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Something different: Will North vs. Lancaster for Section VI Division I hockey title

Change isn't always bad.

In fact, it's something that's agreeing very well with Lancaster right now because the Legends are going where they've never gone before as members of the Western New York Varsity Hockey Federation.

The Section VI final.

Folks who have become accustomed to seeing Williamsville North and Niagara Wheatfield battle for the Division I crown will have to wait for the seventh installment of that winner-takes-all-championship meeting.

That's because the first such contest between Will North and Lancaster is in the books for 6:15 p.m. Monday night at KeyBank Center.

The fourth-seeded Legends scored a mild upset of No. 3 Niagara Wheatfield, 3-1, on Tuesday night to conclude a semifinal doubleheader at HarborCenter. Mike Shaver, Jeff Coons and Chris Blachowski scored for Lancaster, while goaltender Justin Stotz made 10 of his 15 stops during the final period to secure the opportunity Lancaster has coveted ever since it joined the Fed in 2004.

"This is certainly a special moment," Legends coach Kevin Miller said. "For me as a coach it's just great being a part of this. … We're a very senior-heavy team. They came to play today and I'm proud of them."

Jeff Coons is surrounded by two teammates after giving Lancaster a 2-0 lead with a second-period goal during its Section VI Division I semifinal win over Niagara Wheatfield. (James P. McCoy/Buffalo News)

Lancaster next faces one of the most successful programs in the area in seven-time postseason champion and four-time state champion Williamsville North.

The top-seeded Spartans advanced to their fourth straight final and 15th overall with a 5-0 win over seventh-seeded Niagara Falls. Griffin Green scored three times, while Jake Zurat made 12 saves for the shutout.

"It's exciting to be back in the championship game," longtime North coach Bob Rosen said. "We strive to win that game."

An estimated crowd of more than 1,000 attended the twin bill Tuesday night.

Those in attendance for the late game watched Lancaster use its size and speed to hold a Falcons team that tied for second among Fed large schools with 57 goals in league play to just five shots through 30 minutes, including one during the second period in building a 2-0 lead.

Shaver's goal late in the first period through traffic on the power play gave the Legends the lead. Coons' strike with 6:47 left in the second period made it 2-0.

Lancaster could have had more but NW goalie Dominick Tallarico thwarted the Legends' efforts – finishing with 22 saves on 24 shots.

The Falcons, who have made the final seven times and won five titles since joining the Fed in 2008,  pulled within one on Zack Belter's goal with 7:27 left. That gave them a spark as they held a 6-2 edge in shots the rest of the way.

Lancaster's last shot found the net as Blachowski cleared the puck out of his zone off the boards and it slid into the empty cage with 51 seconds left to secure the biggest victory in Legends hockey history.

"Maybe that's a little lucky there but we'll take it," Miller said.

Williamsville North made its own luck by putting in the work for its goals against a Niagara Falls team whose goalie, senior Patrick Sisler, stood tall for a second straight playoff game. He made 49 saves in a 3-1 quarterfinal win over No. 2 seed Orchard Park last weekend and finished with 43 Tuesday night.

Sisler stopped 17 straight shots over a roughly 15-minute stretch against a relentless Spartans attack. North kept with it, not getting frustrated when it failed to convert several great chances.

Of course, it helped that the Spartans scored on their very first shot of the game – a breakaway goal by Andrew Bruno, who made a nifty move while being hooked to the ice to slip the puck into the net at 2:25.

"He made a great steal of the puck and made a great move to finish," Rosen said. "It was key at that point. You don't want to go too long without getting a goal."

It still took a perfect shot by Green early in the second period for North to get its next one as the junior defenseman zipped a shot from the high slot in off the crossbar to make it 2-0.

"My shot just found its way in," said Griffin, the junior defenseman. "They were rolling from the momentum of beating Orchard Park. To stop the momentum early was really good."

North put Niagara Falls in a serious hole with 41 seconds left in the second when Tyler Durfee faked a backhand pass across on a 2-on-1 and in close roofed a shot under the bar to make it 3-0. Green completed his hat trick with two third-period goals, the last with 36 seconds left.

North and Lancaster split two regular-season games.

The rubber match should be fun.

"It's going to be a tough road," Miller said. "They're probably the most successful team in Section VI history but it won't stop us from trying to take it away from them. We're going to do all we can to prepare for them."

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