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Diary of a Mad Sportswriter: March 2007

Diary of a Mad Sportswriter

Stan Hudy is a sportswriter for The Saratogian and Community News. He covers high school and youth sports in the Saratoga County area as well as writing a weekly book review on sports books. He's not just a "stick and ball" sportswriter, he's willing to take on any sport as well as any subject.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

20 years ago today, Shen's players came to play...

CLIFTON PARK — It was 20 years ago to the day that a group of basketball players took a then-small community, placed it on their backs and charged through local, regional and state competition, resulting in a distinguished program’s first and only New York state championship.
The names involved are often considered larger than life. Greg Koubek, known as much for his success at Duke University as at Shenendehowa, Brendan O’Sullivan, the other-half of the “Twin Towers,” and Tom King, a forward-turned-point guard in his final season, were the trio who led the charge.
Behind the scenes and on the bench was the mastermind of it all, the man who will not stop coaching, Jim Zullo, who guided his group of 13 ballplayers to the highest level imaginable for high school basketball.
They were young, they were talented, they were the Plainsmen — and on March 22, 1987, they became state champions.
Zullo took over the Plainsmen basketball program in 1973. His squads had success, but had an awakening in 1978 at the hands of Albany High.
“The Suburban Council could not beat the city teams, (Albany, Bishop Maginn, Schenectady),” Zullo said while vacationing in Florida. “The Big 10 teams had ruled the roost for quite a while, as they do now. In 1978, we lost 93-42 to Albany. I knew we had to do things differently to compete with Albany or team like them.
“I came up with a system, utilizing a full-court press, quickness off the ball that had its first success in 1985. It was our first trip to Glens Falls (Section II final) with Tim Koubek as a senior, Brian Clare, Dave Jacobs and Greg Koubek and Brendan O’Sullivan were sophomores. We upset Albany when no one thought we could.”
The road to a New York state title in 1987 actually began in 1985 in two stages, the sectional victory over Albany and a key moment at Mechanicville High School against Bishop Maginn in the sectional semifinal.
“In the middle of the third (quarter), Maginn started to pull away,” former assistant coach Steve Marra said. “There was a big guy on Maginn and Tim Koubek, who played point guard was 5-10 and this guy was 6-7. He just pounded him into the wall and you saw Tim (Koubek) crumple down. Greg (Koubek) ran down from half court, grabbed the guy and threw him about 10 feet.”
According to Marra, the game was stopped, players separated and for Maginn, things got worse.
“Greg (Koubek) had smoke coming out of his nose and scored the next 14 points and the game was over,” Marra said. “He just got mad. His instinct was to protect his brother and if that guy never did that to Timmy, we never would have won that game.”
Zullo and Marra said it became a turning point within the program.
The Plainsmen finished the year 22-4, falling to Mount Vernon in the Capital Conference Regional final. It was also be the worst season record for Greg Koubek and Brendan O’Sullivan during their three years on varsity.
“I’ve always felt that you have to win the section a couple times to understand that the section isn’t the end and you have to be prepared to move on,” Zullo said.
The next season the squad added players such as Tom King and Jay Matthews, but fell to Albany in the Section II final, forcing the 23-1 Plainsmen to ponder what the next year would bring.
With a starting nucleus of 6-6 forwards Koubek and O’Sullivan, the 6-2 King at guard, 6-3 Jeff Farnsworth providing another inside presence and 5-11 Larry Smith playing the role of defensive stopper, the Plainsmen were set.
Almost.
Early on, Zullo moved Tom King from shooting guard to point guard, a position he never played before.
“Coach had me do some of the drills the point guards would do,” King said while vacationing in Florida. “It seemed like there was an opportunity. I was more comfortable as the off-guard, but if coach says that’s where I’m needed, I’ll play anywhere.”
King took the move in stride and found the new role simplified by his coach.
“I just had to bring the ball up, get it to players, let them score and go back and play defense,” King said. “I had so much talent around me the transition was pretty easy.”
The Shenendehowa squad had their eyes set on new heights.
“We didn’t talk about it, but we knew we were good and should win the section,” Greg Koubek said from his home in Los Angeles. “We focused on getting out of the section and moving on.”
