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Pray leads Kenmore East to state hockey crown

Trevor Pray was in elementary school when his dad became Kenmore East’s hockey coach. No one in the history of the program has seen as much as he has, but he had to wait until Sunday to earn every last accolade for himself.

Pray was the little kid messing around with the older guys in the locker room after every practice the year East won its first sectional title, in 2009. He rode the bus to the state tournament when the Bulldogs won their first championship in 2012. He won his own sectional title last month. All that was missing was a state championship.

Pray checked the final box off his to-do list Sunday in dramatic fashion, tying the game late in the third and scoring in overtime to win the Division II state title at HarborCenter as Kenmore East beat Skaneateles, 3-2.

“It’s just an unbelievable feeling,” Pray said. “I grew up with this team. It’s kind of upsetting that I have to take off the jersey but it’s a great way to end my senior year. It was my goal since after the 2012 year that I wanted to be on the ice winning a state championship and now it’s true.”

“I don’t know if I could’ve written a better ending,” proud coach and prouder father Kyle Pray said. “When your son scores the OT goal and during the celebration comes over and gives you a hug like that, it was one of those moments I’ll never forget. I’ll take that one to my grave.”

Both of Pray’s goals were set up by A.J. Marinelli, who thought he had scored to win the game himself seconds before Pray slammed the puck into the back of the net and erased any doubt.

The linemates shared the team lead in scoring during the regular season with 14 goals and 15 assists each over 16 games, but elevated their play even further in the playoffs. Pray totaled a ridiculous 17 goals over the team’s six sectional and state playoff games, many of which were made possible by Marinelli’s playmaking.

Brad Hermann was strong in goal Sunday but the Bulldogs trailed, 1-0, through two periods. Russ Riggio gave them life in the third when he grabbed a loose puck at the blue line, made a great move to beat his man and then fired a backhander off the post and in with 9:55 to play.

Skaneateles’ top scorer, Ray Falso, picked the top corner to put his team back in front less than two minutes later, but Marinelli and Pray worked their magic again on a late power play to force overtime.

Marinelli didn’t get flustered when the puck fell to his stick at the edge of the crease. Instead of trying to jam it in, he picked up his head and saw that goalie Bennett Morse was square to him, so he waited … and waited … and wouldn’t you know it, he found Pray across the crease for a goal on the same play that worked so well in East’s 11-0 semifinal victory.

In the final minute of the first overtime, Marinelli made a move through the slot and ripped a shot off the iron that might have hit the back bar. But the rebound trickled through the slot and came to Pray – the pee-wee that older players used to pick up and put in the garbage can, the high school junior who felt terrible watching his classmates from the stands last year as he opted for a full-season travel team, the son who embraces his dad in “chemistry hugs” at home – who fired the puck into the net and got mobbed by his teammates.

He was named state player of the year. Dad was coach of the year.

“It was obviously not the best day,” Pray said of not making the full-season team he tried out for this year, “but at the same time I was happy to get back with these guys and I was looking forward to it. Me and Chad Diaz were saying all last year, ‘2016 state champs,’ just joking around, and now it came true.”

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