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Hockey season in Western New York is always highly anticipated. Whether at a house, club, high school, collegiate or professional level, hockey attracts many participants and fans.

One of the things that Nichols School, a private independent high school in North Buffalo, is known for is its hockey program. Founded in 1892 By William Nichols, the school focuses on both academic and athletic growth among its students. Each student is required to participate in some type of athletic function each season, whether they physically play on a team or manage one. Hockey is always a popular choice.

This season, more than 70 boys and 40 girls in the upper school have signed up to play. Including the middle school, more than 40 percent of Nichols’ student population is involved in hockey.

Nichols Upper School, ranging from grades nine through 12, has three boys teams and two girls teams. Levels vary from Prep A to club, with each team annually holding tryouts.

“There are returning players who have a leg up on other guys,” said James Printz, the Upper School boys Prep A coach and Upper School physical education teacher. “However, we look for talent, and there could be someone out there who we don’t know of yet.”

Printz has been the boys Prep A coach for five years and has seen many gifted players come through Nichols.

“There are kids in the past few years that have made careers out of this,” Printz said.

Most recently, Sean Malone, a 2013 graduate, was drafted by the Buffalo Sabres in this year’s National Hockey League draft. While he instead chose to attend Harvard University this fall, Malone is one of many Nichols graduates who continues to pursue hockey after high school.

Nicholas Passafiume, a junior at Nichols, has been playing hockey since he was 3 years old. A graduate of Charter School for Applied Technologies, located on Kenmore Avenue, Nicholas was drawn to Nichols because of its hockey program.

“Nichols hockey is ranked pretty high nationally, and people in Western New York know that Nichols is a powerhouse in academics, too,” Nick said. “To me, it was a great combination.”

“In the last couple years, it is becoming more and more of an event to come to hockey games,” said Robert Stewart, Nichols’ athletic director. “The hockey program has always been a big deal at Nichols, and it is great to see the students and faculties come out.”

Nichols is the only high school in Western New York to have a set of ice rinks on campus. Built in 1963, the Dann Memorial Ice Rink has one regulation-sized rink and one smaller rink.

The competition Nichols faces is not easy. All the Upper School teams, with the exception of the girls Prep B team, play in Canadian leagues. This requires the students to travel a lot and often miss school.

“We want guys who are mentally ready to show up every day and ready to work in practice,” said Printz. “We look for guys who compete hard.”

The 2013-14 season will be the first in which the girls Prep B team will play in the local federation league. This league includes the Monsignor Martin girls hockey team, which is comprised of girls who attend Sacred Heart Academy and Nardin Academy.

The Nichols hockey season officially kicks off in December. The first home game for boys Prep A is Dec. 18 against rival St. Andrew’s. The girls Prep A team will play at home on Dec. 13 against Bishop Strachan School.

Carolyn Hoffman is a junior at Nichols School.