The Nichols and St. Francis high school hockey teams have a long and rich tradition, just not against each other.
That will change Friday night as the two Western New York powers hook up in a long-awaited nonleague contest at 6:30 p.m. in Nichols' Dann Memorial Rink (capacity 1,200). Admission is free.
It will be just the third time the teams have met and the first since 1989, a 6-4 victory for St. Francis. It's the start of what St. Francis Prep coach John Bowers hopes is a budding rivalry.
"I think the place will be rocking and rolling," he said. "We want to beat Nichols for all the good reasons. We're trying to establish a really, really good rivalry under the best conditions, no animosity, just a good old-fashioned rivalry."
It didn't take long for Bowers and Nichols second-year coach Jake Morris to agree that the game would be a chance to showcase their players and would be good for the local hockey community. Bowers said it was "silly" bringing in top teams from around the country yet not playing each other. The coaches are working toward a home-and-home series each year.
St. Francis has a team that plays in the Western New York Hockey Federation, but its top squad, called St. Francis Prep, is a member of the Midwest Prep Hockey League. Prep plays 40-plus games a season, with stops in Massachusetts, Illinois, Indiana and Ontario. But it will only have to travel across town, not state lines, for this road game.
St. Francis Prep junior forward Vince Scarcella knows Nichols players Brandon Broad, Matthew Pfalzer and Joe Livsey from his days with the Buffalo Regals and the Empire State Games. He'd love to add to his season total of 19 goals in 19 games against his former teammates.
"We don't want to lose at all to these guys," said Scarcella, last year's leading scorer. "We're trying to get kids to go to the game, we have signs up at our school. We both have rich traditions, and we're both great schools. It should be fun to play them."
St. Francis Prep has jumped to a 15-2-2 record. That includes winning the Ridley College Challenge Cup behind the MVP performance of senior captain Eric Bailen. The Red Raiders boast three complete lines and a defense that is allowing just 16 shots a game.
Nichols, a member of the Independent Canadian Athletic Association, is 6-7-1. Senior captain Andrew Lepore said he spoke on behalf of his teammates in saying he was eager to step on the ice against St. Francis.
"Of course we're excited to play," said Lepore, who made an early decision to play at Williams College (Mass.) next fall. "We've never really played each other, and we're the two best high schools in the area hockey-wise. We obviously want to win. It's definitely a little more special than the other games around here."