Opposing players and coaches admit that whenever Connor Fields leads the offensive rush they are very afraid and with good reason. The end result is usually a goal.
“He’s the most feared player,” said one opponent recently who didn’t want to identify himself.
The only shocking thing about that quote is that it didn’t come from a lacrosse opponent. It came from one of Fields’ hockey foes.
It turns out Fields’ finishing ability isn’t limited to the turf. The Bishop Timon-St. Jude senior’s hands are just as dangerous to opposing goalies on the ice, as he is one of the reasons the Tigers enter the Western New York Varsity Hockey Federation boys playoffs as the hunted.
Timon (18-5-1, 12-3-1), which is ranked fourth in the state, brings a 10-game winning streak into the Niagara Cup Playoffs (the Federation’s Catholic/Private Schools postseason tournament) as the No. 1 seed. The Tigers play the winner of Wednesday’s No. 4 St. Francis versus No. 5 St. Mary’s of Lancaster game in the semifinals Feb. 18 at Niagara University’s Dwyer Arena.
The Niagara Cup final is slated for 3 p.m. Feb. 24 at First Niagara Center. That game opens a tripleheader of Fed playoff championship games that closes with the Section VI Large School (5:30 p.m.) and Small School finals (8 p.m.).
Fields, who has scored 265 goals in his lacrosse career with the Tigers — including last year’s believed-to-be single-season national record of 129, leads the Federation with 26 goals and 42 points in league play. Including non-league games, the future Albany Great Dane collegiate lacrosse player finished with 45 goals and 78 points in 23 games.
Last season, Fields had 26 goals and 42 points in 16 league games (his overall totals were unavailable) in helping Timon to a runner-up finish in the Niagara Cup playoffs.
“I wouldn’t want to play against him either,” said Tigers coach Gene Overdorf. “He’s the best pure goal scorer I’ve ever had. He handles the puck very well. He runs our power play. He does a lot of stuff for us.”
Except kill penalties, which is a coaching decision as Overdorf wants him to get some rest even though Fields has asked to play on the PK, too. The Tigers are deep enough on the kill with Justin Blake, Sean Hillery, Billy Copolla and Joe Panek — grandson of legendary Timon coach Frank Panek — that they don’t need their top offensive threat on the ice trying to block shots or using his speed to disrupt the opposing power-play unit.
They prefer Fields making opponents go into full-panic mode whenever he has the puck or is in position to receive a pass.
“I’m part of the offense but there are a lot of other components that go into it,” said Fields. “My linemates (Joe Piegay and Blake), they feed me real well. They can finish when I feed them. I can’t take all the credit. They’re right there with me.”
As usual, Fields shoots and scores.
The Tigers’ scary good offense features four players among the top five leaders in Division I (large schools) scoring. Piegay has nine goals, 22 assists for 31 points, which ranks second. Blake has nine goals and the fourth-best point total (27). Sophomore Jacob Giacobello has nine goals and 26 points. Hillery, who’s battled through injuries, has five goals and 12 points while playing on the same line as Giacobello.
“They’re a strong offensive team,” said St. Joe’s coach Rich Crozier, whose Marauders lost twice during the season to Timon but enter the postseason as defending Niagara Cup champions. “They have a good transition game. In both games, we were up on them. They’re so explosive they caught up to us. But we’d love another shot at them.”
Before that can happen, St. Joe’s (14-11-1, 9-6-1), which fashioned an eight-game winning streak after a 6-10 start, must get by old friend Canisius. The Crusaders (16-4-2, 13-3-2) swept the regular-season series from St. Joe’s.
“It’s going to be a challenge for us,” interim Canisius coach Jason Bridge said of trying to beat the Marauders thrice in a season.
Zach Grace has eight goals and 18 points to lead Canisius, while Elliott Crimmen has a team-high 10 goals in Fed play. Quinn Beiter, Joe Mancuso and Pat Mitchell are all seniors hoping to help the Crusaders reach the state Catholic final for the first time since 2010, when they won their second of two straight state titles.
St. Joe’s win streak may be over, but the Marauders have officially found themselves after enduring some early-season growing pains. Goalie Peter Chopra has three shutouts and a 2.06 GAA, while holdover Dominic Perna has six goals and 12 points. Nicholas Zenger leads St. Joe’s with nine goals.
“We’re peaking at the right time. This is what this league is all about,” Crozier said.
Of course Timon feels like it’s peaking as well, and it has its own motivation for returning to the final. Ten members of the Tigers still remember how close they were to earning an upset triumph over St. Joe’s until a late-game turnover gave them reason to just be upset that they let an opportunity to win a title slip away with that 3-2 loss.
Timon has won two Fed playoff titles (the last in 2002 to go with the league’s inaugural crown in 1991) but has lost in the final six times.
“I just tell the kids one game at a time,” Overdorf said. “I’m not worried about the final until we play the semifinal.”
But they’re using last year’s loss as motivation.
“That’s always going to be in the back of our heads,” Fields said of the feeling following last year’s title-game loss. “It’s something we don’t want to go through again. … It’s just going to be the drive behind our team to help us get through the playoffs.”