The Bulls of the Smithtown/Hauppauge hockey club have hit their stride at the right time.
The number-two ranked team in the Suffolk County High School Hockey League is set to face off with Connetquot/Sayville in search of its first title since 2000-2001 Monday night at 9:40 p.m. from The Rinx in Hauppauge.
It will be the Bulls second appearance in the SCHSHL finals in three years, and it’s a place that head coach Vincent Granice feels his team deserves.
“Was there a guarantee that we should be there? No. Did I feel we deserved it? Absolutely,” Granice said. “With our record and the way we played all year as a team, I would’ve been extremely disappointed if we had lost (in the playoffs) because I thought that we were one of the top teams and deserved to be in the finals.”
As for the Bulls hitting their stride?
Sure, it may seem like a silly thing to say about a team that has a 21-1 record (including playoffs), but the Bulls have had to deal with a topsy-turvy schedule, which saw them play their last six regular season games in 44 days.
It was a long stretch that may have affected the Bulls chemistry on the ice, despite their 5-1 finish in those contests.
“The schedule was a little crazy for us down the stretch. We didn’t have a tremendous amount of games after Christmas. We had a game mid-December, and then we were off for a long time until we faced Connetquot,” Granice said. “Then we had one game each week, and then off for two weeks again so our schedule wasn’t very good to us towards the end as far as playing the games.
“Early on in the season we were playing a game, two games a week and the way the schedule fell out it was just top-heavy,” Granice continued. “It was nice playing every week. “
The Bulls also had to deal with an underlying fight with their finals opponents to earn the number one seed in the SCHSHL, a fight that began following their aforementioned 5-3 loss to Connetquot in early January. It was a loss that was tough to swallow, but it made the Bulls stronger and more relaxed in the end.
“You’ll see a team on Monday night that’s a little more relaxed, and a little more prepared to play like we played in the previous game where we were victorious,” Granice said. “As far as the outcome goes, I’m not going to give you that, but I think you’ll see a much more relaxed team.”
The fight for first may have fallen short by just eight goals in the goals against column, but for Coach Granice it didn’t matter where his team placed, it was only a matter of getting to the finals.
“It would’ve been nice to finish number one overall,” Granice said. “It also would’ve been nice to accomplish the undefeated season, but whether we finish first or second, to me it didn’t make much of a difference.”
Smithtown/Hauppauge is looking forward to opening its best-of-three series against the T-Birds, especially with the way the Bulls have been rolling following a first round victory over West Islip. It was a game, despite a lopsided score (12-2) that Coach Granice thought his team needed to get prepared for the later rounds.
“In the playoffs I had to keep my team on the go. I didn’t want them to take any time off as far as not playing,” Granice said. “So I just told them to go out there and play the game ‘full metal.’ Whatever happens, happens.”
If the Bulls play the way they have been playing, whatever happens will surely be a series to remember.
Contact Tom Liodice at firstname.lastname@example.org
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