The things Wahconah’s hockey team needed last season have allowed it to reach the Western Mass. Division III-A semifinals again -- and without needing a few things that were necessary a year ago.
The 2012-13 team had scoring. It had the state’s leading scorer, in fact, in Ryan Ouimet. The team also had a knack for comebacks, as evidenced by a four-goal rally in the last 3 minutes of last year’s quarterfinal round to beat Easthampton.
What the Warriors could have used last year, though, were players. Healthy players. Skating players.
Wahconah hit the ice for its semifinal last season with nine players available, plus goalie Roger Stedman. He had no backup.
Tonight at 6 in the Olympia Ice Center, the 2013-14 Warriors will meet No. 6 seed Belcher town with a full complement of skaters.
"We’ve got more players, and it’s a lot easier with a stacked bench," Wahconah’s Devon Battaini said after Thursday’s 4-2 quarterfinal win over Easthampton.
Battaini was one of the walking wounded last year for the Warriors. A ruptured spleen kept him out of the lineup as Wahconah finished a 15-5-1 season with its semifinal run.
He made up for lost time last week, scoring twice to lead No. 2 seed Wahconah into tonight’s semifinal. They’ll meet a Belchertown team that upset No. 3 Chicopee Comp 3-0 in the quarterfinals. A Wahconah win would give Berkshire County its first Western Mass. hockey finalist since Taconic in 2009.
With a full bench, and a number of different scoring threats as opposed to just two or three last season, the Warriors ride an 11-game win streak into the semifinal round.
"We’re just playing a lot harder, and we can do that, because we’ve got people to go out and play for us," Battaini said.
Stedman is back in net this year, though he was sidelined for much of the regular season after suffering a concussion early on. Nico Romano filled in for him during that time, and helped Wahconah lock down Berkshire County’s best record.
Now Stedman is between the pipes again, backstopping the Warriors through the postseason.
"He’s solid, absolutely," Wahconah coach Don Disbrow said. "He’s having a good season. Unfortunately, it was four games at the beginning of the season and four games at the end."
Wahconah wasn’t the only Berkshire County team that made a deep postseason run last year -- St. Joseph, in what turned out to be its final season of hockey, also reached the semifinal round.
Dan Flynn was in a Crusader uniform for that run, scoring the winning goal in a 5-3 upset of Chicopee in the quarterfinals.
Now he’s wearing Wahconah blue and white, as Mount Greylock joined the Wahconah co-op program after the St. Joe co-op dissolved. Flynn -- like many other Warriors such as Jeff Hancock, Patrick Jamross, Hjalmar Gustafsson and others -- is providing a spark the Warriors need any time his skates hit the ice.
"Flynner’s got good speed," Disbrow said. "He’s one of those kids who’s relentless on the ice. He’s going to be on top of people. He’s going to be in their face."
That, and a few extra lines of skaters, just might be enough to keep Wahconah’s season going.
To reach Matthew Sprague:
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