Bethlehem hockey team reaches new heights in 2009-10

The Bethlehem hockey team may have come up short in its bid to win a Section II title, but it can't diminish what the Eagles accomplished this season:

A Capital Distrcit High School Hockey League divisional title.

Its first Sectional championship game appearance.

Six CDHSHL All-Stars.

Its first CDHSL scoring leader (Stephen Russo) and leading goaltender (Alex Cooper).

Its first league player of the year award winner (Cooper).

A record number of wins (15).

And the Eagles accomplished all of it in Andre Rodrigue's first year as the team's head coach, and in a season in which they had to raise money so they could play.

Rodrigue said the difference was changing the culture surrounding a program that had long struggled to reach the league's upper echelon.

I'm a very high intensity kind of guy when it comes to hockey, said Rodrigue, who came into the program after coaching several years with Bethlehem Youth Hockey. "I was in their faces, and I constantly reinforced things to them. I constantly reminded them that working hard will result in great things on the ice."

Bethlehem's new attitude was evident from the get-go. The Eagles opened the season Nov. 28 by beating traditional league powerhouse LaSalle 4-2.

"We were underdogs going into that first game, and that was something we had to set aside," said Rodrigue. "I told the guys we couldn't think of ourselves as underdogs."

That attitude served Bethlehem well during the regular season. The Eagles recorded regular season victories over defending Section II Division I champion Shaker/Colonie and defending Division II champ Queensbury, and they earned their first-ever point against Shenendehowa by tying the Plainsmen 2-2 Jan. 16.

Bethlehem's 14-3-2 regular season record earned it the Division II regular season title and the top seed in Sectionals. A 7-1 semifinal victory over Burnt Hills/Ballston Spa Feb. 25 propelled the Eagles into their first Sectional final.

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