None of Kenmore West's players were alive when Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell recorded the hit song "Ain't No Mountain High Enough."
But hockey players have always been a superstitious lot.
Several members of the Blue Devils played that song five years ago when they won a state title as members of the Town of Tonawanda Lightning, so it made sense to them to whip out the CD for what hopefully would turn into another historic playoff run.
Kenmore West couldn't have picked a more appropriate theme song as the fifth-year program reached the peak of the Western New York Varsity Hockey Federation mountain Sunday with a thrilling 4-3 overtime victory over Canisius before an estimated 1,800 at the Buffalo State Ice Arena.
Kenmore West players and fans went into a frenzy when junior and playoff Most Valuable Player Mike Vasquez scored the winner with 2:58 left to complete his second hat trick of the season and secure third-seeded West's first Federation title.
"It's so great," said Vasquez, who finished the season with 16 goals and 23 assists. "We're not a walkover team anymore. Teams know we can play."
"This is so huge," added junior captain Scott Moser, who scored a short-handed goal and set up the game winner. "Hockey's never been one of the top sports in our school. It's always kind of bothered us. [But] to see all the kids from our school show support for us . . . our goal was to put Kenmore West hockey on the map, and I think we did that today with this win."
Vasquez hit the post seconds before connecting on the winner when he caught Canisius goalie Josh Shamrock (24 saves) out of the net. Vasquez got another chance when Moser gathered the loose puck at the left circle and fed across to a wide-open Vasquez, who faked Shamrock to his knees before firing a bullet over the senior's glove.
Canisius, which rallied from a two-goal deficit in the semifinals against top seed Williamsville North, rallied from a 3-1 second-period deficit to force overtime on a pair of Matt Brownschidle goals. The Crusaders (16-10-3) had the better of the play late in the third period but couldn't slip one past senior goalie Corey Lloyd (27 saves) as both teams opted to use only their top two lines with the championship on the line.
Both teams were appearing in the Federation final for the first time. But ninth-seeded Canisius played for and won a varsity championship in 1989 when all of the Catholic schools in the Federation played in the Monsignor Martin Association. The Catholic schools, along with the three Williamsville schools and Amherst, formed the Federation in 1990.
"The kids should be proud of themselves," Canisius coach Terry Miller said. "We hit the post twice and they hit the post once, and it bounces back on [Vasquez's] stick [and he scores]. It's a game of inches."
Canisius took a 1-0 lead on Peter Creighton's goal at 11:53 of the first. Vasquez tied it during a two-man advantage 34 seconds later. Moser scored short-handed 4:26 into the second period and assisted on Vasquez's second goal 1:56 later.
Kenmore West finished its best season with a 19-6-2 record. Although it won the title, it won't go to the state tournament because the Federation has 12 qualifying games during the season to determine its representatives in that event. West finished two points behind North and Lancaster in that race but isn't terribly disappointed as it achieved one of its goals for the season.
"This is definitely the best league in the state," coach Kyle Pray said. "It's a great honor to win the Federation title."