For high school hockey players, playing in the Scotty Bowman Cup games means the thrill of skating on the ice at HSBC Arena. This year, being on that ice might be even more special.
The teams playing in Sunday's third annual showcase event practiced on the HSBC ice the day before the Buffalo Sabres began the Stanley Cup playoffs, and they'll be playing in the showcase games on Sunday, one day after the Sabres and Islanders play Game Two.
"Just to be on that ice after they've taken part in Games One and Two is just going to be awesome," said St. Joe's senior defenseman Bob Schreck. "It's really exciting to skate on the ice where the Buffalo Sabres skate, and just watching them in the playoffs has got to get you pumped for our game."
The Buffalo area's best will face the top players from Rochester in two games on Sunday: The juniors square off at 2 p.m., followed by the senior teams playing for the Bowman Cup at 4. Admission and parking are free.
Last year's event was held a week before the playoffs started, while the inaugural 2005 games were held during the NHL lockout. Hall of Fame coach and Western New York resident Bowman, for whom the event is named, will be on hand to award the Bowman Cup to the winning senior team.
"I think sitting on the bench [at Wednesday's practice] and taking in the atmosphere of the rink and the big Stanley Cup fever sign, it's a pretty special time for these players this time of year," said Grant Ledyard, who will coach the Buffalo senior team. "The players fed off that excitement in practice, and I'm sure they'll continue to feed off it until the games on Sunday."
Both Buffalo teams bring together the best of the different high school leagues. The senior team includes players from Federation and Catholic state champion St. Joe's (Ron Femia, Eric Hartrich, Schreck), state public schools runner-up Williamsville North (Ryan Geary, Justin Kochan), Midwest Prep Hockey League runner-up St. Francis (Ryan Mackey, Neil McKenney, Chris Barrea), Conference of Independent Schools Athletic Association semifinalist Nichols (Andrew Babiarz), the Ontario Provincial Junior Hockey League's Junior Sabres (Tyler Mathews, Andrew Cieslak) and Western New York Club Small School champion Cheektowaga (Jarod Fisher, Rob Symkowiak), which has won three state club titles in the last four seasons.
The Buffalo teams will try to continue their dominance over the Rochester squads. The seniors won a 5-3 game last year and 9-1 in 2005; the juniors won, 7-2, last year, 2-0, in 2005.
This year's Bowman Cup has an added educational experience. Canisius College hockey coach Dave Smith will give a seminar focusing on how high school hockey players can better prepare themselves for college hockey. The presentation, at 12:30 p.m. in the 100 Level Harbor Club, is open to the general public.
"The NCAA goal is to make people more informed and educated, whether it's youth hockey, high school players or junior hockey players," Smith said, "and having them understand the processes and what avenues are out there, whether it's Division I, II, III, club or intramural hockey."