Members of the Saranac Lake hockey team mob goalie Blake Darrah to celebrate their second straight Section VII title Feb. 27.
The Section VII/Division II championship boys hokey game between the second seed Saranac Lake and fifth seed Plattsburgh High Hornets has ended, with the Red Storm claiming their second straight crown by a score of 4-1.
“We knew from the get-go that we had a target on our backs as the defending Section champ,” league MVP Devin Darrah of the Storm said. “We were just digging throughout the year. This is a better feeling then the first because we were able to go back-to-back.”
“We are really excited right now,” head coach Will Ellsworth said. “Going back to back has a lot of emotion, and we are sky high right now. We are playing confident hockey and we want to keep this rolling.”
For the game, Saranac Lake held a 35-31 advantage in shots, with Blake Darrah making 30 saves in the win for Saranac Lake, while Rob Knowles made 30 for the Hornets.
“It’s been great to have him back there,” brother Devin said. “He has been backing us up all season and improving in every game.”
After a feeling out period of two minutes, scoring came quickly between the two teams, as Red Storm standout Devin Darrah was able to fire off a pair of shots, the second rebounded and put past PHS goalie Rob Knowles to give Saranac Lake a 1-0 lead 2:37 seconds into the opening period.
“We stress playing sound hockey and getting the first goal,” Ellsworth said. “That has been our plan in the playoffs.”
On the ensuing face off, Hornets Brandon Matott and Jack Tolosky got together on an odd man rush, with Matott feeding Tolosky for the equalizer off a second assist from Eric Bechard.
“I was surprised because hockey is such a game of momentum that we had just taken some of theirs, and they turned around and did it to us,” Ellsworth said.
“I knew at that point we were in for a tough game,” Darrah said.
The tie lasted for all of 10 seconds, when Darrah took the face off from Jacob Garrett and skated past the defense to score the second goal of the game for the Red Storm.
“I thought the defense was right there, but I had skated past them somehow,” Darrah said. “I got through and I knew that I had to score.”
“I don’t think he has seen the ice that open all season,” Ellsworth said. “He usually has to work for his goals, but he is a kid that the puck just seems to be attracted to his stick. When you get him alone with just the goalie, he is going to convert.”
There was the potential for even more scoring, as a Phelan score was whistled dead due to a goal out of position and a Tolosky shot off a rebound being whistled dead by the officials.
The second period started out a lot calmer than the first, with no scoring through the first five minutes of play. At the 6:33 mark, Quinn Urquhart took a pass from Jacob Garrett as the result of a 2-on-1 rush, putting it top shelf to give the Red Storm a 3-1 edge.
The first two penalties of the game were also called in the second period, with Eric Bechard sitting at the 12:09 mark and Grant Strack being called to the box at the 3:49 mark. Both penalties were killed by the opponent.
In the third period, Devin Darrah capitalized with just six seconds remaining on a power play opportunity at the 11:35 mark of the period, firing a shot on net and then following up on the rebound to give the Red Storm a 4-1 lead. Jonathan Fine-Lease was in the penalty box for the Hornets.
Chris Spicer was sent to the penalty box for the Red Storm at the 7:27 mark of the period, which his teammates were able to kill out.
Scoring remained quiet for the remainder of the period, and as the buzzer sounded, the Red Storm players jumped from the bench to celebrate their title defense.
After the game, Hornets head coach Jamie Reidy said he was proud of the run his team had made as the fifth seed.
“I could not be prouder of these 17 young men,” Reidy said. “They stuck together all season when we were unsure if we would even have a hockey team and they showed a lot of emotion in these playoffs.”
Reidy also gave credit to his star goalie, who went through personal challenges of his own.
“He has been a standout and the best player on our team,” Reidy said. “He has overcome a lot of adversity with the death of his father and has stayed focus and showed a lot of maturity for a young man.”
Reidy said that he was pleased his team was able to get back to the sectional finals for the third time in three years with a team that features only four seniors.
“We are already excited and optimistic for what is ahead of us next year,” he said.
The Red Storm will host the first round of the regional playoffs against Queensbury on Saturday, March 3.