmen believe that can happen again, their confidence bolstered just a bit more Saturday with a comeback 5-1 Capital District High School Hockey League win over the NASA Mohawks at Union College.
Ryan Saelens scored two times, and Cole Haldane poked in the tie-breaking goal as Shenendehowa prevailed for the fourth straight time since dropping five in a row.
"It's easy to get down on yourself when you're 1-5," Haldane said. "It's important to stick to it and not get frustrated."
Haldane was a freshman on the 2016-17 team that the current Plainsmen edition (2-3, 5-5) wants to emulate.
"We were 1-8-1 going into January, and we nearly ran the table," Shenendehowa coach Juan de la Rocha said of the 2016-17 team. "We lost one game after that start and went to the final, where we lost to La Salle [6-5 in double overtime]. We've talked about that."
Shenendehowa defeated the Capital District Jets 6-0 Friday, and beat Cazenovia 4-1 and Cortland/Homer 6-3 just after Christmas. Shenendehowa's five-game slide beforehand included three league setbacks, with a 6-1 loss to rival Saratoga Springs among them.
"When you lose eight or nine kids, you've got to expect some growing pains," said de la Rocha, whose 2018-19 squad finished 16-6-1 after a 4-2 loss to Bethlehem in the Section II title game. "We've always gone through some of that, but we were able to still get a couple of wins."
Saturday's win featured five unanswered goals, capped by Nolan Sullivan's empty-netter inside the final minute. Chris Lasher's goal before that made it 4-1.
"A little bit of everything," de la Rocha said of his team's turnaround. "The kids are getting more experience. They are learning to play harder and with a purpose. They're being a little more simple with decisions. Sometimes a pass doesn't need to be tape-to-tape. Sometimes the best play is to get the puck down deep in the offensive zone."
According to de la Rocha, moving Justin Miazga and Ryan Haug from defense to center and wing, respectively, has also helped Shenendehowa turn the tide.
"Hopefully, people will look at our record and underestimate us," said Haldane. "We got off to a slow start. We are full of steam from here on."
Shenendehowa applied good offensive pressure late in the first period and was flying again early in the second Saturday when Jeffrey Kent gave the Mohawks (0-3, 0-8-1) a 1-0 lead 4:44 in on a drive from between the circles.
"It can be very frustrating when you get shots and can't produce. You've got to stick to the game plan," Haldane said. "[Friday] it was 0-0 after the first, and we won 6-0. We stayed with the game plan."
Saelens and Haldane scored 12 seconds apart in the second period to tie the contest and then push the Plainsmen ahead. Haldane stuffed the puck past Mohawks' goaltender Luca Polsinelli 10:41 in soon after Saelens' slap shot found an opening.
"My thought was we've got to turn the game around," Haldane said. "We've got to bounce back."
Saelens scored his second goal 8:53 into the third period.
"They played good team defense and blocked a lot of shots, and Polsinelli made some nice saves on some shots that got through," de la Rocha said. "They're young now but they're going to be good in a year or two."
Polsinelli, an eighth-grader, piled up 39 saves and some were superb. Late in the first period he stopped back-to-back drives from the blue line by Tyler Sullivan and Haldane while Shenendehowa was on a power play.
"He [Polsinelli] has played well every single game," Kent, one of the Mohawks six seniors, said. "A lot of goals, he'll stop the puck and we don't get there to clear it.
"That's among the things we're working on. Getting rebounds out of there, and getting the puck on net a lot more."
The Mohawks (Niskayuna, Albany, Schenectady, Amsterdam) had tied Brattleboro from Vermont 3-3 in their previous outing, and show four one-goal losses on their ledger.
"I think we're getting better," Kent said. "Our chemistry is getting better. It's all about jelling."
Shenendehowa 0 2 3 — 5
NASA Mohawks 0 1 0 — 1
Shenendehowa scoring: Haldane 1-0, Lasher 1-1, Saelens 2-0, N. Sullivan 1-1, T. Sullivan 0-1. NASA Mohawks scoring: Kent 1-0, Fiore 0-1. Goalkeepers: Shenendehowa, Leighton, 18 saves; NASA Mohawks, Polsinelli, 39 saves.