Sure it may be a mouthful to say, but to Suffolk County hockey fans, it was the game everyone was waiting for. Prior to puck drop, MSG Varsity’s Carl Reuter called it the most anticipated game of the year in the Suffolk County High School Hockey League.
It was a game that would alter the shape of the SCHSHL hierarchy.
And boy, did it ever live up to its billing.
Connetquot/Sayville topped Smithtown/Hauppauge, 5-3 at The Rinx in Hauppauge on Monday night in a contest that was extremely fast-paced, hard-hitting, and had its fair share of outstanding goaltending.
What was evident from the opening puck drop was the frenetic pace both teams competed at. Smithtown/Hauppauge had not played since December 19, but were playing at a speed as if they had just played the night before. For Connetquot/Sayville, on the other hand, that speedy pace was just the way they had drawn it up.
“That’s our style of play, and it’s something we’ve worked on all year,” said T-Birds head coach Bruce Kollmar. “The first couple of shifts out of the box we want high energy and we want to put a team on its heels quick. Did it help that they had been off for 19 days? Well, it certainly helped us. That’s not any different than what we do with any other team.”
The frenetic pace ended up paying off for the T-Birds. Smithtown/Hauppauge looked slow and had trouble getting its legs under them in the latter periods, which resulted in four unanswered goals for the T-Birds.
That north-south style of gameplay would normally wreak havoc on the goaltenders, but under the bright lights and cameras of MSG Varsity, all four netminders (yes, four) were sharp as ever. Smithtown goaltenders Thomas Drapala and James Tenbrink (who filled in following the second period), despite taking the loss exhibited the skill a top team needs in net. With the Bulls donning their blue “away” jerseys in the style of the New York Rangers, Drapala looked a little like goaltender Henrik Lundqvist with the way he was snaring pucks out of mid-air.
On the opposite side of the ice, Connetquot/Sayville goaltenders Trevor Von Kampen and Brett Ficken were just a little sharper. Von Kampen stopped 12 shots before giving way to Ficken, who was immediately tested by the Smithtown/Hauppauge offense.
By immediately tested, I mean facing three close-range shots in the first 15 seconds of action.
If that doesn’t do much for a netminder’s confidence, then I couldn’t tell you what does.
Coach Kollmar couldn’t say enough about his tandem.
“I am blessed to say I don’t have a No. 1 goalie, I have a No. 1 and a No. 1-A,” Kollmar said.
Coach Kollmar said he doesn’t normally split goaltenders in the same game, but made a special exception for the biggest game of the year.
“We have a rapport with the goalies, and I asked them what they want to do,” Kollmar discussed. “They both looked at me and at the same moment, they said ‘We want to split it.’ I said, ‘if that’s what you want, so you both want face time?’”
Face-time they got -- and they made the most of it by backstopping their team to a very important victory.
“We wanted to beat them. We lost to them 3-1 (on October 19), which ended our perfect season. We felt like we were going to get them back,” Ficken said following the game.
With Connetquot/Sayville’s 5-3 win over previously unbeaten Smithtown/Hauppauge, the T-Birds moved into a virtual tie with the Bulls for first place in the Suffolk league.
Both teams boast identical 15-1 records with just four games to go, but you’ll have to look all the way to the fourth tiebreaker to have a clear determination on which team can truly be called number one.
The tiebreakers are as followed:
-- Most wins: Both teams have 15.
-- Record head-to-head: Both teams are 1-1 against each other.
-- Goals against head-to-head: Both teams have a combined 6-6 score in two games.
-- Goals against in the division: This is where it gets dicey. As of January 11, Connetquot/Sayville has 26 GA, while Smithtown/Hauppauge has given up 34 goals this season.
If all else fails and both teams end up tied in goals against at the end of the year, they will go to a simple flip of the coin.
The tightness of the tiebreakers will certainly make for an exciting and drama-filled end of the SCHSHL regular season. MSGVarsity.com will be keeping tabs on both teams as the season winds down.
Be sure to watch Monday night’s marquee match-up between Smithtown/Hauppauge and Connetquot/Sayville debuting Wednesday at 7:30 p.m. only on MSG Varsity, iO Channel 14.
It’s a classic you don’t want to miss.
Bizzaro on the road to recovery
Connetquot/Sayville forward Joey Bizzaro suffered a serious forearm injury near the end of Monday night’s game. Bizzaro, without a stick, dove head-first for a loose puck to clear the zone but caught a skate blade to his exposed wrist/forearm.
“I saw there was immediately something wrong and everyone knows what happened after that,” Coach Kollmar said.
Bizzaro grabbed his injured arm and officials jumped into action to quickly escort him off the ice to be treated.
The injury could have been more serious had it not been for the efforts of the staff on hand at The Rinx.
“I can’t say enough about the guys from Suffolk County hockey and the EMT that worked on him, Steve. And some woman who is an ER nurse jumped in and actually helped stabilize him,” Kollmar said.
“That’s the kind of community it is. She was there just watching the game and saw an opportunity to help and she jumped in and did it. I don’t know who she is, but I certainly do thank her.”
Bizzaro had a successful surgery at Stony Brook University Medical Center late Monday night and will miss the rest of the season.