Photo courtesy of Aaron Bobeck
It was a night of firsts for the Section VI Boys Hockey Federation.
Due to Sunday’s wind storm, the ‘Super Sunday’ games were moved to Monday night and played for the first time at HarborCenter.
But more importantly, it was the first time the Grand Island Vikings and the Orchard Park Quakers won sectional titles.
“It means more than anything,” GI junior Tyler Hunt said. “We worked for it all year. Last year we had a very good team and couldn’t win it. It’s a pretty big feeling.”
Both teams did so by beating last season’s Section VI champions, West Seneca West Indians (Small School) and Niagara Wheatfield Falcons (Large School) to pull off their historic feats.
“It’s unbelievable,” OP senior Zachary Mecca said. “Just to have the opportunity to represent the school in their first ever sectional final is unreal. To be able to get the win is even better. I’m speechless.”
In the first game of the triple-header, the St. Joe’s Marauders beat the St. Mary’s of Lancaster Lancers, 4-1, to earn their sixth Niagara Cup.
“This week was a great week of practice,” St. Joe’s coach Rich Crozier said. “To keep (St. Mary’s) to one goal, hats off to our defense and goaltending. We asked some guys to take the assignment against their first line and they cherished it.”
All three winners, plus West Seneca West, will continue their seasons on Saturday.
The middle game saw Grand Island capture the Small School title in the final minute of regulation.
Mitchell Fusillo tipped in Hunt’s shot from the circle with 23.1 seconds left in the game as the Vikings beat West Seneca West 3-2.
“I went as hard as I could after the puck,” Fusillo said. “I ended up causing a turnover. (Hunt) has really good patience and vision. He found me for a tip.”
The Indians quickly got momentum, getting on the board first. Griffin Finnegan put the puck in just two minutes in.
It seemed like West Seneca West was going to take control of the game when GI took a penalty a few minutes later.
However on the penalty kill, Hunt stole the puck in the WSW zone and buried an open opportunity for the short-handed goal.
“We were back on our heels after that first (West Seneca West) goal,” GI coach Don Pray said. “But definitely Tyler Hunt came up big on that short-handed goal for us. I saw the shoulders go right back up on the bench. I saw a bit more jump in our step.”
Late in the second period, Grand Island took the lead as the Vikings crashed the net. GI’s Brian O’Neill poked it in with 1:27 to go.
The Indians battled back. Finnegan sent a pass to Ethan Parsons who backhanded it in to tie the game at two early in the third.
For the second year in a row, Section VI earned an at-large berth in the state quarterfinals for the Small Schools. Both sectional finalists will play Saturday for the chance to go to states.
The Vikings will take on Section III champion Skaneateles at 6:30 p.m. at Allyn Arena in Skaneateles. West Seneca West, who reached the State finals last season, travels downstate to take on Section I champion John Jay-East Fishkill.
In the Large School final, the Quakers took immediate control and they never relinquished it, shutting out Niagara Wheatfield 4-0.
“I’m so proud of these guys,” OP coach Josh Dannecker said. “All season long we knew we had to build. We had a lot of testing. To get to this point is really unbelievable.”
Jack Kinsman found Kyle Flynn for the game’s first goal late in the opening period.
Orchard Park took advantage of their first power play opportunity in the second period with Mecca hitting the net.
In the third, Flynn returned the favor to Kinsman to give the Quakers a 3-0 lead with 9:04 left.
Jake Echeverria added the fourth goal a few minutes later.
The Quakers will go to Section IV for their State quarterfinal where they’ll face Ithaca HS on Saturday at 7 p.m. at the J.M. McDonald Sports Complex in Cortland.
“We talked to the kids about the meaning of (a sectional title) and putting a number up on the banner in the gym,” Dannecker said. “It’s been pretty empty. We looked at that and set a goal of putting together a program at Orchard Park that can compete with the big boys and get it done.”
The Marauders played with a similar purpose in the Catholic School final.
After being upset by the Lancers in last year’s championship game, St. Joe’s wasn’t taking any chances Monday afternoon.
“Last year was tough,” said St. Joe’s senior Mitch Floccare, who had two goals. “I feel like this year we wanted it more.”
St. Mary’s drew first blood with Daniel Pfalzer finding Brendan Krawczyk halfway through the opening period.
Floccare responded a few minutes later to tie. Matthew Orlowski scored on the power play as the Marauders took a 2-1 lead into the locker room.
St. Joe’s only got stronger as the game went on. Floccare netted his second goal of the night with 11:25 left in the second period. Sam Latorre scored a few minutes later.
The Marauders will play a downstate opponent for the Catholic State championship on Saturday. Faceoff will be at 1 p.m. at HarborCenter.
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