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The NYIHSHL Semifinals Preview



With Ian Benhke and Travis Quigley

Why do we re-seed in the post-season? Is it because of the fact that of the original eight teams in Conference I, only four remain? Is it about determining the strength of schedule for next season? Actually, re-seeding occurs so that the worst-seeded team will always match up against the highest-seeded remaining team in the next round. We re-seed to signify that that once you make it this deep into the post-season, the regular season still matters and that the highest seeded team maintains an advantage throughout the playoffs even though any of the four remaining clubs have what it takes to win it all. It certainly seems that any team can win ahead of tonight’s NYIHSHL Semifinals double header at Long Beach Municipal Ice Arena. 

The Long Beach Marines are returning home as the # four seed following a decisive victory over the upstart RHC ER Hewlett Cyclones in the play-in round followed by a 4-3 victory over a strong Half Hollow Hills Hornets team. The Syosset Braves have moved into the # three seed after narrowly escaping an upset in a 3-2 overtime win over the VSSL Storm. There was no further movement at the top as the #two seed Bellmore-Merrick Bulldogs and # 1 seed Bethpage Eagles won their quarterfinal matchups in decisive fashion. So what happens now? 

Can Richie Behr Jr. and the Long Beach Marines keep their title hopes alive against a Bethpage Eagles squad led by Marko Lisica? Does Nick Summa have what it takes to step into the shoes of last season’s Finals MVP, Cameron Scher, and lead the Syosset Braves to their second consecutive Championship Series victory? Can Nico Buglione and Nick Drogan lead the Bellmore-Merrick Bulldogs to the promise land? And do the Eagles have the depth to win it all? 

Ian Benhke is back with his picks for Friday’s matchups as Travis Quigley joins in on the fun with his own hot takes.  

The Matchups

The 3rd Seed Syosset Braves v. The 2nd Seed Bellmore-Merrick at Long Beach Municipal Ice Arena with Puck Drop set for 7:45 PM 

Behnke’s Pick: Bellmore-Merrick Bulldogs

A really intriguing matchup in the regular season, the Braves and Bulldogs split the season series. Syosset won the first game, 3-0, as Nick Summa made 29 saves in a spectacular shutout. The second affair was a hotly contested 2-1 victory for Bellmore-Merrick, as a late comeback effort for the Braves fell just short. While defenses showed up big time in regular season battles between these two, offensive firepower seems destined to determine this postseason tilt.

On that note, Bellmore-Merrick led NYIHSHL Conference I in goals scored (78) and goal differential (+31) this season, which might give them the edge. They’ve also only lost one game after dropping the November affair with Syosset. After recording three assists in the quarterfinal against Massapequa, look for Nick Drogan to be a key playmaker for the Bulldogs. On the other side, Patrick Mianulli is sure to be hungry for more after scoring the overtime game winner against Valley Stream on Wednesday. Expect him to try to keep the momentum going for Syosset by getting an early goal.

Quigley’s Pick: Bellmore-Merrick Bulldogs

Syosset and Bellmore-Merrick split the regular season series so it should be a tight game. Bulldogs scored the most goals in Conference 1 in the regular season and Nico Buglione led the way with 11. The Braves are coming in with confidence high after the OT win over VSSL and are a team that plays disciplined and structured as they have had 9 one goal games this season. Zach Noll has been crucial in the face off circle, scored the tying goal to send the QF to overtime and will be heavily relied upon in the semi finals.

Ziskin’s Pick: Bellmore-Merrick Bulldogs  

The Bellmore-Merrick Bulldogs dropped three consecutive contests to open the season against the Long Beach Marines, Bethpage Eagles and Syosset Braves. Surprise, surprise all three teams are still left standing and last year’s county champions boast nine seniors, looking to complete their very own last dance. The Bulldogs lead the league in goals scored and they don’t give up much either. Since being outscored 11-4 in their first 3 games, the Bulldogs have scored 75 goals in 12 games while allowing 36 goals against. The Bulldogs have gone 11-1 when scoring the first goal as opposed to 1-3 when they give up the first goal. It will fall upon the captain, Noah Zinman, and netminder Joey Braglia to ensure Bellmore-Merrick doesn’t give up the first goal. The Bulldogs have nine skaters with over ten points in the regular season. Nick Drogan led the team in points with 22 in the regular season while Nico Buglione and Jourdan Luskoff weren’t far behind with 16 apiece. That being said my name to watch is Anthony Max Vitale aka A-Max, who scored the eventual game winner the last time these two teams squared off.  

