GLENVILLE– After four consecutive years without a league win followed by a handful of wins over the last three years, the five-school combined ice hockey squad known as the Storm has proven that patience and skill are virtues.
The squad made up of players from Guilderland, Mohonasen, Scotia-Glenville, Schalmont and Voorheesville is 6-0 in league play, 7-3 overall, and have a date with destiny 7 p.m. Friday at its home Schenectady County Recreational Facility to take on Bethlehem (7-1, 13-1) in a showdown among top contenders in the Capital District High School Hockey League.
At the moment, Bethlehem leads the CDHSHL with 11 points, while Saratoga Springs and G/M/S/S/V are next up with 10. But it wasn't too long ago that the Storm playing in a meaningful game this deep into the season didn't seem realistic.
"It's hard to see we're working hard in practice and really just doesn't feel like it's paying off," Storm senior defenseman Josh Mastromarchi said Tuesday, looking back at some of his past seasons for the team. "Last year, we started noticing it really paying off . . . and, this year, things are really showing."
This is the fifth varsity year for Mastromarchi who played on a Storm squad that went 0-12 his first year in league play and won two games overall, then won two league games during his freshman year, won a single CDHSHL game his sophomore year before last season when the Storm went 4-9-2 in the CDHSHL and 7-12-3 overall.
Asked if he ever thought about quitting the team or the sport, Mastromarchi replied: “Never.”
Credit head coach Jim Archibald for his patience and vision after taking over the program several seasons ago. Archibald had faith in the up-and-coming talent that he had personally groomed and watched grow locally.
"I knew a lot of the kids coming through youth hockey, been around close to 30 years, so I knew what was coming through and I knew we had to change the culture," Archibald said.
That included bringing summer programs back to the Schenectady Youth Hockey Association, dry-land training as part of the team-building process and including Storm players in the Section II wrap-season hockey program.
Despite taking classes on five different campuses and missing lunches together as a squad, the Storm makes it work.
“You get a couple of guys who come from your school, but inside the locker room and on the ice everyone has this bond that is just unbreakable,” sophomore forward T.J. Pierce said.
Winning doesn't hurt, either.
"Success breeds success," Archibald said. "Instead of going to the [Clifton Park] Dynamo, we've got kids coming and they want to hang around because there is nothing like playing for your school.
"You've got to believe, you've got to get them to believe and to buy into it," Archibald said. "You have to be a great salesman and what you're doing is selling hope."
That hope was questioned after the Storm graduated 11 seniors that accounted for more than 48 goals, plus 558 saves from goalie Allie Kelley.
The answer was a roster that is smaller, but has 14 out of the 17 skaters earning points along with goalies Angelo Fraley and Ryan McKone combining to form a wall against opponents in net.
The undefeated league mark also includes a 2-1 win against Shenendehowa on the road at the Capital Arena earlier this month.
"I've been doing this 30 years and I can honestly say I didn't sleep a wink that night,” Archibald said. “I was sitting on my couch at 2 a.m., grinning cheek to cheek, and that was just a huge confidence booster for the program.
The Storm has another chance to score a big win this Friday night, when it looks to avenge a non-league loss to the Eagles suffered Dec. 28.
“I think we know what we need to do this time,” junior assistant captain Alex Bzdell said. “I feel like we were kind of shaky after Christmas break, but after that weekend we've just been working harder, playing other teams, just preparing for this game.”
Archibald hopes that the Storm can catch lightning in a bottle once again Friday night, and that its home rink can handle it.
"If we win I hope the building is still standing on Saturday," Archibald said.