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Coaching greats clash for first time when Will North meets Mamaroneck in NYSPHSAA hockey semifinal

Bob Rosen and Mike Chiapparelli are among the all-time leaders in scholastic boys hockey coaching victories in the state. Both have guided teams to state championships.

There's one thing each has never done before and it's pretty hard to believe considering the two have been coaching a combined 56 seasons?

Neither has coached a game against each other.

That changes this weekend as the program that's been there before must go through the team that's not only been there recently but also happens to wear the champion's crown.

Williamsville North is two wins away from adding another trophy to its collection. The Spartans are attempting to win their fifth state championship in Rosen's 27th season when they hit the ice at HarborCenter for the New York State Public High Schools Athletic Association Division I semifinals at 2 p.m. Saturday. They face a Mamaroneck team that became the first Westchester County (Section I) team to win a state hockey title a year ago.

The winner advances to Sunday's 3 p.m. final.

"It's nice to play a great coach and a great program," said Chiapparelli, whose 459 career wins are two more than Rosen's.

The defending champions seemingly haven't missed a beat in returning to the same venue where they made history. The Tigers (22-1-1) are ranked first in the state sportswriters' poll, while North is fourth.

North advanced to this game by defeating state runner-up West Genesee on the road, 3-2, on Griffin Green's overtime goal.

"It's going to be a challenge," Rosen said. "We got through our first challenge of going to West Genesee. …  It's a tremendous environment. To go in there and win was great."

It'd be even greater should North become the second straight Section VI champion to win a state title since the NYSPHSAA voted to move the event to the HarborCenter after 2015. Kenmore East won the Division II title in overtime over Skaneateles last year.

The Spartans (19-4) are the only Section VI champion to make it this far this season. The winner of North-Mamaroneck faces either Pittsford of Section V or Massena of Section X, which play in the 4:15 p.m. semifinal Saturday.

Saturday's quadruple-header at HarborCenter begins at 9:30 a.m. with the Division II (small schools) combatants battling for spots in Sunday's championship game at noon. The Division II semifinalists are V-Brockport, I-Pelham, X-St. Lawrence and VII-Beekmantown.

Williamsville North is no stranger to the final four. It is making its ninth appearance in 17 years but it's been a while since the team made it this far in the postseason.

The Spartans won a state title in their last final four appearance in 2011 during current Army West Point goaltender and Hobey Baker Award nominee Parker Gahagen's senior season.

Since that triumph, their quest for another state tournament run had been blocked by a Niagara Wheatfield program that won the Section VI title from 2012-15. North ended that streak last year, but fell in the quarterfinals to Pittsford.

With 10 returnees back from that team – including goaltender Jake Zurat along with top scorers Brett Sardina, Andrew Bruno and Adam Batz, the Spartans have been motivated to avenge that defeat. Seeing a fellow Western New York Varsity Hockey Federation team win it all at HarborCenter last year also has further stoked their competitive fire.

"I think we play in one of the most competitive sections," Rosen said. "Getting out of our section is always a battle. It's a great feat, to be able to go back to the semifinals.

"Each team takes its own personality. … It doesn't matter what we've done in the past. It's going to matter what we do on Saturday."

Saturday presents quite the challenge for North.

Mamaroneck also has 10 returnees, including 2016 state-title game MVP Tommy Spero – who stopped all 27 shots he faced in that 1-0 win over West Genesee. The senior, who in his last start broke the state record for career shutouts by posting his 20th – a mark that had been shared by Gahagen, is considered one of the best in the state with an impressive save percentage (.954) and goals-against average (0.96).

They also return Michael Carducci, who scored the only goal in last year's final. He leads the Tigers in assists (30) and points (48) and has a plus-minus rating of plus-49. Teammate James Torre has 20 goals, 44 points and is a plus-50.

Mamaroneck understandably came into the season with great expectations. With the exception of a loss to Pelham last month and a tie two months ago, they've turned back all comers – earning two one-goal wins at Rochester-area schools Webster Schroeder and Brighton during Martin Luther King Jr. weekend.

"We kind of adapt to what we're playing against," Chiapparelli said. "They play three lines. They're well-disciplined. We're going to have to make sure we play defense from the goal out and take advantage of our offensive opportunities."

So too will North, but it plans to do what it does best. Skate fast, pressure the defense and make Spero's job difficult by creating traffic in front of the net.

Will it be enough to dethrone the champs and earn a shot at the title?

"I think we have to do what we do well and keep doing all those little things that win you hockey games," Rosen said.

Tournament schedule

Saturday at HarborCenter

Division II semifinals

V-Brockport vs. I-Pelham, 9:30 a.m.

X-St. Lawrence v. VII-Beekmantown, 11:45 a.m.

Division I semifinals

VI-Williamsville North vs. I-Mamaroneck, 2 p.m.

V-Pittsford vs. X-Massena, 4:15 p.m.

Sunday at HarborCenter

Division II final, noon

Division I final, 3 p.m.

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