The Plainsmen reeled off a 20-0 regular-season record, 14-0 in the Suburban Council along with non-league wins over Mont Pleasant, St. Anthony’s and Monroe-Woodbury.
The Plainsmen took an unblemished record into the Class A Tournament, dismissing Colonie 71-45 before taking on CBA and its match-up zone offense in the Class A semifinal.
“We prepared all week for a box-and-one and they played it,” Zullo said. “I told Tom King to go into the corner to talk about the weather and we’ll play four-on-four. With our two forwards, Brendan and Greg, we dumped it in the middle and beat them easily.”
Next up: Shen vs. Albany III at the Glens Falls Civic Center.
“I assigned Steve (Marra) to scout every game they played,” Zullo said. “I think he saw them play 18 times, probably a Section II record for scouting one team the most. We were able to come up with some positive ideas on how to beat them, as it turned out. A lot of those ideas were Steve’s.”
“Albany averaged 80 points per game, half of them off their press and turnovers,” Zullo said. “If we didn’t do that, we could hold them in the 40s.”
The Plainsmen captured their second Class A title in three years, 58-49, in front of more than 6,000 fans.
“That’s the great thing about high school sports, I think there was joy, a true celebration,” Koubek said. “I had confidence that we were going to win, but we didn’t take it for granted. Joy is the best word I could come up with.”
The biggest relief came from Zullo.
“You don’t want to screw up the best team you ever had,” Zullo said. “When you get a chance to do something, you hope you are prepared as a coach and left no stones unturned. I knew they could do it, I didn’t want to be the reason they didn’t.”
The Plainsmen swept the Capital Conference Regional Tournament with victories over New Rochelle, 78-72, and Monroe-Woodbury, 53-44, in two drastically different contests.
“Their plan was to press us, get in our face and beat us,” Zullo said about New Rochelle. “They had a 6-10 guard pressuring the player bringing it up the court. Brendan brought the ball up the court and handed it to Tommy King, who ran our offense patiently, perfect.”
The Plainsmen earned a rematch against Monroe-Woodbury, a squad they handily defeated, 70-46, earlier in the year. It almost proved costly.
“That next night we kind of stunk,” Zullo said. “In the third quarter, Greg just took over, taking 30-footers right in front of the bench. I just sat there and applauded. I would usually yet at him, but he made them all.”
Shenendehowa earned a return trip to the Glens Falls Civic Center for the New York State Public High School Athletic Association Final Four.
The Plainsmen were behind the entire first half and co-captain Brendan O’Sullivan spoke up at halftime, igniting the Shenendehowa squad to a 54-48 victory.
“Brendan said to get him the ball and when we did we were able to go high-low and break their zone,” Zullo said. “Sometimes you have to listen to your players, especially one as smart as Brendan O’Sullivan.”
His co-captain remembers the conversation well.
“It was one of my few F-bombs in the locker room,” said O’Sullivan, who went on to star at Dartmouth. “I wasn’t seeing the ball that much and I think I said I’d like to get a couple of shots in, I think I could help here. I was a little more colorful and creative than that.”
Shenendehowa found itself one win away from a state title and Syracuse-based Bishop Ludden couldn’t stop the determined Plainsmen squad.
Shenendehowa never trailed in the contest as King found Koubek throughout the night on the Civic Center floor, capturing its first-ever state title with a 69-52 win over Bishop Ludden.
Koubek, voted earlier as Mr. New York Basketball, had a double-double with 23 points and 13 rebounds, while King handed out six assists and added 16 points of his own in the win. The Plainsmen became the first Section II team to win a state title since 1978.
“It was the most unbelievable experience,” Koubek said. “It was standing-room only and it felt like the whole place would shake. I remember getting goose bumps on the court.”
The Plainsmen became the only Section II team to ever earn a ranking in the prestigious USA Today national poll at No. 23 in the nation.
Koubek, who became the first — and still the only — player ever to appear in four Final Fours while at Duke, still remembers the Shen state title as if it were yesterday.
“I remember the fans, the support from the student body, your peers, painting their faces. It’s pretty cool and go back home, to talk to parents about how that brought the community together, how they rallied around the team and it was something bigger than yourself.”

