Smithtown-Hauppauge hockey doesn't have much time to ease into the New Year as it tries to repeat as league champion, but the Bulls are poised to make a midseason charge.
Smithtown-Hauppauge, which sits fourth in the Suffolk standings, opens the second half of the season with six games in the next 11 days, beginning Sunday night against first-place Half Hollow Hills. After that, the Bulls will face off with second-place Connetquot-Sayville on Wednesday, third-place St. John the Baptist on Jan. 13, and Hills again on Jan. 14, with games against likely playoff-bound Kings Park-Commack Monday and St. Anthony's Club on Jan. 16.
"If we want to finish in the top four, we've got to get at least four of the next six games," Smithtown-Hauppauge coach Vincent Granice said. "It makes it difficult with the schedule cramped like this but we have to stick to our game plan and see where we are at the end of it."
Smithtown-Hauppauge (18 points) trails both Hills and Connetquot-Sayville by just six points, and has two games in hand on both teams. The Bulls are also just two points behind St. John the Baptist with one game in hand, so success against the league's best could put Smithtown-Hauppauge in the driver's seat for the top seed heading into the playoffs.
"We're eager to see how we fare against the top teams," Granice said. "It's all about our style. If we stick to our system, we can stop anybody."
That system relies heavily on team defense. The Bulls look to clog up the neutral zone and play at a slower pace in front of goalie Thomas DeRosa, and have allowed just 23 goals through 11 games. Another key is their power play, which is led by Daniel Nelson and Michael Goia, and the unit has scored five times in the last three games.
"We don't allow a lot of goals and our power play has picked up," Granice said. "With Nelson and Goia, if they score, we usually win."