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WILLIAMSVILLE NORTH STRIKES EARLY, OFTEN FOR HOCKEY TITLE

An old axiom of hockey is never give up goals late or early in a period because they often change the entire complexion of a game.

Sunday night, Williamsville North struck for early goals in both the second and third frames on the way to a 6-3 victory over St. Joe's in the championship game of the Western New York Varsity Hockey Federation before around 900 at the Buffalo State Arena.

Playoff MVP Billy Baker and sophomore Michael Cohen each scored twice for the Spartans, who won their second straight Federation title. They upset St. Joe's, 7-0, in last year's final.

"This was completely different from last year when we were the underdogs," said North captain Ryan Collins. "This time we had a completely different role."

"Those goals early in the second and early in the third were killers," said St. Joe's coach Pete Schneider, whose team trailed much of the game.

Greg Brown's goal after only 19 seconds of the third period turned out to be the game-winner. Brown fought off St. Joe's defenseman Brad Zwawa, came around the net and beat goalie David Leggio from close range.

It gave momentum back to the Spartans, who had seen the gritty Marauders dig their way out of a 3-1 deficit on goals on second period goals by Christopher Angelo and Jeffrey Herman.

"We didn't panic," said Baker, who also had a pair of assists in the game. "We were confident we could come back and finish them off."

It stayed 4-3 until there was less than three minutes left in regulation. Then the Marauders were caught running around in their own zone and allowed Baker to get free and skate to the slot for the goal that made it 5-3. Eleven seconds later Cohen scored his second to wrap up the scoring.

St. Joe's took the first lead of the game when Michael Johnson drove home the rebound of a shot by Michael Mariano at 12:11. North tied it with 48 seconds left in the opening period when Baker scored with the rebound of Collins' shot from the point.

Cohen made it 2-1 at 1:15 of the second with Brett Barber assisting. Dustin Sassic made it 3-1 at 2:06. Angelo cut it to 3-2 with a slap shot from the right circle, and the Marauders tied it with 42 seconds left in the second when Herman scored with the rebound after Nathan Streicher's shot from the right boards on a faceoff play.

The Spartans refused to rattle, however.

"I was a little disappointed we let them back in the game when it was 3-1 and we had control," said North coach Bob Rosen, in his 11th season. "They slowed down the game a little bit which I give them credit for."

North goalie Jonathan Hepfer had 22 saves. Leggio had 29 stops in goal for the Marauders.

North seemed to have the advantage when the game opened up.

"They are a little bit faster," the Marauders' Schneider said. "Ultimately we had to try and slow the game down. . . . It's hard when you have to fight from behind all the time."

"Low-maintenance kids," Rosen said of his players. "They come to the rink and practice hard. Sometimes I think we practice better than we play, we work so hard in practice."

Williamsville North went 12-1-1 in the regular season, losing to Timon/St. Jude and tying St. Joe's. The Marauders also were 12-1-1, with the loss to North.

Both teams overcame injuries during the season. North played without forward James Lecuyer, out with a broken wrist. St. Joe's was missing three players including captain Daniel Sanderson.

The Spartans next will face Seton Catholic in Plattsburgh Saturday at 4 in the state playoffs.

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