pblackwell, Sun, March 15th, 2009
It wasn't just that New Hartford won the state Division II ice hockey championship Sunday afternoon at Utica Auditorium, matching the feat of its 1997 predecessors.
No, it was the way they got there - with complete and utter domination, with the sole exception of that regional final where it needed three third-period goals to rally past Webster Thomas.
Cortland/Homer got pasted. Skaneateles got cast aside. The 9-0 romp over Corcoran in the sectional final at the War Memorial was downright scary - there were FOUR short-handed goals.
And as it turned out, this weekend's state final four turned out to be a New Hartford showcase, done with more than 2,000 partisans in attendance, roaring from start to finish.
First came Kenmore East in the state semifinals on Saturday. This was a steady, methodical task, with two goals in each period and the unstoppable line of Mike Zalewski, Tom Fiorentino and Alex Fukes adding to the margin.
It ended 6-1, and that meant a date in the Sunday championship game against Pelham, who nudged past Goshen Burke 3-2 in the other semifinal.
For much of the first period, New Hartfofd banged away at the Pelham net, waiting for that breakthrough goal.
And once Fiorentino did convert off a scramble late in the period, the dam burst again, as Andrew Kelleher took the ensuing faceoff and scored just 12 seconds later to make it 2-0. Clayton Whittemore added a dagger less than a minute before the period ended.
Up 3-0, New Hartford doubled the margin in the second period as Zalewski (the tournament MVP), Fukes and Jason Fitzgerald took turns scoring.
All the while, goalie Dylan Smith, whose older brother lost a state final in OT in 1998, got family atonement by having a superb effort in the net, backed by a deep and underrated defense.
The final ended just as the semifinal did, 6-1. Talk about domination - in those six playoff wins, New Hartford outscored their opponents a combined 36-6. Which begs the question - could any Division I team have beaten these guys?
Well, we do know that Greece Athena/Odyssey, AKA the Thunder, went its entire season without tasting defeat as it won the state Division I crown.
That meant the Thunder first had to beat West Genesee in Saturday's semifinal, a chance for the Wildcats to inch closer to redemption for the brutal triple-OT loss to Massena in the '08 state title game.
Twice, WG took the lead in the first period. Twice, the Thunder answered, then tacked on two more goals late in the period to take charge for good. WG had never allowed four goals in a single period all winter.
Try as it could, the Wildcats simply could not put the puck in the net, even though it outshot Greece 32-18. The Thunder won, 5-2, then rallied past Mamaroneck 3-2 a day later to win it all.
Put it all together, and Greece won 27 straight games this winter. Then again, the Thunder never had to face New Hartford. Don't you wish that game could happen right now?