The end result was no surprise.
However for the Connetquot/Sayville hockey club, getting to the end result was a little tougher than the T-Birds had envisioned.
The most profilic scoring team in the Suffolk County High School Hockey League with 162 goals scored in 20 games, Connetquot/Sayville entered its semifinal matchup with Half Hollow Hills tied up at 1-1 with just 3:00 remaining
“It was pretty close,” Connetquot/Sayville head coach Bruce Kollmar recollected. “We were missing Bryan Arroyo (illness), who is one of our leading scorers…I was a little concerned.”
What transpired was, again, no surprise.
Andrew Gonzalez sealed a trip to the SCHSHL finals, scoring the game-winning goal with 2:14 left in the third period to give the T-Birds a 2-1 lead.
Two empty net goals later, the T-Birds were headed back to the Suffolk County High School Hockey League finals for the second year in a row. They are set to meet up with rival Smithtown/Hauppauge in a best-of-three series starting Monday night at 9:20 p.m. from The Rinx at Hauppauge.
It’s a matchup that everyone around the Long Island high school hockey landscape expected to take place.
“It’s where we thought it would end up. We figured if we both got through the quarters and semis without being upset that we’d be the two to face each other,” Kollmar said. “I was a little concerned about Half Hollow Hills because they’re a better team than their record showed but we were able to withstand their pressure.”
Now that Half Hollow Hills is out of the way, the T-Birds are ready to turn their attention to the Bulls (21-1) – a team that has pretty much even on every level with Connetquot/Sayville.
Consider the stats:
-- Each team finished the regular season 19-1, with the lone loss coming against each other.
-- Both teams split a two-game series in the pre-season and regular season.
-- The combined score in both regular season games was 6-6.
-- The SCHSHL regular season tiebreaker (overall goals against) difference was just 8 GA.
Again, it’s no surprise to Coach Kollmar how even these two teams are.
“We’ve been even right through the season. I knew last year that Smithtown was probably going to return as a pretty good team,” Kollmar said. “I’m not really surprised that Smithtown is there. They got a good young core.”
As has been throughout the year, Kollmar expects a tough series with the Bulls. But the T-Birds recent semifinal matchup with the Hornets of Half Hollow Hills made the second-year head coach of the Connetquot/Sayville squad feel pretty good about how his players will potentially perform starting Monday night.
“The kids don’t seem to be taking any thing for granted and I think (Thursday’s) close game really gave them an idea of how hard they really need to work,” Kollmar said. “If you’re winning the way we were winning throughout the season with the exception of Smithtown, you think you’re going to walk through the playoffs to the finals.
And hard work is what you will expect from the T-Birds.
In these two teams last meeting, the T-Birds came out flying against Smithtown/Hauppauge, establishing a fast pace and vicious forecheck against a Bull team that hadn’t seen SCHSHL game action in 20 days. The constant grinding worked to the T-Birds advantage as they turned a 2-1 deficit into four unanswered goals and the eventual 5-3 victory.
Kollmar said he expects his full line-up, minus injured James Farino and Joseph Bizzaro, to be at his disposal Monday night, with Brett Ficken starting between the pipes for Game 1.
If you tuned in for these two teams last meeting televised for MSG Varsity’s Gametime, you may recall Ficken coming the middle of the game, relieving starting goaltender Trevor Von Kampen, and stealing the show with two straight point-blank shots in his first 15 seconds of action without any warm-up.
It was the type of show-stealing performance that had color-commentator Chris King saying, “are you kidding me?”
“I’m really confident about both of our goalies,” Kollmar said. “To me that’s one of our strongest areas.”
Strong goaltending, high scoring, and two pretty balanced teams. One team has to give, right?
“(The guys have to get their) legs going to get moving really quick and have to set somebody back on their heels – I think that’s what it’s going to be about,” Kollmar considered. “Who’s going to be able to establish themselves? Who’s going to bend without breaking?”
That’s simply not a surprise.
Contact Tom Liodice at firstname.lastname@example.org
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