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Class of ‘95 leads Buffalo’s stars past Rochester

For years, all area youth and high school hockey coaches have gushed about the wealth of talent born in Western New York in 1995. Turns out there was more than enough born in Buffalo to leave nearby western-region neighbor Rochester feeling a bit envious.

The vaunted birth year took center stage at First Niagara Center on Monday night at the ninth annual Bowman Cup showcasing Buffalo’s and Rochester’s top high school-aged players. The 1995s proved to be the decisive factors in victories by Buffalo’s all-stars in the final two games of the tripleheader, with a familiar face playing a vital role in the outcome of the finale.

West Seneca’s Cory Swift scored once and earned an assist on the go-ahead goal late in the third period as Buffalo’s junior/prep all-stars took a thrilling 3-2 decision against Rochester counterparts in high-paced, physical contest featuring some nice skill play.

Swift celebrated with a low fist pump along the ice after scoring 6:26 into the game to give Buffalo a 1-0 lead. He was getting his nose dirty with two minutes left in regulation, driving to the crease, when linemate Eric Benshadle broke a 1-1 tie with a wrist shot from the lower circle.

“It was great to come home from prep school,” said Swift, who plays for Loomis Chaffee in Windsor, Conn., and scored 12 goals and 26 points in 25 games. “A lot of family was here. It was good to put one in early and play before the home crowd.”

The 1995 birth years further enhanced their reputation for being scary good during the showcase’s middle game when Manny Manns of Lancaster scored three times during an eight-goal final period by Buffalo’s high school seniors as they trounced Rochester, 9-0. Rochester’s high school juniors opened the event, which drew an estimated 2,000, with a 4-1 victory.

Swift one-touched a quick pass from Benshadle near the goal crease to give Buffalo the early lead. It stayed that way until Joe Drabin scored with 5:53 left for Rochester, as he and fellow Buffalo Regals/Jr. Sabres 18-under team linemates Nathan Sucese and Nico Gonzalez buzzed around the Buffalo zone for good stretches of the final period, making life difficult for their in-season coach Mike Mondoux who piloted Buffalo’s all-stars.

Benshadle scored the game-winner with a nice toe-drag to slip by a defenseman on the left wing before firing a shot that slipped past Rochester’s Jordan Severo. Nick Smith added an empty-netter with 38 seconds left to make it 3-1. Bryan Carville scored with 8.5 seconds left for Rochester, which is now 0-2 against Buffalo’s junior-prep talents. Swift wasn’t the only Buffalo-area kid making a homecoming in the contest as junior players Patrick Polino of Buffalo and Kyle Eastman of Angola made it to the game as their seasons in the United States Hockey League ended last weekend. Both were assigned to Rochester, however, so they didn’t experience the thrill of victory.

Six different Buffalo players recorded multiple points in the high school seniors’ game, as the Queen City improved to 7-2 against the Flower City’s best.

“It means a lot, bragging rights. It was just a blast,” said Sweet Home senior Randy DiNatale, one of those 1995 birth years who finished with three assists and also earned a Buffalo Sabres Alumni Scholarship worth $1,000 Monday. Manns scored his first 42 seconds into the final period. He added his second with 16:56 left and completed his hat trick with a breakway goal with 7:44 left.

DiNatale picked up helpers on three of Buffalo’s first four goals, two of which were scored short-handed. Williamsville East senior Austin Bianchi finished with a goal and two assists.

“Class of 1995 is obviously a real talented group,” said St. Joe’s coach Rich Crozier, who coached Buffalo’s high school juniors Monday night. “Overall, it’s going to go down as one of the best birth years in Western New York hockey history.”

Rochester’s all-stars won’t be arguing that point as Buffalo scored goals 54 seconds apart (Manns and Frontier’s Bob Piotrowicz) and 5 seconds apart (Dmitri Gogos of St. Joe’s and St. Francis’ Tyler McTigue) during the final period.

Buffalo goalies Nick George, Connor Naughton and Chris Reinhardt yielded nothing when tested by Rochester’s shooters. Clarence senior Brian Ruff (a 1994 birth year) had three assists. In the high school juniors game, Anthony DePetres scored twice for Rochester. Joe Piegay scored with 1:22 left for Buffalo to make it 3-1 but DePetres ended comeback hopes with an empty-net goal 24 seconds later. All three of Rochester’s goalies stood tall, thwarting several quality chances by Buffalo, including its closer Meghan Browning – a girl who went 1-2 in three starts for Penfield during the season, the win being a playoff game during the Section V tournament.