The scoreboard and the standings will say that Williamsville North tied St. Joe's Thursday, but for North it felt like a winning night. Or, as coach Bob Rosen put it, "a John Cavagnaro kind of night."
Playing in honor of 2005 North grad Cavagnaro, who died in his sleep last Saturday and whose funeral was held Thursday morning, the Spartans got a goal from senior Tom Goehrig with 27 seconds left to forge a 4-4 tie in a key Division I game in the Western New York Varsity Hockey Federation.
A capacity crowd estimated at 1,500 at the Amherst Pepsi Center's feature rink watched North (7-1-1) pull its goalie in the final minute, and defenseman Jacob Newton fired a shot from the right point that caromed off the boards behind the goal. It went right to Goehrig, who fired the puck in the open side of the net.
"To tie it up at the end, it's amazing," said North senior captain Ryan Geary, one of 11 Spartans who played with Cavagnaro. "I think honestly, Johnny gave us some help there. He instilled it inside of us never to quit. It was all heart."
Cavagnaro was honored in a pregame ceremony which included a moment of silence and featured players he coached in Amherst Youth Hockey lined up at center ice.
"Someone said that a good day is if you laugh and you cry, and today was the full gamut of emotions we went through," said Rosen. "Tonight was a John Cavagnaro night for us. We weren't pretty -- he was never pretty, but somehow we found away to make it a tie."
North also got goals from Newton, Geary and John Walter as well as an outstanding performance from sophomore goalie Branden Komm, who had 30 saves, including a few as he stopped consecutive 3-on-none and 4-on-1 breaks during a two-man advantage by St. Joe's in the second period.
St. Joe's (8-1-2), which had beaten North, 4-2, in their first meeting, got a hat trick from senior Ronnie Femia, whose third goal put St. Joe's up, 4-3, with 4:05 to play.
In the second game of the feature rink doubleheader, Sweet Home (10-0) clinched Section VI's Division II spot in the state playoffs with a 3-2 win over second-place Williamsville East (8-2-1). Ryan Marko (101 career points) scored twice while James Cardinale's second-period goal gave Sweet Home the lead for good.