BY MICHAEL KELLY
CLIFTON PARK — Through the Shenendehowa hockey team’s first month of action, the Plainsmen sported a disappointing overall record.
A deceiving one, too.
Within the Plainsmen’s first eight games, Shenendehowa went 2-6 — and played six of those games against teams ranked in the top 11 of the first state poll released in 2016. Adding to the brutal nature of the team’s opening games was that the Plainsmen came into the 2015-16 season with one of their least experienced rosters in recent years.
That rough start, though, has not deterred the Plainsmen, who say the early-season lumps they took have not dissuaded them from believing a big finish is possible.
“This first month has gotten us ready for the rest of the season,” Shenendehowa senior Adam Mackey said.
“We know what kind of team we are now,” added Hayden Haldane, a junior for the team.
If the first games of 2016 were any indication, what the Plainsmen are is a team on an upswing. Shenendehowa showed that about itself in its Jan. 6 game against Queensbury, a road affair which the Plainsmen won 1-0 in overtime to snap a two-game losing skid.
“There was no doubt we’d have a test with Queensbury. They’re very physical and we had to keep our heads,” said Haldane, who scored the game-winning goal. “Getting that win in overtime, it was a relief and gave us that taste again of what winning felt like.”
“The game plan was set and we executed it. That a big win,” Shenendehowa head coach Scott Louis said. “That was a first step.”
The next step came two days later, when the Plainsmen used a frantic finish to score a 3-2 win Jan. 8 against Burnt Hills/Ballston Spa, a program that upset Shenendehowa in the 2014-15 postseason’s semifinals. Down 2-1 in this year’s game, the Plainsmen scored a pair of goals in the final three minutes — including a game-winner from senior Marty McCrudden with 1:22 to go — to exact some revenge for last year’s loss.
More important than that, though, was that the victory represented another positive step for the Plainsmen within the Capital District High School Hockey League. Despite Shenendehowa’s overall sub-.500 record, Louis’ team was 3-1 through Jan. 10 in CDHSHL action, which had the Plainsmen tied for second place — behind Saratoga Springs — with Bethlehem and CBA.
Mackey said the season’s first month was a “learning experience” for the Plainsmen as they worked new players into their lineups and rotations.
“We know what’s going on from here,” Mackey said. “We’ve seen who has what [skills], who works well together. It’s been all about figuring things out — our lines, power plays, [everything].”
Seemingly each season, the CDHSHL produces at least one team from Section II that gets hot in January and positions itself for a postseason run that would have been unexpected based on early-season results.
Shenendehowa’s first-year head coach said his team can be that team.
“But I don’t want us to to peak too early, either, because there’s a lot of season left,” Louis said. “We’re taking it one game at a time, one period at a time, one shift at a time.”
Haldane said the team’s players believe in that approach. While the season’s first month was a struggle to get through, he said the team’s losses left its players longing to put together a great January.
“We’re going to come out hungry and ready to go,” he said.