Super Monday turned into Redemption Monday at First Niagara Center.
All three Western New York Varsity Hockey Federation boys runners-up from last season gained measures of revenge by ending the championship reigns of the teams that made them feel low. While there were many standout performances, none topped the show delivered by Trevor Pray.
The Kenmore East senior not only recorded a natural hat trick but scored all of his team’s goals in leading the Bulldogs to a 5-2 triumph over Williamsville East in the Section VI Division II final. The five goals by one player in a sectional final is a record, according to Federation chairman Mark DiFilippo.
“I’m awfully proud of him,” said winning coach Kyle Pray, Trevor’s father.
“It’s unbelievable,” added Trevor Pray, who shared the team lead for goals (14) and points (29) in 16 regular-season league games with fellow senior A.J. Marinelli, who set up four of Pray’s goals Monday. “I’m just happy we got (the championship).”
Williamsville North (17-4-2) ended Niagara-Wheatfield’s record run of Section VI Division I championships at four in row by edging its rival, 1-0, behind a 27-save effort by Jake Zurat and Adam Batz’s first-period goal. It’s North’s first title since 2011. The Spartans had lost three times to N-W (11-11-1) in the final during the Falcons’ four-year title run.
“It’s been long overdue to say the least,” said 26th-year coach Bob Rosen, who guided the program to its seventh Fed playoff title. “Niagara-Wheatfield did a great job with doing little things that prevented us from getting some opportunities but I really loved how my team competed today on everything, how they stuck together as a team and we won this as a team.”
St. Joe’s (25-2-1) defeated Canisius (16-11-1) in the nightcap of the tripleheader, 4-0, to reclaim the Niagara Cup and win its third championship in four years. Sophomore Daniel Mikolajczak made 15 saves for the shutout as the Marauders won their 20th straight game.
“It feels great,” said Marauders coach Rich Crozier. “For whatever reason it wasn’t meant to be last year. It made us very hungry this year. Those young men in there I give them a lot of credit. They worked their tails off.”
An estimated 5,000 attended the three games at the home of the Buffalo Sabres and those on hand for the middle game witnessed quite the feat.
Pray’s performance enabled Ken East (15-6-1) to end some frustration as it had lost to Williamsville East each of the past two seasons in the sectional final.
The title is the Bulldogs’ first since 2012, also the last time a team from Section VI went on to win the state championship.
After scoring twice in the opening five minutes to give Ken East reason to feel confident, Pray made it 3-0 by redirecting a perfect pass from Marinelli on a two-on-one rush past helpless Flames goalie Jude Rajakrishnan, a sophomore in his first varsity season.
“A father can only dream that and when it happens you’re just elated,” said Kyle Pray of seeing his son record a hat trick in a championship game he’s coaching. “You try to stay composed and stay in the game and know about the team play. But on that third one, I definitely had a little smile.”
Mike Steffan scored twice for the Flames (9-10-4). It wasn’t enough as Ken East was determined not to let its season end at First Niagara Center, again.
“We knew how we felt in that dressing room the last two years,” Kyle Pray said. “We just didn’t want that feeling again.”
Neither did Williamsville North. In a tight checking game, a big mistake in the first period produced the game’s lone goal. Batz intercepted a clearing pass up the middle in the Falcons zone, took a couple strides in and using a defenseman as a screen beat Dominick Tallarico stick side, top corner.
Nick Peters prevented the Spartans from taking a 2-0 lead early in the third by clearing the puck away from the crease just before it crossed the goal line after a Noah Backwitz breakaway chance slipped through Tallarico’s legs.
The Falcons had a power play with 1:57 left but failed to beat Zurat, as he stopped a few high-quality chances.
“The one thing I’ve found out through the year is how competitive he is and how he wants to compete,” Rosen said of Zurat. “He just made two or three great saves at the end and played under control. Brian Willison, our goalie coach, did a great job with him along with Brian Cavanaugh with the special teams and Greg Brown and John Burns with the D.”
St. Joe’s broke a scoreless tie late in the second period on the power play as Bradley Herlan’s wrister through a screen found the top corner. Canisius goalie Tyler Seketurski (27 saves on 29 shots) did his best to keep it a one-goal game, making several quality saves in the third.
With the St. Joe’s student section chanting “we want the cup,” Michael Greco got the Marauders a step closer to that with a breakaway goal off an August Cudeck assist with 4:15 left. Nicholas Carbone and Maxwell McArthur added empty-net goals during the final 86 seconds to complete the Redemption Monday storyline.
The Section VI champions host state quarterfinal games Saturday night at Northtown Center, while St. Joe’s plays for the state Catholic crown in New York against unbeaten St. Anthony’s of Long Island at 4 p.m. Saturday.