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Monday, March 12, 2007

Sunday hockey, not Sunday mass



What could be better than losing an hour of sleep to daylight savings time then rushing over to an ice hockey rink for a championship semifinal game between two adolescent teams and spend the next 90 minutes listening to F-bombs being dropped on the referees, the opposite team and each other.
Ahh the joy of midget hockey!
Covering sports for more than 10 years, 99 percent of it being at the varsity high school levels and lower, tempers will flare, things will happen and "aw shucks" just doesn't seem to be the appropriate term for the athletes during contests.
Everyone gets upset, mad, and sometimes just pissed off. That's just the fact of it, but this weekend, covering the Northeastern Midget Hockey League playoffs and championships the language reached new heights.
Now a caution the reader (Mom), that I am not a prude, a born-again individual or a devout anything. I myself have let me mouth get the best of me, ripping off a slew of profanity that would made any Army Sergent blush. It is usually in a true fit of anger, usually at my computer, a vehicle or a situation that has ruined my day and at that moment I believe my life.
My wife has more than once asked me to stop in mid-spew because I have just fallen off the edge of insanity.
So hearing the F-bomb and saying it without fail through my years was not that shocking, it was more the temperment that came with it.

On Saturday, one midget (18 years and under) hockey squad became so engulfed in rage amongst itself that I was afraid I may have to intervene between players. I was stationed just inside the bench taking photos when the barrage began.
The coach had just called a line off the ice and the player argued that it was too soon, that his teammate needed a rest. The return was abrupt, noisy and filled with expletives. With the squad down, 4-1 at the time, tempers were escalating and the team's leader and the recenty relieved skater exchanged comments. "Shut the F-up, you weren't back checking that's why he pulled you off," was followed by "Shut the F-up scumbag." Then it became hockey's version of the "Goodfellas", with the "Are you calling me a F-scumbag?"
Just when all seemed lost, the squad's teammates saved the day and scored a goal.
All was forgotten, focus returned to the ice and the team finished with a 5-5 tie.
Whew, it was over, I considered it an anomoly, just a disfunctional team with not a lot of control behind the bench.
Then came the 8 a.m. wake-up call.
Standing near a different team near the bench in a championship semifinal, the language was more suitable for a gang-fight or a platoon preparing to take an enemy location. Hate-filled epitath's filled the break between periods.
I quickly understood these two teams didn't like each other, but I was waiting for a shive to appear from underneath a hip pad at the blue line from one of the forwards.
The morning included "F-A-hole", "Get your head out of your ass" was a funny moment from an assistant coach and "Shut his F-ing mouth" was commonly yelled to teammates on the ice.
Just boys being boys, I guess.
I can't say there is a moral to the story, but if there is a lesson, it's to try to remember that there always people around that can hear what you are saying. While it may be intended for someone else, it still is a reflection upon you and your squad.
Everyone doesn't have to get along, it's sports, but a little soap may not be such a bad thing for these hockey players, both inside and out.
As for me, every year I try to give up swearing for Lent. It lasts a little while, but every now and then, inevitably, I F-up.

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Sunday, March 11, 2007

NEMHL: Eagles make history in finals finish


SARATOGA SPRINGS - In the Northeastern Midget Hockey League Division I final there was a Cinderella story-ending, a glass skate fitted for the winning team, but for the Clifton Park Eagles squad, it didn't fit.
On Sunday afternoon at the Vernon Rink in Saratoga, the title, the Cinderella-story run and the glass skate belonged to the Bay State Buccaneers. The Springfield, Mass. 18 & Under ice hockey team, in its first year in the NEMHL earned a 2-1 win over Clifton Park to claim its first-ever title.
The two squads opened the NEMHL playoffs at the Clifton Park Arena, Friday night with the Eagles skating away with a first-time 4-1 win. On Sunday afternoon in front of a partisan fan base, it was the Buccaneers who would drive home the towering trophy across I-90 and not down I-87 to Clifton Park.
"Friday was tough with the travel, not a lot of time to get mentally prepared for the game," Bay State head coach Erik Tondera said. "We took some stupid penalties and they outplayed us."


On Sunday afternoon, the Eagles followed-up their 6-2 semifinal win over the Southeastern Connecticut Seahawks, their second in as many days, with a deliberate back check looking to control the physical presence of Bay State.
"They fore checked us well, so we had trouble getting out of our zone," Clifton Park coach Jim Sullivan said. "We came out figuring we could beat them, they didn't out skate us, we just couldn't capitalize on our chances."
The contest opened with a championship game atmosphere, a full house and an excited group of friends and family in the Vernon Rink.
With every check Bay State put on a Clifton Park player a crowd went up from the Mass. fans. Equally every time Clifton Park goaltender Crockett Pack would make a save, a roar would go up from the local contingent.
After a scoreless first period, things heated up in the second with both teams committing nine penalties with each team cashing in on special teams.
The Eagles parlayed a man down situation into a short-handed goal with 4:24 left to go ahead 1-0. Connor Arnold backhanded a shot from Evan Sullivan, passing along the puck from Kyle Johnson, getting the puck past Bay State's Nick Carlotto.
The lead was short-lived.
The Buccaneers executed its power play to perfection as Bobby Rash, Derek Belisle and Garrison Gamble skated into the offensive zone. Belisle skated down the slot and at the last moment, passed to Rash on his right who flipped it into the right corner for the tie score.
The contest remained knotted at a goal apiece until Belisle put back a Rash shot that rebounded off the dropped pads of Pack with under six minutes left in the game and the 2-1 lead.
Clifton Park, who had focused on spreading the ice versus the CT Clippers and applying pressure to Bay State in the opener, could not break through the blue lines and create opportunities.
"They move the puck through the neutral zone very well," Sullivan said. "We talked about where we needed our centers and forwards, but we couldn't get it done."
The contest brings a close to the NEMHL season possibly as well as the career of several non-high school players, including the Eagles three-time NEMHL all-star goaltender, Pack.
"This is the best we've done so far, no one expected us to get this far," Pack said. "A lucky bounce here or there, someone had to win."
The loss, as much as the season finale was tough on the goaltender.
"I want to play baseball next year (in college)," Pack said. "I'm not sure about hockey, this could be my last time playing hockey. I've been playing hockey my whole life."
The 16-team league plays an open first half of the season before splitting into two divisions based on overall record. The second half of the year is devoted to playing time within your own division and subsequent level of competition. After an 0-5 start, the Eagles found their way and moved into the challenging Division I bracket.
"This is one tough group of over-achievers," Sullivan said. "To start out the way we did, 0-5, to be here, today, is phenomenal."

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NEMHL: Blue Knights fall in DII semifinal


SARATOGA SPRINGS - The Saratoga Blue Knights midget hockey team suffered a 6-2 defeat at the hands of the Adirondack Black Bears in the NEMHL Division II semifinal at the Saratoga City Rink, bringing its season to a close at the hands of an all to familiar enemy.
"We beat them the last time we met," Saratoga coach Brian Sweeney said. "The kids talked a lot to each other during the game."
The continuous chatter between players, combined with 17 penalties called, including a game-misconduct added to the bitter rivalry between the two Division II locals.

