It was a good night for thrilling finishes but a bad night for higher seeds at the semifinals of the Section VI boys hockey small school tournament at HarborCenter.
In the opener, Tyler Arndt’s goal at 2:28 of the second overtime lifted No. 7 West Seneca East to a 3-2 win over top-seeded Williamsville East.
Then in the nightcap, Kenmore West’s Sean Degnan scored with 12:34 left, and it held up as the game-winner. The Blue Devils, seeded fourth, earned a 1-0 win over No. 2 Hamburg.
The two winners will meet in the championship game at 8:30 p.m. on Monday night at the KeyBank Center.
In the opener, the finish was particularly stunning because of what had preceded it. Williamsville East had the puck in terrific scoring position a few times, and a goal seemed almost inevitable but it never came.
“We didn’t get frustrated, because I knew the matchups were in our favor,” said a thrilled WSE coach Phil Prynn. “They had played two lines in the first overtime, and we thought they were starting to wear down a little.”
Then an opportunity arrived for the Trojans when a sophomore winger found some room.
“Drew Werner made a great pass to me,” Arndt said. “I poked it forward, but I didn’t have a whole lot of options. So I shot it, and it went top corner.
“I was so happy, I didn’t even know how to celebrate. I just fell down, and everyone jumped in the pile.”
This was an odd game by most definitions. Williamsville East, which had played in the last six finals in this classification and won five them, struck first ... and second. Jack Kelly put home a loose puck for the early goal, and then 12 seconds later did it again. Only 1 minute, 46 seconds had elapsed, and the Flames had a 2-0 lead.
But they never scored again. West Seneca East got the two goals back later in the first period, as Cameron Mentel and Daniel Flynn tallied. That’s the way it stayed until the overtime goal. Give plenty of credit to WSE goalie Jagger Maving and his 34 saves .
After some anxious moments, West Seneca East earned its first-ever ticket to the finals.
“I told the boys that we had three overtime losses in the regular season, but that it didn’t matter – we’d win when it mattered,” Prynn said.
The nightcap almost looked like a different sport than the wide-open opener. There was little room for either team to move, and shots and scoring chances were kept to a minimum.
“Hamburg plays a very structured game,” Kenmore West coach Robert Roszak said. “They play a trap in the neutral zone. I kind of figured it would take one opportunity.”
The chance came somewhat unexpectedly.
“Owen Green had it at the point,” Degnan said. “I sort of thought the puck was going out, so I was hanging in front. It wasn’t really a hard shot; he just sort of threw it on net. I had my stick ready. ... We knew Hamburg had a real good goalie, so we had to get shots and rebounds. I just tipped it and it went five-hole and right in.
“It’s hard to explain the feeling on that goal. We’ve been working for this all year, and to get it by him is unbelievable It made our dreams a reality."
From there it was a case of hanging on the rest of the way. Hamburg couldn’t solve goalie Matt Bogacki.
“It was a little too close for me,” Roszak said about the finish.
Kenmore West hadn’t even reached the final since 2006, when it defeated Canisius for the crown. Now the Blue Devils have beaten a longtime nemesis in rival Kenmore East, and downed Hamburg to advance to the title game.
“This is the craziest week of my life,” Degnan said.