The path to a New York State championship begins on home-ice for the Massena Central and St. Lawrence Central hockey teams this Saturday.
Both squads enter the state tournament ranked fourth in their respective polls as Massena gets set to host Monroe Woodbury of Section 9 in a Division I playoff opener at the Massena Arena starting at 7 p.m. while St. Lawrence welcomes Section 5 champion Webster Thomas to the Tri-Town for a Division II quarter-final round matchup which is slated to face-off at 4 p.m.
MASSENA HOSTS MONROE WOODBURY
At Massena, the host Raiders will be taking on a Monroe Woodbury team that advanced to the state tournament by virtue of being the only Division I hockey program in Section 9.
Were going to be going up against an unknown quantity but if you look at some of their losses this season, they were one-goal games against some quality teams. The playoffs are playoffs and you cant just look at a teams record. We have to be prepared for anything, said coach Mike Trimboli as the Raiders (14-6-1) get set to welcome the Crusaders to the Massena Arena on Saturday following their dramatic come-from-behind overtime win against Potsdam Central in the Section 10 final this past Sunday. Its nice to be playing at the Massena Arena. Last year, we played Saratoga on an olympic-sized rink which was something we were used to skating on. That threw us off our game a bit but we still only loss by one goal. We have a good core of players from last year and they bring that experience into this game, Trimboli added. We talked about the lessons learned from our sectional games against Canton and Potsdam. We didnt play relaxed hockey in either game. We were afraid to make mistakes and we were intimidated by the moment. We want to see our guys just go out and play hockey. Its not often they get to play in games like this so they should go out and enjoy the experience. Basically, its all going to come down to execution.
The Raiders have consistently skated three offensive lines this winter led by the trio of senior Zach Robert, the NAC Division I MVP, (6-16-22), senior Grayson Phillips (5-11-16) and junior Tyler Young (14-9-23). The line of freshman Patrick Manning (5-5-10), who scored the game-winning goal in overtime against Potsdam, sophomores Dalton Mullin (3-5-8) and Ryan Moffitt (3-3-6) has also made strong contributions as has the threesome of senior Ian Wilson (2-3-5) and sophomores Dylan Stone (1-2-3) and Evan Kassian (3-0-3).
The Raiders have struggled with consistency on the blueline due to a series of injuries to seniors Brantley Adams and Jordan Hart and junior Josh Blair. Hart and Blair have both made late-season returns to the lineup while Adams is expected to be cleared to play for Saturdays game.
Senior Anthony Cortese has been a steady two-way contributor on defense with 17 points on seven goals and 10 assists while not missing a game. Junior Cameron Marsh and freshman Maddox Merry have been called on to play more than just support roles.
Our defense has good depth and that depth was tested with all the injuries we had, noted Trimboli. We had to rely on younger guys like Cameron and Maddox and they really stepped up to fill some big shoes.
Junior Connor Paquin has capably handled the majority of the goaltending duties for the Raiders again this winter and enters Saturday nights game with a 4.02 goals against average and .820 save percentage.
Connor has been showing steady improvement since hes taken over as our starting goalie and hes been at his best toward the end of the season. Hes come up with the big saves that weve needed from him, said Trimboli.
The Raiders are looking to earn a return trip to Utica for the first time since outlasted West Genesee in three overtimes to capture the state title in 2008. They enter this years state tournament looking for a sixth Division I banner.
The other Division I quarter-final round games this weekend will see top-ranked Suffern host Saratoga of Section 2, Ithaca of Section 4 travel to Amherst to take on Niagara Wheatfield of Section 6 and Rochester McQuaid of Section 5 play host to West Genesee of Section 3.
The winner of Saturdays game at the Massena Arena will face the winner of the McQuaid/West Genesee matchup on Saturday, March 9, at 5:45 p.m. at the Utica Aud. The Division I final is slated for the following Sunday at 3:30 p.m.
SLC HOSTS WEBSTER THOMAS
In Brasher Falls, two of the top four teams in the state will be squaring off in front of what veteran Larries coach Mickey Locke expects to be a thunderous home crowd.