Adirondack took a 2-0 first period lead on goals by Michael Aitken and Billy Casey. The Blue Knights would tie the contest at two apiece on consecutive power play goals.
Zephan Whittle put back Ben Olszewski's initial shot on Black Bear goaltender Ryan Lynch with 10 minutes left in the second during a 5-on-3 power play. While still with a man advantage, Dan James tipped in Steve Nieminski's shot from in front of the crease with 8:47 left.
Adirondack answered with its own power play tally when Cameron Tyler's shot tipped off David Aitken's blade and trickled in under Saratoga goaltender Shane Conklin with 7:08 left in the second.
Adirondack continued to make trips into the penalty box, giving the Blue Knights a man-advantage, including another 5-on-3 in the early moments of the third, but the Saratoga squad could not cash in.
"We haven't had a lot of guys at practices so it's tough to work on our man-up, man-down plays," Sweeney said. "We have to rely on individual talents and kids that work well together."
The Black Bears put the contest away with five minutes left in the third on a successful power play. Sean Kanaly found Michael Aitken who passed to Damon Casey to the left circle, he slid the puck on net where it found its way through a Blue Knight defenseman and Conklin for the 4-2 lead.
Saratoga showed it was capable of scoring swiftly over the weekend, scoring three goals in the final five minutes Saturday versus South Windsor, including two in the final two minutes to tie the Connecticut squad, 5-5, in its final preliminary contest.
On Sunday, it was Adirondack's turn to show its scoring prowess late as Sean Beard scored twice in a 30-second span from assists by David Aitken and Billy Casey for the 6-2 final.
The Black Bears outshot the Blue Knights, 43-26.
After winning only nine games during the regular season, the Blue Knights showed they could come together as a squad, going 2-0-1 in the playoffs before stumbling in the semifinal.
"We just didn't give it that extra effort today," Sweeney said. "It comes down to legs and the mental preparedness in each individual."
The final run by the Blue Knights was more difficult than its semifinal opponent, Sweeney said.
"I don't know how they decide who plays who in the playoffs," Sweeney said. "But we played all three teams above us in the standings. They (Adirondack) played the two teams below us, West Hartford and Wallingford. If they played the same teams we played, it could have had a different outcome."
The Blue Knights defeated Adirondack in the opening round of the Division II playoffs, 4-3.

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Saratoga Pee Wees shuffling off to Buffalo


MANHATTAN - The Saratoga Blue Knights youth hockey pee wee squad earned a berth in the USA Hockey Tier II U12 & Under National Tournament with a 5-1 victory Sunday morning over the Freeport Arrows from Long Island.
Saratoga, advanced to the New York State Amateur Hockey Association title game Sunday evening, falling in the title contest, 6-1 to the Grand Niagara Purple Eagles.
Both teams qualified for the national tournament, March 28 - April 1 in Buffalo.
"We played five very good games out of six," Saratoga coach Jeff Whiteside said. "The team played well, together. If the other teams at the tournament are true Tier II teams, we'll be competitive."
The Saratoga 12-year-old and younger skaters established themselves as a force in the preliminary round of the tournament held on Chelsea Pier in Manhattan. The squad earned victories over the New York City Cyclones, 6-2, Bud Bakewell Bruins from Buffalo, 8-2, Camillus Cougars, 5-0 and survived a high scoring affair versus the Westchester Vipers, 9-6, to advance to the crossover (semifinal) Sunday morning.
In the morning session the Blue Knights routed the Freeport Arrows, 5-1, again seeing the line of Tommy Naples, Mikey Layman and Noah Whiteside become a force for Saratoga, scoring four of the team's five goals.
After a scoreless first period, the Blue Knights fell behind, 1-0, common for the squad all weekend, before catching lightning in a bottle for the fifth consecutive game.
Layman scored the game-tying goal from an assist by Brendan Wormley with Jamie Bartoszek scoring the eventual game winner from an assist by Layman.
Saratoga would explode for three more goals in the third on the blade of Naples, Bartoszek and Alex Luse.
The Blue Knights out shot its fifth-straight opponent, 31-26, advancing to the state title game for the second time in three years versus a common foe, Grand Niagara. As a squirt squad, coached by current pee wee coach Wayne McDougall, the team lost to the Purple Eagles, 1-0.
Sunday afternoon would be as disappointing, but saved by knowing both finalists earned berths into the national tournament.
Grand Niagara proved to be a force to be reckoned with in Manhattan and in any future tilts in Buffalo, out-shooting Saratoga, 43-13, including a 24-2 deluge on Blue Knights goalie Ian Koupash in the second period.
"Grand Niagara played extremely well, they're a very good team," Whiteside said. "We held our own in the first half of the game, then they out shot us in the second period."
The Purple Eagles tallied three goals in the second period and added two more in the final period. Saratoga's Brett Merriman scored the lone goal for Saratoga from an assist by Bartoszek and Kyle Paton in the third.
Whiteside was not worried about the effect the loss may have on his young skaters.
"The team's spirits are good, they have a good attitude," Whiteside said. "After five games we played well in the crossover. I thought we came ready to play, they came out strong. The dike broke early in the second period."
Saratoga will have time off prior to leaving for Buffalo for a three-game round robin. The Blue Knights will compete as part of the American Division Olympic Conference and all three games will be against the American Division USA Conference.
Saratoga will open against the Southeastern champion March 28 followed by a March 29 game versus the Anchorage Junior Aces and finish the preliminaries against the Port Huron Flags from Michigan. The top four teams in the American and National divisions will face-off in quarterfinals and semifinals March 31 with the national championship game set for April 1 at the Amherst Pepsi Center.
The team returns for some planned rest before resuming play and planning for the trip to Western New York.
"We've got to take a break, this weekend was intense," Whiteside said. "We had high hopes for this team, that didn't happen. This week we'll get back on the horse."

