Niagara-Wheatfield and Kenmore East are filled with forward thinkers. Just ask Williamsville North and Williamsville East.
Their Western New York Varsity Hockey Federation championship reigns came to an end at First Niagara Center because they faced two teams with fast, physical front lines. Teams whose relentless attack proved too difficult to overcome during the Fed portion of Super Sunday.
Niagara-Wheatfield didn't just end North's time as state champion, it did so with surprising ease -- cruising to a 4-0 triumph in the Federation Division I (Large School) final. Dillon Hayes had two goals, while Alex Kammerer made 33 saves for his first shutout of the season.
The Falcons (16-5-2), who reached the state Final Four in 2009, will face unbeaten West Genesee for the right to return to the state semifinals in Syracuse on Saturday at a time to be determined.
"It's one of the best feelings in the world," senior defenseman Nick Johnson said of beating North. "We stepped up as 24 [players], a full team not individually and outworked them in every aspect of the game."
The battle between the top two ranked Small Schools in the state proved to be even more one-sided than the Division I final.
No. 1 Kenmore East crushed last year's state runner-up, second-ranked Williamsville East, 9-2, in the Division II final. Sophomore Taylor Davis had two goals and an assist as the Bulldogs earned a date at Section V champion Batavia Notre Dame on Saturday in the quarterfinals.
In its third straight Super Sunday appearance, St. Francis finally scored. After meeting that modest goal, the Red Raiders achieved a major one by winning its first Fed title since 1999. They scored thrice in the final 5:28 to beat Canisius, 4-1, in the Catholic final.
"My No. 1 thing was to score a goal this year at least because we got shut out the last two. The guys came out and played great. I was really, really proud of them," said coach Craig Fattey, whose Frannies crew will face St. Anthony's (L.I.) in the state final Sunday at Nassau Coliseum.
North, a four-time state champion, has been a fixture in Fed finals the last six years. The Spartans (17-3-3) have reached the league title game seven times in the last eight seasons and have two key returnees from last year's state championship outfit in Scott Sims and Jeff McAndrews, who ranked in the top four in league scoring.
It didn't matter Sunday. Niagara-Wheatfield used its forwards to take away time and space from North defensemen looking for break-out passes to Sims and McAndrews -- including a fine first-period penalty kill that kept the game scoreless. They did a good job clogging the neutral zone. When North did earn early scoring chances, Kammerer had the Falcons' back -- including a breakaway stop on Sims with 6:30 left in the first.
N-W broke through with 1:10 left in the first period when Keith Haseley one-touched a backdoor feed from Anthony Vekich past a helpless Jake Griebner (29 saves). Vekich had taken the puck from a North defender after a faceoff.
"I think we got frustrated early when we didn't score," North coach Bob Rosen said. "The makeup of a game like this is frustration builds and you struggle."
A Nick Matos hit forced a turnover in front of North's net late in the second period, leading to Hayes' goal with 1:34 left. Mike Parisi passed to Matos who fired it off the post but Hayes pounced on the rebound. Hayes made it 3-0 with 8:23 left and Cory Becker scored with 4:41 to go to secure N-W's second title in its fourth season in the league.
"I think probably until Friday, they didn't believe they could beat them," Falcons coach Rick Wrazin. "Looking back at what we've accomplished this year and how hot we got starting in January [6-1-1 run to postseason], I think they all just started to believe."
Ken East showed it was time for a new champ in Division II as a team that scored 99 goals in 14 league games proved that a great defense is a great offense. The Bulldogs threw pucks at the net and crashed the goal for dirty goals.
Anthony Amoia and Taylor Davis scored 38 seconds apart in the opening 4:38 to chase starting goalie and last year's Division II final MVP Tucker Weppner. Williamsville East got a minor boost from the goalie change with Cole Weppner's power-play goal three minutes later.
East had chances to tie early in the second period before Davis scored what proved to be the game-winner with 10:05 left. The teams combined for five goals in a 7:03 -- with Ken East scoring four of them. Andy Robinson (two assists), Andrew Sturtz (two goals) and Don Battista (two goals) scored during the blitz that eliminated all suspense.
"I know for the boys, it was a heartbreaker last year," Ken East coach Kyle Pray said. "I think it was fitting the two best teams were here again today."
David Kulczyk's power-play goal for St. Francis with 5:28 left broke a 1-1 tie against an underdog Canisius (8-8) crew that reached the final by shocking top seed and 2011 state Catholic champ St. Joe's in the semifinals.
Matthew Higgins scored into an empty-net with 46 seconds left and Jeffrey Magavern closed the scoring seconds later for the Red Raiders (17-5-2), who killed off seven penalties, including a late one while protecting a 2-1 lead.
"We work on that quite a bit because we have to," Fattey said. "We get a little too much practice at it but the guys did a good job."