Its definitely to our advantage playing in our rink. It has smaller, tighter corners than what a lot of teams are used to and that really suits our style of play, noted Locke as the Larries get set to host the second-ranked Titans.
Weve gotten great community support all season and we expect another great crowd. It should be a very electric atmosphere. I feel like were going to be up one goal before the game even starts, he added.
The Larries (16-4-1) advanced to the state tournament for the fourth time in Lockes 30-year tenure on Sunday with a convincing 6-1 win over Norwood-Norfolk in the Section 10 final at Cheel Arena. In their previous trip to the state playoffs in 2010, they skated to a 7-3 win on the road over Burke-Catholic before falling 4-0 to Queensbury in the semi-finals at the Utica Aud.
The senior core of this years Larries team - co-captains Ian Lynch and Blake Baldwin, forward Devon Euto, blueliner Eric Lynch and netminder Nate McLaughlin - was part of the 2010 squad.
Except for Blake Baldwin, the other guys were part of our practice team but they were still in that playoff environment and they were part of the experience. They have been our leaders all year, he noted.
Ian Lynch has generated 15 goals and 17 assists for 32 points on the Larries top line this winter. Sophomore Lukas Arquiett, the leading scorer in the NAC Division II field this season, is the teams offensive leader with 19 goals and 22 assists for 41 points while junior linemate Kody Kocsis has netted 18 goals and helped set up 18 others for 36 points.
The Larries have also gotten solid production from the second line of Baldwin (7-16-23), Euto (7-16-23) and sophomore Nate Stickney (11-6-17). The trio of senior Isaac Beckstead along with sophomores Luke Peets and Nick Kowalchuk has provided quaility shifts when call on to play this winter.
Eric Lynch features a strong defensive unit that has had to adjust to the loss of veteran senior Park Meashaw to a season-ending knee injury. Senior Jarek Crump, sophomore Joe DiMatteo and freshman Jake Sutton have combined to help overcome Meashaws absence.
Since we lost Parker, we havent really gone with set pairings. Weve rotated three guys for the most part but Jake has really stepped up his game and weve been able to spot him more and more into games, said Locke.
The Larries have also gotten steady goaltending all season from McLaughlin, who took over the starting job as a junior. In 19 games this winter, he has generated a 3.00 goals against avergage and .890 save percentage. Sophomore Natthaniel Burnett saw action in one game as the back-up backstop.
Nobody works more diligently to improve their game than Nate (McLaughlin), said Locke. Hes really earned the respect of his teammates by doing a solid job for us in goal all year.
Webster Thomas enters Saturdays game at 19-1-2 after advancing to the state tournament via a 1-0 overtime win over Churchville-Chili in the Section 5 final over the weekend.
Joe Soures leads a balanced Titans offense that features eight players with 14 points or more with 20 goals and 11 assists for 31 points. Other top offensive threats include; Gabe Kirsch (9-19-28), Teddy McCabe (9-16-25), Nick Epping (11-13-24) and Nick Hutton (8-12-20). Stephen Speis is the teams mainstay between the pipes.
From everything Ive been able to find out about them, theyre very comparable to what we are, said Locke. They are a defense-first team and thats what we are. The have good, solid goaltending and they dont rely on one or two players for their offense, like we do. The one thing they may have a little more that we do is depth.
They should be a strong opponent but when you get to this point in the season, theyre all strong opponents, he added. I think youre going to see to pretty good defensive teams going at it on Saturday. We just want our kids to keep playing the way they have been all season.
The winner of Saturdays game advances to the state final four in Utica and will play the winner of another quarter-final round game between Queensbury (2) and John Jay (1) on Saturday, March 9, at 12:30 p.m. The Larries havent advanced to the state championship game since winning their only crown in 1982.
The other state quarter-final round game slated for this weekend will see CBA-JD of Section 3 travel to Amherst to take on Section 6 champion West Seneca West while Beekmantown beat Plattsburgh 4-3 on Wednesday to win the Section 7 championship and earn an automatic berth to the state final four where they will face the winner the other Saturday quarter-final. The state Division II final is scheduled for Sunday at 12:30 p.m.