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Switch to team play put Kenmore East hockey on the road to state final four

Sometimes a memorable season can hinge on a turning point, a moment when everything seems to fall into place.

For the Kenmore East hockey team, that moment came about two months ago.

“We kind of knew at the beginning of the year that the skill level was there,” said Kyle Pray, coach of the Bulldogs. “But a lot of guys were playing individual hockey.

“We played Canisius in mid-January, and that was a big turning point. We had a solid, 3-1 win. We talked before the game about playing together, and that message stuck with people. We’ve had a very good run.”

As a result, Kenmore East finds itself in the Division II final four of the state tournament. The Bulldogs will play Lake Placid at 5:15 p.m. Saturday in the Division II semis, hoping for a chance to earn a state championship.

Kenmore East has been down this path before. The Bulldogs won the championship in 2012.

“The last couple of years, we fell short in the sectional finals,” Pray said. “This group of kids played a lot together on travel teams, and a lot of them are now seniors.

“I see that both teams – the 2012 one and this one – are a very tightly knit group. The chemistry is close. They know where each other is on the ice, know each other’s tendencies. They also hang out together. They are very good friends. Both teams are skilled offensively. They are high powered on offense and steady on defense.”

Since the teams are four years apart, there’s only one common denominator on the two teams. It’s a small but helpful connection in terms of experience at the sport’s highest level in New York State.

“The only one who lived it before was my son, Trevor,” Pray said. “He went to Utica on the bus with us, so he got to experience it then. He’s taking it with him, and he’s been sharing stories about it.”

Trevor Pray has become an offensive leader of the team, and the Bulldogs are hoping he and some others can carry the load this weekend.

“Trevor scored five goals against Williamsville East in the Section VI final,” Kyle Pray said. “He had 37 points in the regular season, and has 16 more in the playoffs. His linemate, A.J. Marinelli, had 34 points in the regular season and has 15 in the playoffs. Another very good player is Anthony Tulipane, who is a very good two-way player. Anthony does it all – power play, penalty-killing. If we need someone to key on the other team’s top offensive guy, he does it.”

Kenmore East relies on a pair of solid defensemen in Cullen Smyth and Joe Spataro.

“Joey was an all-Fed selection last year, Cullen was an all-Fed selection this year,” Pray said. “Both have puckhandling and skating skills. They bring offense, but they are solid defensively.

“In goal, we used both Brad Hermann and Chase Ford in the regular season. Both of them played exceptionally well during the season. We’ve gone with Brad at playoff time. He has playoff experience, he’s been through it. He has a 1.50 goals-against average in the playoffs.”

There are two constants for teams at this stage of the playoffs: They don’t know much about their next opponent, but they know the other team is on a great roll as well. Such is the case with Lake Placid.

“We know they have one very strong forward line,” Pray said about the Blue Bombers. Chris Williams “has 70 points this season. We know they can put the puck in the net. Their second line is good too. They were very strong last year, and they have a very talented top 10.”

If Kenmore East does get by Lake Placid, it will be right back to work on Sunday against the winner of the game between Skaneateles (III) and Pelham (I). That will be demanding, but no one gets tired at this point in the season.

“If we are fortunate enough to win, we’d be ready to bounce back on Sunday,” Pray said. “We’ve done back-to-backs before. The adrenaline will be flowing.”


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