GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — How can a historic weekend in which both of Western New York’s Division I hockey teams participate in NCAA Tournament games get even better?
How about five former St. Francis teammates all having a hand in helping their respective teams make the “Big Dance,” including three participating in the same regional Friday at Van Andel Arena.
Can you say win-win for Buffalo-area hockey?
That’s what they’re saying, as former Red Raiders Kevin Ryan and Michael Benedict of Niagara, Anthony Day of Yale and Patrick Sullivan and Chris Barrea of Canisius made sure Western New Yorkers had specific, heart-felt rooting interests in this year’s tournament.
It was an especially sweet first tournament experience for Day on Friday as his Bulldogs, the No. 4 seed, upset West Regional No. 1 seed Minnesota, 3-2, in overtime to start the NCAA doubleheader. Jessie Root scored the game-winner just nine seconds into the extra session to help Day inch closer to becoming the latest Western New Yorker to reach a Frozen Four.
“It’s unbelievable. It’s a dream come true,” said Day, who received credit for two blocked shots – one off each knee – and fired one shot on goal. “Growing up I watched Tim Kennedy win a national championship, I watched [Mike] Ratchuk win a national championship. Just to be in this spot and have this opportunity, Buffalo’s always in my heart.”
“I blocked a few shots so I’m happy it ended pretty quickly so I can get some ice on them and not play 80 minutes. It’s good for all of us to rest up.”
While Day will have a shot at inching closer to his dream, the national championship quest ended for Ryan, Benedict and the Purple Eagles, who dropped a 2-1 decision to second-seeded North Dakota.
In Providence, R.I., Sullivan and Barrea look to make the Western New York experience that much more enjoyable as fourth-seeded Canisius plays its first NCAA Tournament game against East Regional No. 1 seed Quinnipiac (5:30 p.m., Time Warner SportsChannel).
“It’s definitely very important for Buffalo hockey to recognize they have a great hockey system,” said Day, a high-energy, two-way sophomore forward for a Yale Bulldogs team that’s made four of the last five NCAA Tournaments. “I give a lot of credit to the St. Francis hockey program for where I am today.”Ryan and Benedict are from Eden, Day from Buffalo, Sullivan hails from Derby and Barrea is from West Seneca.
All were the latest Division I prospects churned out by Bowers and his coaching staff.
“He’s developed 10-20 Division I hockey players,” Day said, “so he deserves a lot of credit.”
“St. Francis has always been a top-notch hockey program in Western New York,” said Ryan, a defenseman who entered Friday with a goal and a team-high 23 assists. “It’s been for high school and now midgets. That’s the main reason I went there to start with and it’s awesome to see it’s paying off for a lot of guys.”
The five players are the most recent St. Francis graduates to make waves in the sports world, joining fellow alums Tom Telesco and David Caldwell, who were named general managers of the NFL’s San Diego Chargers and Jacksonville Jaguars, respectively, in January.
“It’s definitely not the luck of the draw,” Ryan said. “I think it’s more the drive that you see in the kind of kids that will go to a school like that, rather than their local public school, might be on average higher and in turn you get higher than normal achievements out of the graduates of St. Francis.”
Day looks to keep the tradition going today.