Whoever wins the Section VI Division I and II boys hockey championships will receive a reward no other Western New York Varsity Federation public school has ever experienced during the postseason.
They will enjoy the comforts of home for the duration of the New York State Public High School Athletic Association playoff tournament.
Section VI’s champions will host regional/quarterfinal round games during a doubleheader March 5 at Northtown Center at Amherst. Should one or both of the section’s representatives win that night, the reward is home-ice advantage for the state final four at HarborCenter March 12-13.
“I think it’ll help the local teams if there are any local teams that make it” that far, Section VI hockey chairman and Federation President Mark DiFilippo said. “I think it’ll not only be a benefit to have fans who cheer for them but also having played in the facilities and being able to sleep in their own beds gives them an advantage.”
The road to the state tournament begins Thursday and continues Friday at Northtown Center with Section VI Division II prequarterfinal games.
Section VI Division I and II quarterfinals are Saturday and Sunday, respectively, at Northtown Center, with the semifinals Feb. 24 (Division I) and Feb. 25 (Division II).
The Section VI finals, along with the private schools’ Niagara Cup championship game, are part of the Super Monday tripleheader Feb. 29 at First Niagara Center. All champions advance to their respective state tournaments.
Top seeds for the playoff tournaments are Williamsville North (Division I), Kenmore East (Division II) and St. Joe’s (Niagara Cup). Defending champions include Niagara-Wheatfield (Division I), which will be seeded No. 3 during its quest for a fifth straight title. Other defending champions are Williamsville East (Division II), a No. 2 seed, and Canisius (Niagara Cup), also a No. 2 seed.
Catholic school members of the Fed, whose Niagara Cup semifinals begin Monday at Dwyer Arena, have hosted state title games in the past. But the weekend of March 12-13 will be a first for the public-school counterparts.
HarborCenter submitted a bid last spring to host the state final four over the next three years, a proposal the NYSPHSAA executive committee approved over the objections of the state hockey committee – which was more than happy to extend its 28-year run in Utica. But money talks. The NYSPHSAA will not have to pay rent to use HarborCenter.
As part of the weekend, there will be for the first time a state hockey banquet – March 11 at the Statler Towers.
“I think it’s been met with some mixed reaction,” said Kenmore East coach Kyle Pray of the move. “But I think when some of those teams see the HarborCenter … I think once they’re here it’s going to be a nice change.”
Nichols’ big weekend set
Nichols will look to make its mark this weekend when it hosts national No. 1 Shattuck-St. Mary’s of Faribault, Minn. in a two-game series on campus at Dann Memorial Rink. The Vikings open the series at 7 p.m. Friday against the longtime national power, whose alumni include NHLers Sidney Crosby, Jonathan Toews, Zach Parise and ex-Buffalo Sabre Drew Stafford.
The second game of the series is at noon Saturday.
Nichols (12-13-3) has never beaten Shattuck (22-8-4). This is the fourth season the schools have played each other in a two-game series and the second time they’ve played in Buffalo.
Two years ago SSM won a pair of close games at the Dann.
“They’re the benchmark for other programs around,” seventh-year Nichols coach Jamie Printz said. “It’s just a great opportunity to see where we stack up. It gives our guys an opportunity to play the best competition around. Quite honestly, I think it’s great Shattuck sought us out to continue after the first season. It’s just exciting they want us on their schedule. It’s mutual. We both want to play each other.” And they will continue to meet in the future as Nichols and SSM announced a partnership to host a five-team showcase tournament series in December with Culver Academies (Ind.), St. Andrews College (Ont.) and Northwood School in Lake Placid.
Junior and Dartmouth-commit Erik Urbank is Nichols’ top scorer with 14 goals and 27 points in 26 games.
Meanwhile, Nichols’ girls’ team has home-ice advantage for the first time in the North American Prep Hockey Association Tournament, which will be held Saturday and Sunday at HarborCenter.
The Vikings (21-8-4), ranked fourth in the country, embark on the quest to extend their record championship run to five years with a quarterfinal game at 8:45 a.m. Saturday against Rice Memorial High of Burlington, Vt. Should Nichols win, it returns to action at 4:45 p.m. Saturday against either Gilmour Academy of Ohio or RNS Academy of Nova Scotia.
Stanstead College of Quebec is the No. 1 seed. It went 2-1 during the season against Nichols.
The championship game is at 11 a.m. Sunday.
Nichols has six seniors, including three who are committed to Division I programs – Michele Robillard (Mercyhurst), Abby Welch (Penn State) and Rachel dePerio (Union).