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Kenmore East boys hockey team’s comeback over Williamsville South leads to title game

If you bought a program during last year’s Federation hockey championship day at First Niagara Center, you might as well save your money this year. All six teams are the same.

After Canisius and St. Joe’s clinched their spots in the Catholic final on Monday and Williamsville North and Niagara Wheatfield booked return tickets to the large-school final on Wednesday, Kenmore East and Williamsville East completed the hat trick Thursday with wins in the small-school semifinals at Amherst Northtown Center.

Trevor Pray scored a minute and a half into overtime to give Kenmore East a 4-3 comeback win over Williamsville South while Williamsville East held off Hamburg in the late game, 6-4.

“It’s the kids,” Williamsville East coach Mike Torrillo said when asked to explain the phenomenon, which includes his team making its sixth consecutive championship appearance. “They work hard. It’s part of believing. If they believe they can win …”

Let Kenmore East finish that sentence. The top-seeded Bulldogs trailed the entire third period until Cullen Smyth saved the day with the tying goal 38 seconds before the final horn. Then A.J. Marinelli found Pray in the slot 90 seconds into overtime for the winning goal.

“Talk about giving me a heart attack a little bit,” Ken East coach Kyle Pray joked of having his son score the decisive goal. “No, but it was great to see him get the winner. Him and A.J. seemed to be a little bit off tonight but they picked the right time to get the game-winning goal.

“They clogged the middle of the ice very well,” he added, “so we were playing a lot of our game on the perimeter and that’s what kept it close. They were timely on their opportunities so that’s why we had the tight game.”

South had the lead and the momentum going into the second intermission. Mason Cool took the puck out of the air with his hand and made a move in the offensive zone before the puck found its way to Jake Fuzak, who gave the Billies their first lead with 7.6 seconds left in the second period.

South battened down the hatches in the third but couldn’t clear the zone in the final minute when Kenmore East pulled its goalie for an extra attacker. After a great keep-in at the point, Smyth tied it late and then Marinelli and Pray connected for the game-winner in overtime.

“My linemate A.J. has been setting me up all year,” Pray said. “He just slid it over to me and I knew I had to shoot it. It just went in. I really didn’t even look at the net. I just shot it knowing the goalie would be over the other way when he passed it over.”

In the second game, Williamsville East took control with three power-play goals and led 4-1 on Matt Cohen’s hat trick before Hamburg closed it to 4-3 at the end of the second. Jack Kelly added his second goal early in the third period and a late empty-netter sealed it for the Flames. Josh Dake had two goals and an assist for Hamburg.

“My linemate Mike Steffan set me up,” said Cohen, who had only scored four goals all year before netting three Thursday. “Once I got on a line with him, points just started coming.”

Steffan, last year’s playoff MVP, can make it three straight titles for the Flames on Monday when they meet Kenmore East at First Niagara Center. Faceoff is at 6:15 p.m.

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