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Hill makes his point, but hockey team misses goal Niagara Falls native ties Buffalo State's career scoring record

Jason Hill piled up points at a record pace during his Buffalo State ice hockey career with one purpose in mind. He wanted to help the Bengals reach the State University of New York Athletic Conference semifinals for the first time in their history.

Every assist and every point the Niagara Falls native piled up the last four seasons was done with the sole purpose of helping Buffalo State attain that goal.

So, there's a reason Hill kind of felt like his job was incomplete Tuesday night.

Hill picked up two assists to achieve a career milestone, but the Bengals' season ended with an overtime loss, 4-3, at Geneseo in the SUNYAC quarterfinals. Hill, a 5-foot-10 forward with slick play-making ability, tied Joe Urbanik as the program's all-time points leaders (131) in the defeat.

Hill entered the playoff game leading the nation in assists at the Division III level and ended his season with a Buffalo State single-season record 39. He set the program record for career assists (96), topping the old program mark held by Niagara Falls' Mike DeMarco and Joe Urbanik.

But . . .

"It's tough but, at the same token, what an experience for everyone," Hill said. "Sometimes you do your job, but, even when you get the right cards, it doesn't mean you're going to get the right bounces. Sometimes there are some things you can't control.

"It really hurts. . . . In any sport there's a winner and a loser, and unfortunately we were the losers [Tuesday] night."

While the Bengals didn't reach the semifinals, the program has made great progress since former Niagara University player Nick Carriere took over the program in 2005. Carriere failed to land Hill at Fredonia State during his time as an assistant coach there, but he got to coach Hill after he succeeded Jim Fowler as Bengals coach prior to the 2005-06 season.

Hill opted to attend Buffalo State because it's closer to home.

The 16-year program made the playoffs just once, 2001-02, before the arrival of Carriere and Hill. Tuesday's loss at Geneseo was Buffalo State's fourth straight postseason appearance.

Coincidence?

"[Hill is] a charismatic leader type of a guy where people gravitate toward him because of his personality," said Carriere, a member of the Purple Eagles' 2000 NCAA Tournament team and son of former Sabres player and assistant general manager Larry. "He's a real character with the way that he acts. He walks into a room and kind of takes it over. . . . He can really get the guys believing in what he's saying, so he has that ability to kind of get the vote of the boys sort of thing. That's worth its weight in gold in a locker room setting."

Hill, who learned last week he has earned second team all-conference honors, said the program's turnaround and his individual success were a byproduct of being surrounded by the right group of people and playing with linemates with the gift for putting the puck in the net, who collectively wanted to change the culture of the program.

They may not have won a playoff game, but they've laid down a foundation and changed the culture of a program that had become way too familiar with the losing disease.

"My coach, he had a lot of faith in me," Hill said. "He always gave me great opportunities to play with great players. Without them I wouldn't have been able to do this.

"Together and with everyone involved in the organization . . . everyone chipped in and made the experience a really good one. Everyone from the athletic director down to the trainers. It made the college and hockey experience one I'll never forget."

So what's next for Hill?

The pro game.

There are several minor professional teams -- likely in the Southern or Central leagues -- interested in Hill's services, according to Carriere. As of late Wednesday morning, Hill hadn't signed with any team.

He's one of three Bengals with a chance to lace 'em up as a pro. Lockport's Kevin Kozlowski, a defenseman, will likely finish the season with Richmond in the Southern League. Forward Joe Curry also has been offered a contract.

A pro opportunity would enable Hill to fulfill a dream and honor the memory of his late father, Gary. Gary Hill, who died from a brain aneurysm Nov. 7, 2003, was a junior standout for Fort Erie and played at Cornell before an injury ended his career as a junior. He coached locally and played in senior leagues for years before his passing.

"Once I do that and take my lap around the rink [at my first pro practice], I know my dad will be there [in spirit]," Hill said. "It'll be what both of us wanted. . . . My dad just taught me and my brother [Gary] everything he knew about hockey. . . . He taught us how to be men."

Carriere believes Hill has the talent to be able to have a professional career.

"He really can, just because of his skill level, and that's what the pro game is all about," Carriere said. "Some of our other guys, they don't have the skill level that [Jason] Hill has, so depending on how he adapts to the pro game he probably has the best chance of sticking it out a little bit and making a little bit of a career out of it."

e-mail: mrodriguez@buffnews.com

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