SARANAC LAKE - Saranac Lake head hockey coach Will Ellsworth had never led a team onto the ice that had less than a dozen players dressed and ready for a game.
On Wednesday, Ellsworth only had 11, but it turned out to be enough as the injury-riddled Red Storm claimed a 5-1 victory over Saranac Central at the Civic Center.
The Chiefs grabbed a 1-0 edge in the first period, but the Red Storm answered with two in the second and three more in the third to improve to 2-2-1 in the Champlain Valley Athletic Conference and 5-6-4 overall.
Saranac Lake’s Blake Battistoni, right, and Saranac Central’s Ryan McCall focus on an airborne puck during Wednesday’s Champlain Valley Athletic Conference game at the Saranac Lake Civic Center.
(Enterprise photo — Lou Reuter)
Grant Strack paced Saranac Lake with two goals and one assist, Christian Thomas scored a goal and added an assist, and Quinn Urquhart chipped in two assists. Nick Bayruns and Brad Shumway each scored once to round out the Red Storm offense.
At the other end of the rink, Justin Farmer made 20 saves to earn his second win in goal in the five starts he has made since replacing an injured Blake Darrah.
"Just for the overall morale of this team, we really needed a 'W'," Ellsworth said. "We had 11 dressed today. That's the fewest I've ever had as a coach here. We have seven players scratched from the lineup with injuries, and hopefully we will have six of them back."
Earlier in the day, Ellsworth told his team they would be down another player when forward Ethan Sawyer was dropped from the lineup with an injured back. With Sawyer out, the Red Storm hit the ice with seven forwards, three defensmen and Farmer as the team's only goaltender. Shumway, a senior defenseman, logged 30 minutes of playing time in the game.
"It was really nice as coaches to get the win, but it was even more important for those guys in the locker room," Ellsworth said. "Our guys have endured a lot, and I'm proud of their effort tonight."
Despite owning an 11-3 edge in shots on goal in the first period, the Red Storm struggled with early turnovers, and fortunately for the hosts, the Chiefs were only able to capitalize on one of them. That came when Saranac captain Matt McCasland scored 10:28 into the game after Saranac Lake coughed the puck up at the Chiefs' blue line and Saranac mounted a charge into the Red Storm's zone. McCasland beat Farmer from in close with assists going to Kyle Erickson and Jacob Lilledahl.
Saranac Lake then rallied by scoring the game's next five goals, including a pair in the middle stanza that both came off rebounds. Strack, a senior captain, netted the Red Storm's first goal at the 9:42 mark when he poked home a puck after Chiefs netminder Zach Lareau stopped a first shot from Urquhart. Thomas followed with what proved to be the game-winner at the 11:43 mark, banging in another rebound with Strack and Urquhart assisting as Saranac Lake went on top 2-1.
The Red Storm put the game out of reach with three goals in the final period. Strack scored his second at the 7:25 mark for a 3-1 lead, Bayruns notched Saranac Lake's fourth goal less than a minute later, and Shumway rounded out the scoring when he completed an end-to-end rush on a goal with 3:36 remaining in the game.
Saranac Lake finished with a 38-21 edge in shots on goal. Lareau made 33 saves for Saranac Central.
"Even though we fell behind in the first period, we really outshot them early," Ellsworth said. "This is the first time this season we really put three solid periods together. The guys stuck with our system, and we kept it simple."
With the loss, a tough season continued for the Chiefs, who remained winless in CVAC play and fell to 2-12-1 overall.
"We've had a really tough time getting shots off," Saranac coach Ed Davis said. "We've had a tough time moving into the zone, and our seniors, especially, are very discouraged right now. The good thing is that this is the preseason. We're working toward the playoffs, and whatever team gets hot then is going to take it."
Saranac Lake and Saranac Central will tangle for the second time on Monday, again on Red Storm ice at the Civic Center. The Chiefs were originally slated to host the contest but ice wasn't available on their home rink at the SUNY Plattsburgh Field House.
Saranac Lake 5, Saranac Central 1
1. S, McCasland (Erickson, Lilledahl), 10:28.
2. SL, Strack (Urquhart), 9:42; 3. SL, Thomas (Strack, Urquhart), 11:43.
4. SL, Strack, 7:25; 5. SL, Bayruns (Thomas), 6. SL, Shumway, 11:24.
Shots on goal: Saranac 21, Saranac Lake 38.
Saves: S, Lareau 33; SL, Farmer 20.