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Saturday, March 10, 2007

NEMHL: Clifton Park up and down...still advance


CLIFTON PARK - The Clifton Park Eagles midget hockey team earned a berth into today's NEMHL Division I semifinal, withstanding a late comeback from the CT Clippers at Clifton Park Arena in the morning before losing to the Southeastern Connecticut Seahawks, 3-2 in the afternoon.
The Clippers went up early on the Eagles but saw the host rink team turn on the jets in the second period, doing a better job cycling the puck in the Connecticut end and finally hitting paydirt.
Connor Arnold beat Seahawk goalie Ryan Meakem stick side two minutes into the second after Clifton Park NEMHL all-star Steve Reese picked off the puck at the red line, knotting the score at one apiece. Eagle Sean DeMerchant put the squad ahead, hitting the back of the net from the right circle for an unassisted tally.
"I was alone in the neutral zone with (Brian) Tosti," DeMerchant said. "He fell in front of me, a guy tripped over him and four guys converged on me. I was along up top."

Clifton Park built on the go-ahead goal, scoring two additional goals in the third period, a tip in by DeMerchant 34 seconds into the period and NEMHL all-star Chris Van Alystne with 10:15 to go in the contest.
The 4-1 lead was not enough to put the contest away against the Seahawks.
Clipper's Troy Miller skated over the blue line and send the puck deep in on Eagles goaltender Bobby Sardinia. The puck rolled through the air, hit his blocker and ricocheted into the back of the net, giving the Clippers life, 4-2.
With 83 seconds left in the contest and the Clippers on the power play, the squad slowly, deliberately cycled the puck throughout the offensive zone until Miller flipped the puck over Sardinia's shoulder, cutting the lead, 4-3.
The win secured a berth in today's Division I semifinal, the first for Clifton Park in seven years, despite the outcome of the afternoon contest.
It did matter to the Southeastern Connecticut Seahawks, a win and they were in. A loss and the Seahawks were out.
The Connecticut squad scored a goal in each period and held off Clifton Park in the closing minutes after giving up a power play goal to win, 3-2.
Both teams advance to today's elimination contests.
"We set a goal and we met it (two wins)," Clifton Park coach Jim Sullivan said. "Turnovers killed us and we played into their game. We didn't spread out the ice. They're bigger and stronger, when we don't spread out the ice, we get beat."

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NEMHL: Blue Knights pick time to shine


SARATOGA SPRINGS - The Saratoga Blue Knights may not have had perfect attendance throughout the NEMHL season, but the local midget hockey team came together when it counted most...during the playoffs.
Saratoga finished in seventh-place in the Division II NEMHL standings out of nine teams with a 9-24-2 record. That all seems like ancient history as the Blue Knights are 2-0-1 in the NEMHL playoffs and play today at 8 a.m. in the semifinals at Vernon Rink with the chance to advance to the championship game at 2 p.m.
"It's been a challenge to have a full roster for each game," Saratoga coach Brian Sweeney said. "They feel better when they have their buddies here."
To participate in the NEMHL playoffs, a skater must have a minimum of 75 percent attendance to be eligible for the team's post-season roster.
With a full compliment of players, the Blue Knights came from behind to defeat the Adriondack Black Bears in the opener, 4-3, on Friday. On Saturday, Saratoga opened with a 2-1 victory over the Bethlehem Eagles.

The afternoon provided the biggest test for the Blue Knights, facing a three-goal deficit to the South Windsor Knights. Instead of calling it a day, saving their legs for Sunday's semifinal, guaranteed by the two early victories, the Blue Knights scored three goals in the final period and earned a 5-5 tie at Vernon Rink.
"I just had to stop thinking about how much we were losing by and start playing the game," Blue Knight and Waldorf School senior Zephan Whittle said. "I needed to start creating opportunities and stop worrying about what we were doing wrong."
Saratoga held a one-goal lead in the first period, scoring 69 seconds into the first period when Whittle tucked the puck underneath the pad of Knights goalie Austin Benn.
The Connecticut squad answered with four unanswered goals in the second period, courtesy of three straight assists by Dean Thibodeau.
"The first half of the second period has been a problem," Sweeney said. "A lot of times its about surviving the second. We don't have any quitters here."
Down 4-1,there almost appeared to be no end in sight of the Knight's ability to score, putting the Saratoga bench on edge. Just when it appeared that the contest would be reminiscent of a regular season blowout, August Heinrich put back a Ben Olszewski shot off Benn's pads, cutting the lead, 4-2.
Still down two goals and time running out, Whittle took matters into his own hands, literally.
The big man dug out the puck along the sideboards, skated up through traffic and into the South Windsor offensive zone and flipped the puck into the top right corner, cutting the lead, 4-3.
Saratoga's elation was short lived when Knights' forward Thibodeau turned from playmaker into scorer, flipping the puck over Blue Knight goaltender Lauren Vinciguerra for a 5-3 lead.
Saratoga took advantage of a South Windsor penalty as Tom Bishop tipped in Dan James's shot from the circle, making it a game, 5-4 with 2:01 left in the game.
Bishop returned the favor, feeding defenseman Steve Nieminski at the top of the left circle with 77 seconds left in the game for the game-tying goal.
The tie gave the Blue Knights an unbeaten record in the playoffs and a berth in today's semifinal.
"I know with a full roster what we are capable of," Sweeney said. "We can beat any team."
Earlier in the day, Saratoga goalie Shane Conklin earned assists on both of the Blue Knights goals in a 2-1 win over Bethlehem. Conklin shot the puck up ice to James midway through the first period who fed the prize to Olszewski for the 1-0 lead.
Bethlehem tied the contest at one apiece less than a minute into the first period before Conklin again found teammate Sean Dickie up ice. He passed the puck to Nieminski who tallied the game-winning goal with three minutes left in the contest. The goalie finished with two assists and 29 saves to his credit.

