When rivals meet in athletic competitions records are usually thrown out the to the window. It’s all about the next game. Pride is at stake. On Monday night crosstown rivals Kenmore East and Kenmore West met downtown at the HarborCenter for the late Federation game of the evening. They’ve met twice earlier this season and dating back to last year the Blue Devils have had their way with the Bulldogs.
That changed quickly on Monday in the form of a 9-3 Kenmore East rout. Blue Devils coach Rob Roszak warned his players before the game, that this was not the same team they faced less than a month ago. “It’s still a rivalry,” Roszak said. “They (Ken East) were ready for us, they are playing at a high level right now and so are we. They just won all of the little battles tonight.”
Kenmore East pumped in five goals in the opening period and tacked on an additional four in the second. It was a proud night, especially for the seniors on Ken East that haven’t been on the winning side in these games against West.
“It’s good to finally beat those guys,” David Uptegrove said. The senior finished with a goal and four assists. “Our guys are really confident and we are not the same team we were the last time we faced them. We are much better and more competitive.”
Uptegrove and junior Aiden Bova set up the first East goal just three minutes into the game when Bova’s shot fluttered in from the blue line and bounced through the legs of Ken West goaltender Chris Cairns. Alex Goshen was waiting on the doorstep and pushed the puck over the goal line.
Uptegrove was then the lucky recipient of a tape to tape pass by Bova and beat Cairns for the second goal.
Freshman Dominic Casillo might not be the biggest player on the ice but he plays like he is. While killing a penalty, Casillo stepped into Mike Barker one of the Blue Devils top scorers with what was deemed a clean body check.
.@KEHockey lighting up the scoreboard early and often vs rival @KenWestHockey down @HARBORCTR up 3-1 with 5 mins left in P1. Check out this hit by Casillo. @wnyfedhockey #preptalklive pic.twitter.com/GAeut6KwQ8
— Frank Wolf (@wolf3328) February 6, 2018
Seconds later, Bova scored a short-handed goal to make it 3-0 East and left the West bench in disbelief.
But Ken West pushed on. They found the net at 9:49 of the first when Cam Crosier scored, Barker and Glenn Wirth picked up the assists. The celebration was short lived however.
Russ Riggio one of the three remaining players from the 2015-16 NYSPHSAA Large School Championship squad made it 4-1 with still 1:12 left in period one. Zach Stoll scored just ten seconds later to extend the Bulldogs lead 5-1.
The second period was almost a carbon copy of the first period. Ken East was skating and Ken West was watching. The Bulldogs added four more in the second, surrendering two.
Mike Greiner, Stoll, Frank Gengo and Bova scored for Ken East while Ethan Yotter and Barker registered goals for Ken West. Crozier assisted on both Blue Devils goals.
— Frank Wolf (@wolf3328) February 6, 2018
Ken East was outshooting their rivals 28-14 heading into the third. As you would expect between crosstown rivals with a lopsided score and a full period to play things would get chippy. Ken West picked their game somewhat thanks to the power play opportunities but were unable to put anything else past goaltenders Anthony Kowalski or his late game replacement Jason Hayward. Kowalski finished with 17 saves improving his record to 3-1-1 over his last five games.
“The confidence level is definitely at a season high right now,” coach Kyle Pray said after the big win. “I don’t know if it’s one of those things where teams don’t respect us as much as they should.” Pray credits longtime assistant coach Mike Kluge with helping turn the club’s fortunes around. “Coach Kluge and I met to go over the defense to try and shore up that end of the rink. We figured the offense would take care of itself because we have guys that can put the puck in the net.”
In addition to Riggio who has always had success finding the net at this level has been surrounded with players that have had equal success at the club level and are now beginning to show what they can do. Mike Greiner didn’t get much playing time last season as he battled an injury. The junior forward finds himself second on the team in goals scored with eight. He has ten points in his last five games.
Casillo has been the “X” factor for Ken East. He isn’t the biggest guy on the team but he plays big minutes for the Bulldogs and sees ice time on special teams. He’s very dangerous on the penalty kill as Ken West found out Monday. Casillo does play travel hockey and has missed some Fed games due to conflicts. It’ll be interesting to see if he will be available for the Bulldogs when they’ll need him most, playoffs.
The Bulldogs have been a team that opponents have slept on. Grand Island buried the Bulldogs earlier in the season 9-0, West Seneca East beat them by a score of 10-1 and West Seneca West won 5-3 in early season match-up’s. Kenmore East tied Grand Island 3-3, dropped a close 5-4 decision to the Trojans and beat the Indians 6-5 the second time around. So you can see stark improvements in their game. It’s not by accident either.
Ryan Hahn and Dan Spors are the other three year starters for Pray. They know what it takes to win and along with Riggio are feeding the younger Bulldogs a daily dose of that mentality.
You want to be playing your very best at this time of the season and Pray’s Bulldogs can no longer be considered a doormat in Section VI Federation hockey. They can play with anybody and in a single elimination playoff format, that’s an uneasy feeling for an opposing coach.
Kenmore East will take on Starpoint Saturday and close out the regular season versus Hamburg on Sunday.
The Blue Devils have just one game left versus West Seneca East this Saturday.