The three club hockey championship games are in the books at First Niagara Center.
Congratulations to Iroquois/Alden (Mixed), Hutch-Tech (Large) and Starpoint (Small) on winning your division championships (and from my point of view, in a timely fashion as it appears we’re only behind by about 15-20 minutes in terms of the schedule).
The Western New York Varsity Hockey Federation championship games will begin with the Large School (Division I) showdown between Williamsville North and Niagara-Wheatfield.
This is my seventh turn covering the Fed championship event and this is the sixth time North has been a title-game participant.
The Spartans, the defending state champions, will face a Niagara-Wheatfield team that they should be quite familiar with (besides being in the same league). This will be the third time in four years the two will meet for the right to advance to the state tournament. Niagara-Wheatfield stunned North in double overtime, 4-3, in 2009 at Buffalo State – the Falcons’ first year in the Fed after years of success as a club program. In 2010, as part of Super Sunday at the home of the Sabres, North earned a 2-0 triumph in the final over N-W.
Other notes before the start of the Fed tripleheader:
-- This will be the fourth time Canisius will be playing for a title in my presence.
-- This will also be the fourth time Kyle Pray will be coaching one of the finalists. He guided Ken West to the championship in 2006 (my first Fed final as a reporter) against Canisius in overtime. He’s 1-1 as coach of Ken East in Small School (Division II) championship games, leading his alma mater to the title in 2009 before losing to eventual state finalist Williamsville East last year.
-- Will this be the year St. Francis’ Fed team breaks its title drought? Third straight year the school’s No. 2 team (St. Francis’ Prep team is the program’s top dog) has reached final only to lose to eventual state Catholic champion (Canisius and St. Joe’s) in past two.
For the record, St. Francis won four Fed titles before forming its Prep Team.
Teams are finishing warm-ups for Division I final. We’ll be back shortly.
Federation Division I Final
Through first 7:30 of opening period, Niagara-Wheatfield had couple chances, Brandon Schrader denied twice by North goalie Jake Griebner. N-W created some chances
With 6:30 left fine stop by N-W goalie Alex Kammerer on breakaway chance by Scott Sims, who had a hat trick during five-point night in semifinal win last Monday.
With 1:10 left in first period, Niagara-Wheatfield scores off a faceoff in North zone. Keith Haseley open for backdoor one-timer off feed from Anthony Vekitch, who took puck from left wall weaved toward net and noticed Haseley behind the defense. N-W leads, 1-0.
End of first period, Niagara-Wheatfield leads, 1-0. Falcons held 14-10 edge in shots, few more chances than North.
Couple chance for both teams early in the period. North goalie Griebner made fine save in tight in first minute and then gobbled up puck on two-on-1 in which N-W player looked like he wanted to pass until putting himself into a corner where he had no passing lane and was in too close on the goalie to do anything.
North had glorious chance to tie when a breakout pass riccocheted to a North forechecker in the right hash marks but the shot went over the net.
Griebner makes nice stick save with 10:12 left in period on Nick Matos to keep N-W from increasing its lead.
Both teams had power-play chances midway though period. Closest either came to scoring was a goal post by N-W. N-W earned its power play after phenomenal work killing off a Spartans' PP in which N-W forwards refused to give North defense any room to do anything.
With 3:25 left, Griebner makes a fine save on a redirected point shot by N-W.
Kammerer, the N-W goalie, not giving up much, doing fine job controlling rebounds.
N-W scores to take 2-0 lead with 1:34 left in the period. N-W bumped North defenseman off puck in zone, Mike Parisi picked up loose puck, passed to open Nick Matos for one-timer at right of crease, he hits post but Dillon Hayes jams in rebound during goal-mouth scramble.
N-W just missed chance to make it 3-0 with 24 seconds left in period but did draw hooking penalty against North so will have about 1:06 of power-play time to start the third period.
End of period. N-W held 12-9 edge in shots and 26-19 for the game. We'll be back shortly for the third period.
Good penalty kill to start third by North. Another goal would most likely had been curtains for Spartans.
With 10:22 left, Alex Kammerer keeps it 2-0. His and Scott Sims' sticks both redirect pass from corner by Jeff McAndrews and Kammerer on ice gets glove on it to keep it from going into net over him while sprawled on the ice.
With 8:23 left, bad break for North goalie Jake Griebner. Makes fine stop on breakaway by Hayes but rebound bounced up in air and hit his glove as he was poppingba ck up to his skates and tricked into net. N-W leads 3-0. Real quick, bang bang play. Goalie doing right thing popping up but just bad break on losing sight of the rebound in the air. It happens. Sometimes there's a blind spot with the masks when it comes to looking up (speaking from personal experience as a goalie).
With 4:41 left, N-W's Cory Becker scores on a wraparound to make it 4-0.
There will be a new New York State Division I hockey champion this year as Niagara-Wheatfield ends Williamsville North's reign with a 4-0 triumph.
We'll be back soon for Division II final between Ken East and Williamsville East.
-- Miguel Rodriguez