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Local youth skaters roll

Saratoga Pee Wees on to state semifinals
MANHATTAN - They just can't lose.
The Saratoga Youth Hockey Blue Knights pee wee team shutout the Camillus Cougars, 5-0, before surviving a shootout against the Westchester Vipers, 9-6, to advance to the Tier II 12 & Under New York State Amateur Hockey Association state final at Chelsea Pier.
The Blue Knights' line of Tommy Naples, Mikey Layman and Noah Whiteside picked the right time for their coming out party, Saturday afternoon versus Westchester.
Naples scored a hat trick and added two assists on the day with Layman tallying two goals and two assists. The duo combined the first four goals of the day for Saratoga.
"This was a breakout game for that line," Blue Knight assistant coach Wayne McDougall said. "The other two lines have been producing, now we have three lines that are playing well."
The two squads traded goals throughout the first two periods with Saratoga still having enough firepower in the third period for the 9-6 win.
Kyle Paton joined the battle with two goals and two assists, along with Alex Luse and Zack Swanteck adding goals.

The Blue Knights got two goals and an assist from Alex Luse along with a pair of goals and an assist from Kyle Paton in the morning shutout. Mikey Layman had a goal with Zack Swanteck tallying two assists and Tommy Naples one. Ian Koupash earned the shutout victory, turning back all 16 shots he faced.
"We controlled the entire game," Saratoga assistant coach Wayne McDougall said. "We controlled momentum and the pace of the game."
Saratoga outshot the Cougars, 47-16.
The Blue Knights earned the No. 1 seed in their division and will take on the Freeport Arrows at 10 a.m. in the tournament semifinal. The Grand Niagara Purple Eagles face the Bud Bakewell Bruins in the noon semifinal with the championship game scheduled for 6 p.m.
A win Sunday morning not only puts them in the state final, but secures a spot at the USA Hockey National Tournament in Buffalo.
"Right now we are playing very well as a team," Saratoga coach Jeff Whiteside said. "We're looking forward to tommorrow."
Clifton Park bantams roll through Binghamton
BINGHAMTON - The Clifton Park Eagle bantam squad made the most of their single-game schedule on Saturday at the Tier II 14 & Under tournament at the Chenango Bridge Ice Rink, dropping the Staten Island Rangers, 4-1.
"It really was a 2-1 game," Clifton Park coach Rocky DeScanio said. "We scored two goals in the final minute to make it 4-1. It was a hard fought game."

After a scoreless first period, Clifton Park's Jacob Hendrickson scored from an assist by Patrick Burke. Staten Island tied the contest at one apiece before Alec Pacheco scored from an assist by Hendrickson for the 2-1 lead.
The contest would hang in the balance until Derek DiScanio scored from a Greg Warnken assist with 39 seconds left and Matthew Rakoczy tallied a goal with seven seconds left, courtesy from a DiScanio assist.
"I played a short bench all weekend," DiScanio said. "Today I didn't have to. Everyone knew what this game meant and they all played hard."
Clifton Park goaltender Shane Robichaud earned the win, turning back 21 shots on the afternoon.
The Eagles outshot the Rangers, 38-22 and stayed out of the penalty box in their final round robin contest of the tournament.
"This was the most disciplined game we have played all year," Clifton Park assistant coach Tom Fron said. "We didn't take any stupid penalties, only aggressive, good play penalties."
Clifton Park, the No. 1 seed will face Westchester in the 9 a.m. semifinal and Grand Niagara will take on Staten Island in the 11 a.m. semi. The championship final is set for 5 p.m.
The USA Hockey National Tier II 14 & Under tournament will be held in Buffalo, March 29 to April 1. New York State has two berths in the tournament so the two championship game finalists will advance to Buffalo.
Troy-Albany Ice Cats split Saturday
HAPPAUGE - It took a full day of close losses for the Tier I girls 16 & Under Troy-Albany Ice Cats ice hockey team to secure its first victory of the NYSAHA playoffs, but the team responded with a 3-0 shutout of the Potsdam Ice Storm Saturday morning.

