Kenmore works on what it calls “the slip play” in practice.
It had even executed it in a game during the season, so why not make the call to use it while shorthanded during the final three minutes of a tied contest with a trip to the state tournament on the line? It’s only the most important game of the season, what could possibly go wrong?
Senior Jill Battista’s second goal of the game with 2:39 left off that set play broke a 1-1 tie and enabled Kenmore to give Lancaster/Iroquois the slip Wednesday night, 2-1, in the Section VI girls hockey championship at Northtown Center at Amherst.
On the play that helped the Devildogs win their third straight sectional title, Emily King fired a quick shot off the faceoff on goalie Maddie Norton. The shot from the right dot proved too hot for Norton to handle as Battista, crashing the net from the hash marks, knocked the rebound in before Norton (35 saves) could cover the loose puck to send Kenmore to the state tournament on Friday in Clayton at 8 p.m. against an opponent still to be determined.
“It feels good,” said Battista, who has been part of all three title triumphs. “We all worked hard. We all play for each other. ... It’s always good to win, especially against a top team.”
An estimated 400 fans braved the snow and cold to attend the showdown between the top two regular-season public schools in the Western New York Girls Hockey Federation. Kenmore and Lancaster/Iroquois also happened to be the top two leaders in the overall standings in what has turned out to be the most competitive season in the history of the fourth-year league. Kenmore (10-3-2) finished with one more point than second-place Lancaster/Iroquois (9-5-1) in the standings.
Just when it seemed Lancaster/Iroquois had a golden chance to take the lead with a late power play roughly six minutes after it had forged a tie on senior Meghan Fonfara’s goal, Devildogs coach Jeff Orlowski and his assistants opted to call for “the slip play” after an icing gave them an offensive-zone faceoff. The play produced the winning goal earlier this season for Kenmore in a 2-1 win over Williamsville. Still, Battista didn’t expect to use that play while on the penalty kill. That’s usually a time to lay back and play defensive, not attack.
“We’ve never really done that before” while shorthanded, she said.
The two teams were locked in a scoreless duel for most of two periods as Devildogs star goalie Lauren Pray (22 saves) and Norton took turns making tough saves look routine. Battista scored with 1:54 left in the second on a backhand that appeared to bounce off a leg, a post and crossed over the goal line.
Kenmore defenseman Grace Simmons did an effective job shadowing Fonfara, one of the top scorers in the league, throughout the game.
While Lancaster/Iroquois didn’t complete the worst-to-championship season (remember Lancaster endured three winless seasons before merging with Iroquois), it still has a shot at doing that next week when the Federation playoffs begin Monday.
Lancaster/Iroquois coach Dave Santoro will settle for progress – at least for now.
“We went from last place to runners-up,” he said. ‘I’m very proud of what they’ve accomplished this season.”