There's a new sheriff in town when it comes to Section VI girls hockey.
Frontier/Lake Shore/Orchard Park edged Kenmore/Grand Island, 3-2, at the Northtown Center in Amherst on Wednesday night. It ended a five-year reign by K/GI, which made the championship even sweeter for FLOP coach Bob Klimowicz.
"Not only have me and my coaching staff had opportunities in other sports to get a championship and fallen short, but it's the same for those girls in the locker room," he said. "They've come close a couple of times."
Klimowicz missed out on title celebrations during his time as the boys hockey coach at Frontier. The switch resulted in a title.
But as the score indicated, it wasn't easy.
"We knew the type of game they wanted to play," Klimowitz said. "They waited for us to make a mistake, and they capitalized on it. They played a smart, intelligent game, and almost got the upset. They played the game they needed to play."
FLOP had the territorial edge in play throughout the contest, finishing with a 29-12 edge in shots. Still, the game was tied at 1-1 after two periods. Olivia Smith got the first goal for K/GI with 2:04 left in the first period. Abigail Lillis got that one back for FLOP with about six minutes to go in the second.
As each moment went by, Kenmore/Grand Island's confidence grew just a little bit. Seventh-grade goalie Ellie Simmons was coming off a stunning win over top-seed Williamsville on Monday, and looked sharp again.
Both sides knew that with only 15 minutes left in regulation, one break could decide the Section VI championship.
"We went in the locker room between the second and third periods, and had a good talk," FLOP's Frangelica Bautz said. "We came out strong in the third period."Jessica Peters got the go-ahead goal for FLOP with 7:02 left, and Mary Kroner added some insurance a minute later. She took a shot from the point that went through some traffic and found then net for a 3-1 lead.
"When you're the favorite, the sticks can get a little tight in your hands," Klimowicz said. "When that second goal went in, it was big. The next goal helped a lot too."
Still, K/GI wasn't ready to give up its title without a fight. Senior Hannah Gallivan's burst down left wing resulted in the prettiest goal of the night, cutting the margin to a goal. The Devil Dogs came oh-so-close to tying it from there.
"We were still fighting until the end," K/GI coach Jeff Orlowski said. "We hit a goalpost with about a minute left. But they're a solid hockey team. We can't match up with them. They go three lines deep, and their defense moves the puck better than anyone else in the league."
This was supposed to be a rebuilding year for Kenmore/Grand Island, the fourth seed. Their playoff experience probably helped them reach another final.
"Find me a team in one sport that's been to six straight Section VI championship games," Orlowski said. "That's unheard of."
Actually, there have been others to do that, but it's a mighty small class. Winning at least five of those six title games is even more rare.
For FLOP, there's little time to rest. The team heads to Canton in Northern New York to play in the state semifinal on Friday night. The championship game is on Saturday. But no matter what happens there, Wednesday's result is going to feel good for a while.
"There are a couple of girls in the locker room who have been with the team for five years, and they hadn't won," Klimowitz said. "So there's a little extra sweetness there."
"I'm honestly speechless," FLOP's Meghan Roche said.