The Buffalo Sabres clinched victory downtown and the University at Buffalo earned arguably the biggest win in program history, but on Saturday night, one capacity-crowd building in Western New York buzzed with high-octane high school hockey.
Bodies flew into the boards and bone-crushing blows were aplenty. Fans banged on the glass and “oohs” and “ahhs” came in bunches. And at the end of the night, one Section VI team advanced to the state semifinals and another saw its season end. Niagara-Wheatfield defeated Ithaca, 5-1, and CBA/Jamesville-DeWitt bested West Seneca West, 4-2, in Division II.
Section VI champ Niagara-Wheatfield and Section IV Ithaca went toe-to-toe in the Division I large schools matchup. The hometown Falcons scored three third-period goals to pull away from the Little Red.
“They gave our kids more than we bargained for early on,” said Niagara-Wheatfield head coach Rick Wrazin. “Once we got our forecheck on track, we took the game over.”
The score was deadlocked at 1 until sophomore Domenic Senese scored with 15.4 seconds remaining in the second period. Aided by copious Ithaca penalties – including two players being ejected – Niagara-Wheatfield iced the win with a dominant final period.
The Falcons have made the state tournament three of the past five years. This is their second semifinal appearance.
“Everyone in our school, all the younger kids, they come to our games,” said Anthony Vekich, who scored in the third period. “They all want to play. We seem to have a good team every year. We have great coaching.”
In the small schools quarterfinal, CBA/J-D – which won its first Section III title in 32 years – jumped to a 2-0 lead and West Seneca West could not recover. Ryan Durkin scored both early goals and Scott Firman assisted both.
Just 33 seconds into the third period, senior forward Jamie Tobias, who earlier in the day helped West Seneca West’s 4x400 relay team to an 11th-place finish at the indoor state track and field championships at Cornell, scored to make it, 2-1. But 3:17 later, Pete Dziergas scored to give the Brothers a 3-1 advantage and Sam Mueller added one more with 4:30 to go. The Indians’ Pat Ciancio scored to cut it to 4-2 in the final minutes, but the game was all but over.
Indians fans chanted, “We still love you,” as the final seconds ticked away.
Niagara-Wheatfield (19-4-2) advances to play II-Saratoga in Utica Auditorium at 3:15 p.m. Saturday, and CBA/J-D will play VII-Beekmantown at 10 a.m.