Stop me if you’ve heard this one before, but Williamsville North and Niagara-Wheatfield are playing for the boys hockey championship again.
Both teams cruised in Wednesday’s semifinals to set up their fourth title meeting in the last five seasons. They’ve held a virtual monopoly on large school division championships for the better part of the last decade, combining to win every year since 2009 – a run that will reach each eight straight seasons on Monday.
“It’s exactly like we would want it,” Niagara-Wheatfield coach Rick Wrazin said. “Kind of in our minds, that’s the way it’s supposed to be. That’s what the kids were looking forward to. That’s who they want to see. So here we go again.”
Third-seeded Niagara-Wheatfield blanked Orchard Park at Northtown Center, 4-0, while top-ranked Williamsville North downed Clarence, 4-2.
Niagara-Wheatfield has gotten the best of North in recent years, winning an unprecedented four straight titles. Relatively speaking, that’s led to a lengthy championship drought for the perennial powers in green and yellow.
“That’s long to go without a title,” North coach Bob Rosen said. “We’ve been in the game and we’ve lost. Certainly we’ve had some heartbreaks. We’ll see Monday night. Hopefully we’re prepared and ready to go win that game. I think it’s important we do to make that (streak) stop.”
North sure looked tough to beat in its win over Clarence. The Spartans controlled play for much of the game, outshooting the Red Devils 25-14 through two periods while building a 4-1 lead on goals from Matt Terrance, Josh Surowiec, Kyle Wilk and Matt Jeffries.
Clarence had prime chances in the third period, including three power plays, but couldn’t get enough past Jake Zurat, who made 11 saves in the third and 23 overall. Richy Felber and Dylan Lock scored for Clarence while Jack Niesyty stopped 24 of 28 shots.
As good as North looked, Niagara-Wheatfield fared even better. Dominick Tallarico stopped everything the Quakers could throw at him as the Falcons avenged two regular-season losses to Orchard Park.
Nick Peters opened the scoring in the first period with an assist from Kasey Haseley, Garrett Downie set up Alex Bauer on a 2-on-1 in the second, and then Downie sealed the deal with two empty-netters.
“We’re playing well at the right time,” Wrazin said. “We had some kids step up who haven’t necessarily been playing big for us and it was nice to see. It seems like everybody’s getting right where they belong at the right time.”
So 4 p.m. Monday at First Niagara Center, it’ll be another matchup between heavyweights. For Rosen, who chooses to use only North’s success stories for motivation and not the recent losses to Niagara-Wheatfield, it’s an opportunity to add another page to the Spartans’ legacy.
We talk “more about the state championship teams,” he said. “We talk about positives and the history of our program and the alumni that stay involved. Kids hear about that.
“I get 50 or 60 text messages before, not every game, but certainly during the playoffs, from guys who played through the last 26 years. It’s a pretty neat thing.”