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Kenmore/Grand Island girls make it five straight titles

The dynasty continues. Make it five straight Section VI championships in girls hockey for the team from Kenmore/Grand Island.

“It kind of reminded me of the first one,” said Kenmore/GI coach Jeff Orlowski. “We had to work for everything we got.”

The squad defeated Orchard Park/Frontier, 4-2, in an exciting game before about 300 at the Northtown Center at Amherst. It capped a good-sized run by Kenmore/GI (8-5-2), which came into the six-team tournament as the No. 4 seed.

But the team had rebounded from an even bigger hole than that.

“We were really disheartened – two weeks ago we lost to Amherst/Sweet Home/Clarence, 9-3, after being up, 3-0,” Orlowski said. “I didn’t talk to them after the game. It was the first time in six years that I didn’t talk to them. The captains talked to them and said, ‘You all had better be there at practice, you all had better be ready to skate.’ ... They took the leadership role. I didn’t have to say anything. Since that day they’ve busted their butts to get to this point.”

It didn’t take long for Kenmore/GI to take charge in this one. Emily King scored at 1:01 of the first period, and Olivia Smith later notched a goal only five seconds into a power play. Kenmore had a 2-0 lead before six minutes of the game had elapsed.

“My whole speech before the game was telling them to be relaxed,” Orlowski said. “We’d been here four previous times. They had a young team that had lost a lot of seniors. I said, if you jump on them early, you’ll beat them.”

When Lina Mirabella hit the top corner on a shot from a tough angle midway through the second period, Kenmore had a 3-0 lead that seemed insurmountable. But then the teams took a break for an ice resurfacing between the second and third periods, which usually isn’t done in these games.

“It was nice to have a break, but it was kind of bad because our legs felt like Jell-O,” Smith said.

Haley Tatar and Riley Johnson scored within the first 4½ minutes of the third period, and OP/Frontier (8-6) was right back in the game.

“I loved the fact that the heads never went down when they scored,” coach Jim McCarthy of OP/Frontier said. “The third period was very good. Once we got our feet going, the game really changed.”

“I kept looking up at the clock and thinking, ‘Is it over?’ ” goalie Cara Lynn Klopp of Kenmore/GI said.

Finally, Smith ended the tension in the final three minutes with some big-time stickhandling that led to the clinching goal.

“She’s a big-time player,” Orlowski said about Smith, who also had an assist. “She’s our biggest offensive threat. When she’s on the ice we’re very confident.”

From there, it was just a matter of playing out the final moments. When the buzzer sounded, Klopp – a senior who is in her first year as a starter – didn’t need any time to realize what she and her team had accomplished.

“It really hit me right away,” she said. “It feels great. Nobody really expected it.”

Next up for Kenmore/Grand Island is a trip to Albany. The team will play Canton in the state championships Friday night.

“I have no idea what they are like, and I have 48 hours to find out,” Orlowski said. “They were the No. 2 seed” in their section, “so I’m sure they are very good.”

email: bbailey@buffnews.com

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