Goals were easy to come by for Niagara-Wheatfield. Not so for West Seneca West and St. Joe’s.
The three schools do have something in common. They are champions who will look to add some state hardware to their boys’ hockey title collections.
In a clash between two of the top-ranked teams in the state, St. Joe’s proved to be just a little grittier and made fewer mistakes against Bishop Timon-St. Jude in taking 3-2 decision in the Niagara Cup Final (the game formerly known as the Federation Catholic playoff championship). Zachary Klapp scored the game-winner with 5:31 left after pouncing on a giveaway in front of the Timon net to help the Marauders advance to Saturday night’s state Catholic final at Dwyer Arena in Lewiston against defending champion St. Anthony’s, L.I.
“It’s every kid’s dream growing up playing in driveway tied game, last few minutes of a game and you go down and score,” Klapp said.
In the Federation’s Section VI Large School final, Domenic Senese had a hat trick to highlight a five-point effort for Niagara-Wheatfield in a 7-2 rout of first-time finalist Clarence on Monday. The Falcons won their second straight title and third in five seasons in the Fed.
“Big arena, big stage, you just have to come in and hopefully do big things,” said Senese, who was a freshman on junior varsity last season. “Watching the title celebration last year gives you chills. Being a part of it this year is an unreal feeling.”
Senior Jamie Tobias’ hat trick, and an excellent save from classmate Dalton Kruger carried W.S. West to its first Section VI Small Schools championship, 4-2 over Williamsville East.
St. Joe’s entered its final against Timon ranked second among state private schools in the myhockey.com poll. The Tigers came in ranked fourth.
The game lived up to main-event status as both teams had their resilient moments. The Marauders bolted to a 2-0 lead on goals by Eric Paradowski and Dennis Gilbert, the latter with 19.5 seconds left in the second period.
The Tigers needed just 6:23 to catch up in the third period. Connor Fields scored off a Mike Faliero assist. Trey McGee tied it on the power play when Faliero’s wide shot from the left point caromed perfectly to McGee at the right circle.
Then Klapp stepped up, picking off an errant breakout pass between the circle and beating Bob Milewski (27 saves) on a one-on-one chance to secure the program’s ninth Fed playoff title and second in three years.
Nicholas George made 18 stops for St. Joe’s (24-2-1), winners of 17 straight games.
“We really preached hard work and work ethic and that’s what it took,” Marauders coach Rich Crozier said. “I’m so proud of the boys.”
In the tripleheader opener, the goal count chant made a brief return to FNC, as N-W fans gleefully adopted the traditional mantra heard at Buffalo Sabres games during a win. The Falcons, who came in averaging 4.07 goals per, hit that mark before the end of the first period. Frank Vecchio II started the onslaught at 51 seconds. Senese capped it with 12.4 seconds to go in the first period, during which Anthony Merante and Justin Durkee also scored.
After the Red Devils missed a couple early chances in the second period, the Falcons poured it on with three goals in 2:30. Matthew Paonessa began the burst capped by Senese’s final two goals. Nate Sommers made 33 saves for the win.
“It can come from anywhere on this team. … Today was Dom’s turn,” said coach Rick Wrazin, who led the Falcons to their third title in five seasons. “We’re real proud of what the boys did. We had 15 new kids and seven seniors come in who believed they could play.”
Matt Colicchia and Frank Willhauck scored for Clarence.
In the Small School Final, Kruger made what W.S. West coach Kevin Rozo called “the biggest save in program history” with the game tied 1-1 with 8:39 left in the second period. Kruger thwarted Williamsville East’s Jason Cohen (one goal) on the doorstep after the forward accepted a feed in front and went around the sprawled goalie. Cohen’s backhand seemed to be heading in but Kruger stretched his glove back to stop it on the goal line. The Indians lead 3-1 at the end of the period.
Brandon Bork (three assists) scored shorthanded two minutes later on a quick one-touch redirect off a Pat Ciancio feed on the doorstep of Will East goalie Adam Dentico (32 saves). Tobias knocked in a rebound on a 3-on-0 rush with 12.4 seconds left to make it 3-1.
Austin Bianchi’s power-play goal with 8:10 left pulled East within a goal. The Flames couldn’t beat Kruger, who made 11 of his 25 saves in the final period.
“It feels great winning a team championship,” said Tobias, a two-sport winter athlete who will run in the state indoor track and field meet Saturday morning at Cornell and play in Saturday night’s hockey game in Amherst.
“Hockey is a team sport. You just go out and do it for the team,” he said about his big game Monday. “It’s almost euphoric.”
The Section VI champs play in the state quarterfinal doubleheader beginning at 6:15 p.m. Saturday at Northtown Center.