MASSENA - The Massena Central hockey team will be looking to avoid a repeat performance as they make a return trip to the NYSPHSAA Division I championships at the Utica Aud this weekend.
Last year we had a young team. It was the first time being in that kind of atmosphere for everyone and we didnt wind up responding very well. We became undiscplined and we stopped playing our game, said coach Mike Trimboli as the Raiders get set to take on top-ranked Section 5 champion Fairport in the semifinals on Saturday starting at noon.
Having been there before, the players know better what to expect and whats expected of them. Were certainly hoping for a better outcome, he added.
The Raiders (17-5-2) are making their third straight appearance in the state tournament and are headed to the semifinals the second year in a row after breaking away to a 5-1 win on the road over Monroe Woodbury of Section 9 in the quarterfinal round last weekend. They enter Saturdays game as the third-ranked team in the latest New York State Sportswriters Association Division I poll.
The Red Raiders of Fairport (21-3) earned their first trip to Utica since the 2007-08 season by knocking off previously top-ranked Section 3 champion West Genesee 1-0.
The other Division I semi-final between Section 1 champion Scarsdale (21-3) and Ithaca (11-9-1) of Section 4 is slated to face-off at 9:30 a.m. on Saturday. Scarsdale, also nicknamed the Raiders and ranked second in the sportswriters poll heading into this weekend, outscored Section 2 champion Shenendahowa 4-3 in the quarter-final round last weekend while the Ithaca Little Red, ranked sixth outlasted Section 6 champion Niagara Wheatfield 4-3.
You have one Red Raiders team playing against another Red Raiders team in one game and in the other game, you have the Raiders playing the Little Red. Thats kind of an interesting story line in and off itself, Trimboli noted.
One of the Massena strengths this season has been depth with four lines getting regular shifts at forward and three pairs of defensemen splitting blueline duties.
One of the things that helped McQuaid Jesuit against us last year was their depth and thats something we wanted to address for this year, said Trimboli.
Our depth has been our strength all year. Our players have all accepted their roles for the success of the team, he added.
The line of sophomores Patrick Manning (23 goals, 18 assists) and Jordan Robert (10 goals, 21 assists) and freshman Wyatt Wilmshurst (10 goals, 6 assists) and the trio of senior captain Tyler Young (17 goals, 13 assists), junior Dylan Stone (7 goals, 10 assists) and sophomore Ben Sprague(8 goals, 11 assists) have accounted for the majority of the offense this winter. Senior Ryan Thomas (9 goals, 12 assists) has also made steady offensive contributions.
Senior Josh Blair (2 goals, 5 assists) and sophomore Maddox Merry (3 goals, 11 assists) and the tandem of senior Cameron Marsh (6 assists) and junior Devin Page (5 goals, 2 assists) have handled the bulk of the workload on defense while sophomore Nick Henrie and freshman Jon Paul Chauvin have made their presence felt.
The Raiders have also gotten steady play between the pipes from third-year senior netminder Connor Paquin. He is 12-4-1 in 17 starts. He has posted a 2.12 goals against average and .890 save percentage.
Weve had a lot of internal support all year and the players really believe in each other, noted Trimboli. They have worked hard to get here and they have a better idea of what its going to take to get to the next level.
We just want to keep our composure and stay focused. We have a game plan. We want to do what we do and do it well, he added.
Senior Quinn Weidemer was Fairports leading scorer through the regular season with 18 goals and 21 assists but classmate Cody Howatt, who generated 13 goals and 12 assists before the playoffs, led the Red Raiders in scoring through three Section 5 tournament wins with three goals and three assists. Junior Alex Schoepfel, who tallied 12 goals and 17 assists during the regular season is another leading offensive threat. Sophomore Ethan Kaiser has emerged as the Fairport start in goal, having backstopped all four post-season wins and recorded shutouts in two of those game.
Weve been able to watch video of them and from what we can tell, they have good size and good speed and they are very effective at moving the puck out of the defensive zone, said Trimboli.
I think we matchup well against them. Something we have in our favor is that we have been in this game and this atmosphere before. That experience has really helped with the mental preparation, he added.
The Division I championship game is slated for Sunday at 12:30 p.m.