In past years, Hutch-Tech played its hockey games at Bud Bakewell Ice Rink in Riverside Park except during the state club tournament or on Super Sunday.
This season has been different for coach Dale Marrs' Engineers. They played in the Olean Rec Center, Jamestown Ice Arena and Hockey Outlet Ice Complex in North Tonawanda. They also played at Depew Rec Center; in their appearance there last Sunday they beat Lancaster to earn the right to play another meaningful game in First Niagara Center, their home away from home, this Sunday.
When Hutch-Tech faces St. Francis for the Club Large School Division title at 11 a.m. during the second of six games at Super Sunday, it will be its sixth appearance in the 10 years Marrs and his assistant coach, Pat McCrossen, have been with the program.
Super Sunday starts at 9 a.m. with the first of three club school championship games (the Mixed Division) between City Honors/O'Hara and Iroquois/Alden. Starpoint plays Cheektowaga for the Small Schools title at 1 p.m.
The Western New York Varsity Hockey Federation then takes over with its three championship games, beginning at 3 p.m.
Marrs' team is vying for a sixth championship celebration on the Buffalo Sabres' ice surface, but the difference in this Super Sunday appearance for the Engineers is that they're not playing for the Explorer League title. They're playing St. Francis, a fixture in the Southtowns Club League, for a trophy named after former Southtowns Club President Don McAndrew.
The club league landscape in Western New York has changed since Super Sunday 2011. There again will be multiple club-league champions crowned during Sunday's event, but the leagues are technically Large School Division, Small School Division and Mixed School Division with no Western New York Club, Southtowns or Explorer league names attached (although the three still exist to handle administrative duties).
The three club leagues merged into a 27-team circuit with three divisions. Teams were assigned to divisions based on each program's strengths in order to create balance and competitive games.
"We had a great time," said Marrs. "It was tough because we had to travel all over the place but besides that it was a great experience for the kids. I think the level of competition was better and they got to play a wider variety of teams."
Hutch-Tech's 22nd Super Sunday appearance keeps the memory of the Explorer League alive beyond any written history in a game program. The Explorer League was the first club league formed in Western New York in 1972.
"I'm thrilled the Explorer name stays out there, but I don't want anyone to ever think that someone isn't happy with what's happened around here," said Marrs, whose club faced eight league teams, as opposed to three last season. "Frankly, we wanted the kids from Hutch-Tech to have an opportunity to play hockey. We want to be able to continue to grow, be able to continue to reach a higher level and it's our goal some day to just be the best we can be, and if that means we're the best that we can be in the Mixed Red Middle division as opposed to the non-Mixed Large School big division, doesn't matter to me. All we're looking to do at Tech is, A, give a kid a chance to play some hockey, B, let them have a chance to find out what it's like to be the best they can possibly be at something, and then, B, we're just trying to have some fun with this whole thing. That's one thing about sports, it's pure."
Hutch-Tech reached Super Sunday by doing what it does best, playing team hockey. This can be seen in the fact it didn't have any first- or second-team all-star selections in its division.
The Engineers want to keep the puck moving since no defender can outskate the biscuit, have two chasing the puck with a third reading the play and providing support, roll three lines and five to six defensemen, and make up for any size deficiencies by playing three straight periods of good, fundamental hockey.
"We never want that puck to stop moving. We never want that whistle to go unless we're pulling it out of their net," Marrs said.
Senior captain Edward Shantler leads the Engineers (11-6-2) with 16 goals and 27 points, while John Kutch, who scored the semifinal series-clinching goal against Lancaster, has 14 goals and 23 points. Senior defenseman and assistant captain Franjo Tabar has 10 goals, while senior center Jay Mudra is a smart two-way player who has eight goals and 15 points.
Explorer League President Peter Hurley said Tech will face South Park/Riverside for the Explorer Cup some time after next weekend's state tournament so that a team wins the trophy during the league's 40th anniversary season.
For now, there's only one title on the minds of the Engineers.
"It's my third time going [to Super Sunday]," Tabar said. "Not a lot of people even get to go once. I have a chance to win three times."
State events starting
State tournaments begin next week with the Niagara Junior Purple Eagles hosting the Squirt Tier II Tournament at Dwyer Arena from Friday to March 4. Niagara, ranked 31st nationally, faces Saratoga at 8:30 p.m. Friday to start the event.