SCHENECTADY -- It was a hat trick of goals for senior Justin Chenaille, and a hat trick of Section II hockey titles for Bethlehem.
Chenaille, the Section II Player of the Year, scored all of the Eagles’ goals as they won their third straight Section II Division 1 championship by holding off Saratoga Springs 3-2 on Tuesday night at Messa Rink.
The Eagles move on to state regional play Saturday when they take on Suffern from Section I at 4:15 p.m. right back at Messa.
It was tough for Chenaille to believe the synergy for him personally and for his team.
“People told us that we’re overrated,” Chenaille said. “I think we’ve got the team to do something special this year. Me and my teammates, we say that it’s never our last game playing together. We’ve got to keep this train rolling.”
Bethlehem head coach Dylan Lappe praised Chenaille.
“He’s been working hard all season,” Lappe said. “He’s been relentless all season. [He’s] Player of the Year, and it shows why because he works hard no matter what.”
And sometimes, a little luck doesn’t hurt.
Late in the first period, Chenaille had the puck behind the Saratoga Springs net. He was looking to pass the puck out in front.
Instead, Chenaille’s pass hit the leg of Blue Streaks defenseman Michael Montague and went past a stunned goalie Brad Blake, giving the Eagles a 1-0 lead.
“That was a pass to my teammate Will Bievenue,” Chenaille said. “It found a way in.”
The Blue Streaks played tentatively for most of the first period. And they were still missing passes in the second period. Blake did all he could to keep the score 1-0.
But late in the second, Chenaille struck again when he scored on a rebound of a Ben LaVigne shot with 3:12 remaining in the second.
The Blue Streaks got that one back 1:42 later when senior forward Mack Ogden put home the rebound of a Joe Amodio shot.
“We had to get our feet under us,” Saratoga Springs head coach Tim Horst said. “We were scrambling around a little bit, not managing the puck very well. Give credit to Bethlehem for that, they’re a good team. We had to get pucks behind their defensemen and get our forecheck going. Once we did that, we had some success.”
But Chenaille was at the right place and at the right time again in the third period.
Bievenue forced a turnover deep in the Saratoga Springs zone. He took a shot that Blake stopped. The rebound came out to Chenaille on the left side, and he buried it to make it 3-1 at 3:31.
“It was very important,” Chenaille said. “We emphasized shooting the puck and getting rebounds [at] practice this week. It just worked out well.”
Down by two with 5:30 left and after Bethlehem called a timeout, and with the faceoff in the Eagles’ zone, Horst pulled Blake for an extra attacker. Bethlehem tried a couple of times to shoot the puck into the empty net from its own side of the red line, and it got called for icing.
With 2:46 left, Saratoga Springs almost got to within 3-2. Junior defenseman Doug Johnson was along the goal line to the right of the net. He had senior goalie Michael Kurdziolek out of position.
Somehow, Kurdziolek dove over and kept the puck out by using his head.
“I saw the puck go to the other side, and I was like, ‘Oh, God, I’ve got to stop that one,’” Kurdziolek said. “I dove in full desperation, and it hit me right in the head.”
The Blue Streaks did get to within one when junior forward Andrew Blanchard beat Kurdziolek with a wrist shot from the slot with 2:20 left. Saratoga Springs kept up the pressure, and even got a power play with 1.5 seconds remaining when Bethlehem was called for too many players on the ice because they prematurely started celebrating.
The Eagles survived that, and the celebration could begin for real.
“We’ve been here before,” Chenaille said. “We’ve been in tight games. We knew we had to keep our composure and finish it out until the end.”
“I think we just ran out of time there,” Horst said. “I’m so proud of our guys. They never gave up. We pulled the goalie early there. Our guys dug in. They left their hearts, blood, sweat and tears out there. I’m so proud of them. It’s a pleasure to be their coach.”
Saratoga Springs 0 1 1 — 2
Bethlehem 1 1 1 — 3
Saratoga Springs scoring: Ogden 1-0, Blanchard 1-0, Amodio 0-2, Sarver 0-1. Bethlehem scoring: Chenaille 3-0, LaVigne 0-1, Powers 0-1, Bievenue 0-1. Goalies: Saratoga Springs, Blake, 26 saves. Bethlehem, Kurdziolek, 28 saves.
On Twitter, follow Associate Sports Editor Ken Schott @slapschotts and Daily Gazette Sports @dgazettesports. Email Schott at [email protected]. Listen to “The Parting Schotts Podcast” at https://dailygazette.com/sports/partingschotts, Apple Podcasts, Castbox and Spotify.