The Pelham Pelicans believe. All the proof you needed was on the scoreboard at HarborCenter in Buffalo, NY Sunday afternoon. For 31 long years the NYSPHSAA state title eluded the program until the hockey God’s answered their prayers.
The Pelicans dominated from the time they arrived Friday until they packed up for the ride home Sunday afternoon. They defeated the St. Lawrence Larries 7-1 in front of a great crowd.
The HarborCenter was dubbed “Hockey Heaven” by former Buffalo Sabres executive Ted Black, and Pelham would concur. She certainly earned that reputation this weekend especially within the legion of Pelican fans that arrived early, stayed late and celebrated throughout.
On Saturday, Pelham trounced Section V’s Brockport and the Larries delivered a similar stomping of Beakmantown (VII) an hour later setting the stage for Sunday’s title game.
The Pelicans put enormous pressure on St. Lawrence from the start. They scored on their 11th shot of the period, Nat Heintz had the honor of putting Pelham out front. It appeared that the Pelicans were going to be too much for the Larries until catching a break in the neutral zone.
Miscommunication between the Pelicans led to a turnover and St. Lawrence forward Ian Bressett was off to the races. He buried a shot past Pelham goaltender Justin Ming to even the score at one.
In the second period the Larries were running out of answers defensively as Pelham continued with a barrage of shots on Rico Dimatteo. The Pelicans took advantage of a St. Lawrence power play late in the 2nd and scored short-handed. Stefan Miklakos converted off a 2-on-1 with linemate Ben Hurd. The Pelicans took a 2-1 lead into the locker room.
“We must have scored twenty-something short-handed goals this year” Pelham head coach Ed Witz said. “If I were the other team I’d decline the penalty, that’s how good those guys are up front.”
In the third, the Pelicans left no doubt who the superior team in Division II was. Pelham scored five times in the final frame, Miklakos added two more to record the hat-trick. Gib Smith, Hurd and Drew Montanarella rounded out the scoring for Pelham.
It was a wild finish to say the least with St. Lawrence racking up one undisciplined penalty after another.
They simply had no answers for Pelham who outshot the Larries 43-7. Ming didn’t play last season as he concentrated on his golf game. “He wanted to come back and play. We had good goaltending already” Witz said.
After a wild celebration on the ice following the win Witz stood outside the Pelicans locker room surrounded by players and assistant coaches all basking in the glory of winning the school’s first state title. Witz has been leading the charge since the beginning and found his way to this side of the winning locker room after five trips to the finals.
“We should have won last year. We were close but this will do, I’ll gladly take it and with such a great group of men, really this is a mature group of players. I’ve been blessed to be there coach” Witz said.
Miklakos paraded around with the championship plaque and 1st place medal in the hallway after the game. Smiling for any camera he could find. “This is incredible, just a great feeling to win with these guys” he said after the big win. “We knew all season we had what it takes we just needed to go out and do it.”
Miklakos was named Player of the Tournament while Smith a defenseman was named Player of the Year for Division II. Both players along with Hurd and Will Case were named All-Tournament First team.
“They just kept coming” Larries head coach Mickey Locke said. “They left very little room to operate, it was tough to generate any kind of offense. That’s one of the best teams I’ve ever seen, congrats to Coach Witz and the players for a job well done.”
The Larries had high hopes entering Sunday’s title game. Having beaten Beakmantown 6-0 a day earlier. They had issues in that game however taking undisciplined penalties and they were awfully frustrated in the late stages Sunday.
“We didn’t give up. It was frustrating but left nothing in the tank” senior captain Jack Pullano said. He is one of two players graduating so there is plenty of talent left to make another run in 2017-18.
“I’m sad for the guys that are leaving but there is enough in that locker room to make a serious run next year” Locke said.