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St. Joe's, Canisius move into Niagara Cup hockey final

Rich Crozier thinks people look at St. Joe’s hockey every year and think the success comes together seamlessly. That there’s some sort of magic wand he simply waves over the program that’ll produce championships.

The head coach will be the first one to say that as easy as the Marauders make their wins look at times, it’s not as straightforward as the product may appear on the ice.

“These guys in here, the seniors, these underclassmen, they’re working as hard as ever,” Crozier said. “No one’s taking a day off. We’re working as hard as we’ve ever worked in nine years.”

The top-seeded Marauders (23-1-2) made it look effortless once again as eight different players scored in a 9-0 Niagara Cup semifinal win over No. 4 St. Francis (10-10-0-1) at the HarborCenter on Monday.

No. 3 Canisius (14-9-3) topped No. 2 Bishop Timon-St. Jude (10-14) in the other semifinal, a heated 2-1 battle, to set up the third straight championship showdown between the arch-rivals.

St. Joe’s blanked Canisius last season in the final, 4-0, for its fourth Catholic title in five years. The Crusaders interrupted that run in 2015 with a 2-1 win over the Marauders. Round three comes next Monday at 4 p.m. at the KeyBank Center.

Joe Cooley scored the game-winner 3:13 into the third period to break a 1-1 tie, and Ryan O’Donnell stood tall between the pipes in the closing minutes to help secure the Canisius victory.

[Photo gallery: Canisius 2, Bishop Timon-St. Jude 1]

Crusaders coach Sam Belsito had been stressing to his team all week to look for the long breakout passes. Two stretch passes were key to Cooley’s goal.

“We actually caught them a couple times in the first period off some faceoffs, and we didn’t cash in,” Belsito said. “We knew we were capable of doing that, so it worked out for us the third time.”

Defenseman Cam Kiefer started the play with a pass from his blue line to Max Brown at Timon’s blue line. The Timon defender cheated over toward Brown so he flipped a pass to a streaking Cooley on the opposite wing, who smoothly went forehand-backhand before wrapping it around Timon netminder Tom Parshall.

O’Donnell preserved the lead with a desperation save with 3:30 to go. The senior lost sight of the puck on a scramble in front but eventually was able to trap it between his left arm and body while lying on his back.

“I was kind of watching the bodies and looking where peoples’ eyes were to try to figure out where the puck was,” said O’Donnell, who made 22 saves.

Timon's Pat Faliero scored with 3:05 left in the first period, but Kevin Bennett quickly knotted it back up for Canisius on a goal with 1:27 left in the first. Parshall made 31 saves for the Tigers.

Meanwhile, St. Joe’s displayed its abundance of quality depth in the win over St. Francis.

[Photo gallery: St. Joe's 9, St. Francis 0]

“I don’t know if people realize that these guys, if they would’ve went to public school, would’ve been the best players on their public school teams,” Crozier said. “But instead they’ve bought into their role. They realize that on this team that we roll all four lines, we roll seven defensemen ... and when we are able to get everyone involved, great things happen.”

Nathan Berke opened the scoring on a penalty shot after splitting three St. Francis defenders and being hooked down from behind with 1:47 left in the first period. He tallied his second with 27.6 seconds left in the opening frame on a slap shot he ripped from the high slot right off the crossbar and in.

“After I got that first goal it hyped us all up and got us back into the game because we weren’t really that strong in the first,” Berke said. “When I scored the second goal we started playing our normal hockey how we usually play.”

The floodgates opened in the second as St. Joe’s scored six times, four on its first five shots. David Matthew, Jeremy Ienco, Jimmy Grable and Michael Greco all scored before three minutes ran off the clock. Spencer Frome and Trevor Conschafter got in on the action to put the Marauders up 8-0 by the end of the middle frame. Mark Gilbert’s shorthanded goal was the lone tally in the third period.

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