Troy-Albany's Hannah Killean tallied another goal for Troy-Albany in the first period and Kara Fairchild scored her goal in the second from an assist by Saratoga Springs' Maggie Deloria. Deloria would tally her first goal of the tournament in the third period, shutting the door on the Ice Storm.
"We lost two games we should have won (Friday)," Troy-Albany coach Jim Deloria said. "We're playing well. I've talked to the RPI and Providence women's hockey coaches, some quality DI guys in the building. We're doing something right."
The afternoon wasn't as kind to the Ice Cats, falling 5-0 to the North Buffalo Bisons, outshooting Troy-Albany, 32-15.
"They were just too strong, too good," Deloria said. "They could end up being the national champions so we're not hanging our heads."
The Ice Cats face the tournament host, Suffolk PAL 11:40 a.m. to finish out their round robin play and return to the area.

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Friday, March 09, 2007

Locals skating away at states and playoffs early

It was a full day of hockey action across New York State, action to the North, West and South of Saratoga Springs with several success stories.
The Saratoga Youth Hockey Blue Knights poee wee squad swept both opening contests in the Big Apple. The Clifton Park Youth Hockey Eagles bantam squad recovered within their two games in my hometown of Binghamton, New York to win both. The Eagles earned their way into the semifinals already.
If the pee wee and bantam squads advance to the finals, they will each earn a berth in the USA Hockey National Tournament in Buffalo and me, possibly a road trip West.
The Northeastern Midget Hockey League called Saratoga home for its playoffs and All-Star game with Clifton Park and Saratoga Springs each earning first-time this season wins in the openers. Seven different locals were selected to the All-Star contest, but it didn't start until 10 p.m. a late night for all.
Results on Saturday...maybe..
Apologies to the Adirondack NorthStars U14 girls playing in Lake George. I didn't have time or the support within the office to get up there.
Here's how the youth hockey programs faired today.
Pee Wees skate by in Big Apple
MANHATTAN — The Saratoga Youth Hockey Association Pee Wee squad is rolling through Manhattan in the first day of the state tournament.
The Blue Knights earned two victories at Chelsea Pier in Manhattan, defeating the New York City Cyclones, 6-2 and the Bud Bakewell Bruins, 8-2.
In the Tier II 12 & Under tournament opener, Saratoga’s Kyle Paton and Alex Luse each scored two goals. Joey Ferraro and Brett Merriman tallied a goal each in the 6-2 rout of the tournament host. In goal, Ian Koupash turned back 14 shots
for the win.

The Blue Knights returned in the afternoon to Chelsea Pier and romped the Buffalo-area Bud Bakewell Bruins, 8-2, to take a 2-0 record into today’s second round of preliminary contests. Saratoga saw eight different skaters score in the afternoon
contest, as Joey Ferraro, Kyle Paton, Brett Merriman, Mikey Layman, Devin Smith, Jamie Bartoszek, Brian VanHorne and Alex Luse each light the lamp for the Blue Knights.
Saratoga fell behind Bud Bakewell, 2-1 in the second period before Paton struck for the game-tying goal. It would be the last the Blue Knights would hear from the Buffalo-based squad, striking for a total of five goals in the second on their way
to a rout.Brendan Wormley and Merriman each had two assists on the afternoon for Saratoga. Blue Knight goaltender, Ryan Ward earned his first state tournament victory of the series, turning back 21 of 23 shots.
Saratoga will face-off against the Camillus Cougars this morning before finishing its round-robin play versus the Westchester Vipers. The top two teams in each division will cross over Sunday morning in the semifinal games with the championship game set for 6 p.m.
CP bantam Eagles perfect
BINGHAMTON — The Clifton Park Eagles bantam squad earned a berth in Sunday’s crossover semifinal contests with two victories at the Chenango Bridge Ice Rink in
the Southern Tier.

The Eagles held off the Cheektowaga Warriors in the opening contest of the Tier II 14 & Under state championship tournament, 4-3 and then rallied back against the host squad, the Southern Tier Hockey Association Jr. Senators.
Clifton Park was down, 2-0 after a sluggish first period, but rallied for an 8-4 victory. With four points earned for two victories, the Eagles will advance to the semifinals and a victory will put them in the final and secure a spot in the USA
Hockey National Tournament in Buffalo, March 29-April 1.
Ice Cats fall twice on road
HAPPAUGE — The Troy-Albany Ice Cats 16U squad lost both games played Friday during the Tier I girls 16U state tournament, falling to the Rochester Edge, 2-1 and rival
Syracuse Stars, 3-2.
Troy-Albany’s Kathryn Thomas scored the lone goal in the opening loss, courtesy of an assist by Saratoga Springs High freshman forward Sarah Campbell. The Ice Cats out shot Rochester, 31-18 in the loss.
“We did everything but score,” Troy-Albany coach and Saratoga resident Jim Deloria
said.

In the afternoon, it was penalties that did in the Ice Cats as Syracuse scored two power play goals courtesy of eight Troy-Albany penalties.
Campbell scored her first goal of the tournament from an assist by Hannah Killian to tie the contest at one apiece. Troy-Albany cut the lead, 3-2 on Thomas’s goal with two minutes left in the contest.
The Ice Cats will face the Potsdam Ice Storm in the morning and take on the North Buffalo Bisons at 5:50 p.m.

