Niagara-Wheatfield’s third consecutive league title highlighted Monday’s three championship games at day two of the 30th annual Super Sunday High School Hockey Championships.
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St. Joe’s 4 – Bishop Timon-St. Jude 2
After a shaky start to the season led to a 6-10 record, head coach Rich Crozier rallied his St. Joe’s squad in the face of adversity. Their journey back to the top of the Monsignor Martin Association concluded with a gritty, hard-fought 4-2 victory over Bishop Timon-St. Jude.
St. Joe’s goaltender and championship MVP Peter Chopra was phenomenal in net for the Marauders, stopping 29 of 31 Timon shots in the win. Dominic Perna led all scorers in the game with two goals and an assist. Connor McKenna and Nicholas Zenger also scored as St. Joe’s beat Timon for the second straight year in the Monsignor Martin championship.
“This one’s a little bit different from last year,” Crozier said. “Obviously we’re playing some great hockey at the right time. There was certainly a lot of pressure last year to win it. This year, we felt that we needed to peak at the right time, and thankfully for our sake that happened.”
Jack Robinson and Justin Blake scored for the Tigers in the loss. Most notably, St. Joe’s was able to keep Section VI’s leading scorer, Timon forward Connor Fields, off the scoresheet.
“They’re a great team,” Crozier said in reference to Timon. “We needed to change some things up. I’m just proud of these boys that they bought into it. As a couple of coaches alluded to, we’ve been fortunate enough over the last year or two that we’ve been able to just put a system together and flex our muscles.
“The plan was to stop certain players on their team, and the fact that after 15 minutes they hadn’t scored on us, that was a relief and certainly it started to build even more momentum for us to believe we could do this.”
Chopra’s play in net led the way for the Marauders, and the goaltender was awarded the team’s hard hat after the game for the effort exerted in limiting the Timon attack. Crozier was quick to credit Chopra for keeping the team in the game.
“Here’s a kid that had a devastating loss last year in the championship, 3-2 in overtime. It’s a tough way to lose a game, and you know he had something to prove. Peter’s been fantastic; he was outstanding against Canisius [in the semifinals], and then today as well. He was the MVP, in my opinion.”
Having senior leadership from players like Perna was a huge boon for Crozier’s squad as they turned their season around.
“Dom’s a unique talent, and we’re very fortunate to have him. I would agree that we leaned on our senior leadership, and then a couple of those younger guys that were here last year.”
St. Joe’s will now travel to Long Island to compete in the NY State Catholic high school hockey championship. The Marauders will take on St. Anthony’s at Nassau Coliseum on March 1 at 6:15 p.m.
Williamsville East 3 – Kenmore East 2
For the third time in four seasons, the Williamsville East Flames and Kenmore East Bulldogs met in the Federation small school championship. After winning in 2011 and losing in 2012, Williamsville East found the perseverance to defeat the Kenmore East Bulldogs this time around by a score of 3-2.
Senior captain Jason Cohen led the Flames with two points in the game, including the game-winning goal in the third period.
“Coach [Mike Torrillo] always just says get it to the net, we do that all the time in practice. I just saw it there, I actually tried to get it to my buddy [Alex] Finley up in front, but the puck was just laying there. I was having a pretty bad game, so I just redeemed myself and kept going at it, and it crossed the line. It was the best feeling in the world.”
Cohen has been a member of all of the last four Williamsville East teams to appear in the championship game. This win was his second with the Flames, the other being a win over Kenmore East back in 2011. Cohen and the Flames lost to Kenmore East and West Seneca West in 2012 and 2013, respectively.
“First year we won, it was the best year of my life. Second year we came back against these guys, and they took it to us pretty hard [Kenmore East won that game by a score of 9-2]. The third year was a nail-biter. But I love the team this year, we all have good chemistry and work for each other, and it was nice to get the win.”
The game began at a rapid pace, with Williamsville East’s Mike Mostowy and Kenmore East’s David Christopher trading goals in the game’s first four minutes. That tie would last until 23 seconds into the second period, as Trevor Pray gave the Bulldogs their only lead of the game.
Dylan Cicero beat Kenmore East goaltender Luke Stewart at the 8:25 mark of the second period with assists from Cohen and Matt Steffan, and then Cohen’s third-period goal proved to be the one to clinch the championship.
Niagara-Wheatfield 3 – Williamsville North 2
Before the year, the Niagara-Wheatfield Falcons set out to do what no Section VI team had done before: win three consecutive championships. It took three goals for the Falcons to win that third championship over the Williamsville North Spartans by a score of 3-2.
Justin Durkee, the Falcons’ leading scorer, provided the game-winning goal at 8:49 of the second period. Domenic Senese and James Stenzel led all Niagara-Wheatfield scorers with a goal and an assist each.
Williamsville North got on the board early with two goals in the first 1:46 of play on Falcons goaltender Nate Sommers. Zach Kurbiel got the scoring started 59 seconds into the first period, followed by Brian Couto just 47 seconds later on a long shot from the point that made its way through a maze of players in front.
After the quick start, Niagara-Wheatfield head coach Rick Wrazin had to help his team wipe the slate clean and play a much better game over the final 43 minutes of regulation.
“It wasn’t the way we wanted to start the game, that’s for sure,” Wrazin said. “I can’t say enough of how I proud I am [of the team] for coming back after dropping two. You see a lot of good teams, in a game like that, have that kind of start and end up giving it away. They hung in there, they came back.”
While the Falcons were held scoreless most of the first, they controlled much of the possession through the period. Niagara-Wheatfield finally got on the board with 1:01 left in the first period on a goal by Senese.
The second period was where the game was won by the Falcons. Just over six minutes into the period, Stenzel beat Spartans goaltender Matthew Ladd assisted by Senese and Dakota Becker. At the 8:49 mark of the second, it was Durkee who found the puck to the right of Ladd and buried the rebound for the eventual game-winning goal.
Durkee, who was also named MVP of the game, was at a loss for words talking about the feelings of scoring the championship-winning goal.
“It feels good, I don’t really know how to explain it,” he said. “I just remember [forward Matt] Paonessa was in the corner, and they were all over him for that shift. He just passed it in front, and I was stunned at first when I got it, but eventually I put it in. He’s unbelievable at passing so I knew I was going to get it.”
Wrazin acknowledged that the secondary scoring was necessary to pull out the win against a great team like Williamsville North.
“For us, we counted on our one line most of the year, so it’s great to see it spreading around in the playoffs. We knew we had guys that could do it; they were squeezing the stick a little bit earlier in the season. When it comes time for the playoffs, everyone’s got to play the same way and they got back to playing hockey the right way and now the points and the goals are coming for them.”
The three-time defending champions were elated that they met the lofty goals set before the offseason. The win against Williamsville North represented a tremendous accomplishment for the Niagara-Wheatfield program.
“We had the goal of the ‘threepeat’ from the start, but we didn’t say it,” said Wrazin. “We said early on it was our goal to win the third, and then we decided we weren’t going to talk about it again. We knew we wanted it, and I can’t say enough how proud I am of them for bearing down at the end of the season.”
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