The Syosset Braves came roaring out of the gates with four wins in their first five games before back-to-back losses to the Bethpage Eagles and Massapequa Chiefs took the wind out of their sails. That loss to ‘Pequa is especially noteworthy since Syosset’s two leading scorers, Roman Arroyo and Jack Bahrenberg, were each suspended for four games during the 5-4 loss. Robert Engel was suspended for two games and Brady Lichtenstein was suspended for four games. David Disque was suspended for six games and will not be eligible for post-season action. The Braves haven’t been the same team since, playing .500 hockey in their last eight games before just squeaking by the Bulldogs. If the Braves can recapture their early form then they can win this game. Will last season’s leading scorer, Jake Gagliano, step up when it matters most? What about Zack Noll who scored to force OT against the Storm? Does Patrick Mianulli have another big goal in him? Or will it be Roman Arroyo and Jack Bahrenburg who take the reins down the stretch? Only time will tell. 

The 4th Seed Long Beach Marines v. The 1st Seed Bethpage Eagles at Long Beach Municipal Ice Arena with Puck Drop set for 9:30 PM 

Behnke’s Pick: Bethpage Eagles

It seems odd to be calling the Marines a Cinderella story, but that’s the role they’re embracing. Needing to go through the play-in round to even make it to the quarterfinals, they passed that test with flying colors. They followed that up with a gritty 4-3 victory over Half Hollow Hills on Wednesday. Bethpage had a much easier route to the semifinals as the top seed and they took that into Tuesday’s 6-2 win over Roslyn. During the regular season, the Marines and Eagles split the series. Long Beach won decisively in early December, to the tune of a six-goal margin, while the January match saw three first period goals for Bethpage spark them to a 4-1

This game is shaping up to be a close affair. Matt Marino and Matteo Bellise have been key contributors over the last few weeks for these teams, which turns the attention to the offenses. Bethpage scored 19 more goals than Long Beach this season, over a goal more per game on average. Early goals can be devastating in playoff games, just ask Garden City. Bethpage scored twice in 31 seconds around the four minute mark against Roslyn, and they’re primed to do it again to silence an anticipated packed house in Long Beach. Stavros Likourentzos always finds a way to contribute on offense for the Eagles, and he’s looking to follow up on his three point night in the quarterfinal. For Long Beach, they’ll look to give the fans something to cheer about. If Luke Pichichero can kickstart the special teams, as he did with goals while on the power play and shorthanded against the Hornets, it would send the fans into a frenzy and the Marines into the next round

Quigley’s Pick: Long Beach Marines

Bethpage won the season series 2-1 over the Marines and gave up the second fewest goals over the regular season. Goalie Matteo Bellise led the league with 11 wins and was inside the top 10 with a .913 sv%. The Marines are the only team left standing from the play in round and will use the rocking Long Beach crowd to their advantage. Daniel McArdle has been their top Dman all season, has 5 assists through 2 playoff games and he’ll see a lot of minutes against Bethpage’s top line.

Ziskin’s pick: Bethpage Eagles 

Marko Lisica is really good at hockey, so good that the Eagles have gone 8-1 with him in the lineup. With all that in mind, I’m not just picking the Eagles because of Lisica. I don’t feel the need to touch on Bethpage’s starting goaltender Matteo Bellise or the league’s leading scorer Stavros Likourentzos because their game has done the talking for them all season long. Let’s talk about the Bethpage blue line led by Jake Kelly. The excellent two-way defenseman can tilt the ice in his club’s favor, but if he can’t stay out of the box it could spell trouble for the Eagles late in the game. If Kelly finds himself back in the sin bin then it will be up to quality defenders like Jack Lapertosa, Nick Morgan, Michael Sheehan and Justin Verdi to hold the down the fort for the Eagles. 

Richie Behr Jr. and Daniel McArdle have been dominant in back-to-back wins for a Marines squad which has proven it’s better than their regular season record would indicate. The Marines have readily embraced being the underdogs, so much so that I’ve been asked not to pick them to win. Matt Marino has been rock solid in goal for a Marines team that has gave up the third fewest goals in Conference I. There’s just one problem I can’t wrap my head around, the Marines just aren’t winning games in Long Beach this season. Yeah, I was shocked as well to be honest with you. The Marines won three of their first four at Long Beach Municipal Ice Center to start the season before dropping four straight games in their home arena. The Marines got back to .500 in Long Beach courtesy of a 6-0 win and a forfeit win over the Spartans. Mike Calvi, Luke Pichichero and Liam Young were key pieces in the programs quarterfinals victory over the Hornets. If the Marines are going to shock the league yet again then it will fall upon one of their rising stars to make something happen tonight against the Bulldogs. 

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