Saratoga wins NEMHL playoff opener
SARATOGA SPRINGS — The Saratoga Blue Knights U18 midget team earned a playoff
victory against the Adirondack Black Bears, 4-3. The win was the first for Saratoga against their Division II rival this year.
The Blue Knights opened the scoring with John Lookretis’s power play goal midway
through the first period from an assist by August Heinrich and NEMHL All-Star Steve
Nieminski. Saratoga took a 2-0 lead 30 seconds later when Tom Richards scored from an assist by NEMHL All-Star defenseman Ben Olszewski.
“Momentum was everything,” Saratoga coach Brian Sweeney said. “We knew it would make
us or break us.”
Adirondack tied the contest at two goals apiece in the second period, before the Blue Knights went ahead, 3-2 on Zephan Whittle’s goal from an assist by Andrew Ventre. The Black Bears tied the contest a second time, in the third, but Olszewski scored the game-winner from assist by Heinrich and Whittle.
Adirondack held a 0-3-1 record against the Blue Knights during the regular season.
“We knew if we could tie them, we could beat them,” Sweeney said. “It was just a
matter of which team was ready to play that day, mentally.”
Saratoga will face Bethlehem 9:30 a.m. and South Windsor at 3 p.m., both games at Vernon Rink.

Clifton Park upends Bay State in NEMHL opener
CLIFTON PARK — The Clifton Park Eagles upended the Bay State Buccaneers in their opening round contest of the NEMHL Division I playoffs.
Bay State went up, 1-0 in the first period, but the Eagles responded with four unan
swered goals of their own by Carl DeLucia, NEMHL All-Stars Chris VanAlstyne and
Steve Reese along with Matt Drescher. NEMHL All-Star goalie Crockett Pack turned back 37 of the 38 saves he faced at the
Clifton Park Arena.
“This was a huge win,” Clifton Park coach Jim Sullivan said. “We believed these guys
were good, but if you put pressure on them, they’ll make mistakes.”
The Eagles will host the Connecticut Clippers at 8:30 a.m. and SEC Seahawks at 4:20 p.m., both games at the Clifton Park Arena.

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Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Clifton Park in World Series hunt for 2011

The Clifton Park Babe Ruth World Series Committee has made an official bid for the 13-year-old Babe Ruth World Series event in 2011.

Clifton Park has hosted the annual New Jersey-based baseball league national championship event four previous times, 1997, 1999, 2002, and 2006.
2006 Clifton Park host president Bill Butler formally placed the upstate New York host in the bidding process via e-mail to Babe Ruth League, Inc. commissioner Robert Faherty.
In an e-mail copied to me, Butler said the Clifton Park Baseball League and World Series Committee are pleased to announce the return of host family coordinator Annette Morere, Bill Butler as host president as well as the continued support of Donna Smith and Sharon Pizzo, the dynamic duo of "go-getters" in Clifton Park.
No Clifton Park World Series event would be complete without the support of Al Williams, a man who can move mountains, literally.
For myself and soon-to-be Dr. Reda Hudy, my role will be greatly reduced, stepping down as media coordinator. If still in the area in 2011, the Hudy's will be there in full support of the event, but most likely simply as a reporter and a blogger. I think it's better for our readership to have me focused on the events on and around the field versus behind the scenes.
Let the games, fund-raising and sponsorships begin.
"Bama in '08, Clifton Park W.S. in 2011"

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The winter sports season continues

Even as the high school varsity sports season has come to a crashing halt for our Saratoga County schools, sports live on courtesy of the icers young and older this weekend.
The Saratoga Youth Hockey Assocation Pee Wee A squad will travel to Manhattan for the Tier II NYAHA state tournament. The Blue Knights failed to get out of the round-robin last year and lost the previous year as a squirt team in the championship final versus Grand Niagara.
The group is closer, more focused and looking for a re-match with Grand Niagara, but it could only be in the championship round.
Down the road in Clifton Park, the Clifton Park Eagles earned a spot in the Tier II NYAHA bantam state tournament in Binghamton, New York. This may be a shot at redemption for the Eagles.
They earned a berth in the prestigious Silver Sticks Tournament in Michigan earlier this year, but the team failed to make the trip due to a lack of funding and support by the entire team's parent base. It's a very expensive trip, time off from work, 1,500 miles and not a great shot of winning the whole thing.
A win means a trip to nationals, a reality in both talent and funding as they Tier II show for both levels are hosted by Buffalo.
Don't forget the ladies on the ice and these aren't figure skaters.
The Adirondack Northstars earned berths in the U14 state tourney at the Lake George Forum and the U19 girls are taking a trip to Canada, well, almost, to Ogdensburg for their shot at a state title.
Locally, the Troy-Albany Ice Cats are in four different state tournaments, but I have had no luck finding a contact for them to find out if any Saratoga County skaters are competing. This does not bode well for results and media coverage by any news agency.
11 a.m.
Good news, the Ice Cats just called, info to come in shortly, glad to have them in the loop!
Good luck to all of them! May they win and keep my sports pages filled with success and stories until the weather breaks and we can all get outside, worrying about sun burns versus frostbite!

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