Depew faced a large task going up against a Starpoint team looking to defend its title in its sixth consecutive appearance in the championship game, but the moment never was too big for Nick Grupp.
Playing in his first final, Grupp netted two goals, including the game-winner at 6:27 of the third overtime, to lift the Wildcats over Starpoint, 3-2, in the Small Schools portion of an OT-themed edition of the Super Sunday High School Club Hockey Championships Sunday at the First Niagara Center.
In the other finals, junior Andrew Short completed the comeback in St. Joe’s Maroon’s 3-2 overtime win over Orchard Park for a three-peat in the Large Schools. Olean defeated Iroquois, 6-3, in the Mixed Schools final for its first championship behind Nathan’s Paar’s two goals.
In a Small Schools division largely dominated by Starpoint (12-6-1) and Cheektowaga since 2011, Depew’s (16-2-1) earned its first title since 2009.
Grupp’s game-winner came 93 seconds into the 3-on-3 third overtime. Starpoint goalie Morgan von Hedemann lost track of the puck behind and thought Depew skater Tyler Sobkowiak scooped it up. Little did he know the puck remained loose and was picked up by Grupp for a game-winner von Hedemann did not see coming.
“It’s hard to even coach against (Grupp) because of all the dynamic things he can do on his ice,” said Depew coach Pat Davis. “It’s not surprising to see him excel in this moment.”
“We knew we had to come in prepared,” Grupp noted. “The week leading up to Super Sunday we had some really good practices.”
Depew held off a comeback by Starpoint, which had a two-goal performance from Pat Miklinski.
Grupp opened the scoring and Bobby Staniszewski followed midway through the first to give the Wildcats a 2-0 lead.
Starpoint stormed back with Miklinski goals in the second and third. He almost completed a hat trick when his shot rang off the crossbar at the end of regulation.
Adam Bauer and von Hedemann made gutsy saves left and right throughout the first two overtimes before Grupp’s winner.
Orchard Park (11-7-1) also shot to a 2-0 lead on first period goals by Cam Peters and Marshall Cappelli.
David Matthew and Robert Robinson scored for St. Joe’s (16-2-1) in the second and third, respectively, before Short put back a Conner Branch shot with 30.9 left in OT.
St. Joe’s competed in its fourth straight Super Sunday, winning the last three. This was just the first championship for Short, though, who played on the junior varsity Maroon team last winter.
“It definitely felt special when I was on the bottom of that pile,” he noted.
Olean (4-14-1), a club team comprising nine different schools that played in a tough regular season division, participated in just its second Super Sunday.
Jack Pecora, Chris Byrne, Paar and Zane Porterfield all scored for Olean in the Eagles’ furious first period performance.
The Chiefs (12-6-1) put on a show of their own in the second. Gage Mueller began the run at 16:37. Garrett Miller (12:17) and Alex Held went top cheese at 5:22 to cut Olean’s lead to one before the break.
Paar put the game out of reach with a slap shot with 6:44 remaining before Porterfield added on an empty-netter with 4.1 seconds left.
“We were pumped up and we wanted to win,” said Paar. “We just worked hard.”
Orchard Park will play Starpoint and Dunkirk Fredonia will face off against Eden/Lake Shore in play-in games for the final state slots this week.
Olean, St. Joe’s Maroon, Depew and Iroquois already have earned spots in the New York State Club School Hockey State Tournament in Jamestown next weekend.