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Williamsville North's reward for playing an honest game: a state hockey championship

Coaches always talk about how a team needs to do the little things right to win a hockey game.

That includes chipping pucks out of the zone, knowing when to go to the bench for a line change and, of course, getting pucks to the net, even if it seems like a low-percentage shot.

Williamsville North did all of that better than any other team in the state this season. It earned the ultimate reward as a result: A championship coronation before the home folks.

The Spartans reign supreme in the Empire State for the first time in years.

They captured their first New York State Public High Schools Athletic Association Division I (large schools) championship since 2011 by defeating Section V champion Pittsford, 3-2, Sunday afternoon before an estimated 2,000 at HarborCenter.

Brett Sardina, Andrew Bruno and Adam Batz scored for North (21-4), which won its fifth championship under longtime coach Bob Rosen. Mono-stricken goaltender Jake Zurat finished with 13 saves as the senior battled through the fatigue to make several game-changing stops to give his side the opportunity to celebrate wildly once the final horn sounded.

"It's just incredible," said Bruno, who earned most valuable player honors. "It's a great team win. … The atmosphere in here, in our hometown was just unbelievable. … We got it done for them."

"Whatever we've asked them to do they've done," said Rosen, who has guided the program to eight finals during his 27 seasons as coach. "They certainly overachieved in my book and they did all the little things a team is supposed to do to win championships and valued those things. It's a great championship team."

Williamsville North strikes the traditional championship pose after winning the Division I state title Sunday at HarborCenter. (Harry Scull Jr./Buffalo News)

In the Division II (small schools) final, I-Pelham scored five times in the third period to pull away from X-St. Lawrence, 7-1.

North is the second Section VI team in as many seasons to win a state championship at HarborCenter since the NYSPHSAA voted to move the final four here from Utica following the 2015 event. Kenmore East captured the Division II title last year.

The cardiac-kid Spartans won the championship by taking its fourth straight one-goal decision, which includes Saturday's 1-0 semifinal triumph over last year's champion I-Mamaroneck.

A Pittsford team trying to win its first state title came after North with a hard-skating, neutral-zone-trap-suffocating attack that produced the game's opening goal with just 2 minutes, 52 seconds off the clock. Connor Haims tipped in a point shot from John Avery.

Since the Panthers (20-4-1) had been controlling play up to that point, one figured it'd only be a matter of time before the floodgates opened. Instead,

Pittsford's goal provided the energy jolt the Spartans needed to snap out of their slumber against the program that ended their season last year.

After the Panthers failed to connect on a rush, North went the other way with Sardina using a defenseman as a screen to beat goaltender William Hernes with a wrister from the right circle with 5:49 left in the first period. Bruno made it 2-1 on the power play roughly 2 minutes later, slipping in backdoor and firing in a cross-crease feed from Anthony Trigilio.

North had several chances to increase its lead during the second period, including a golden opportunity by Batz. He fired a rebound chance over a wide-open net. He made up for that with 37.1 seconds left in the period as his seemingly non-threatening wrister while skating along the right wall slipped through the pads of Hernes.

"Lucky goals are always nice to score," said Batz, a senior who capped his three-season career scoring three championship-clinching goals for the Spartans. "It wasn't a great goal but I'll take it."

"All those little things we work on like shooting while skating, we work do in summer clinics," Rosen said.

North finished with a 31-15 edge in shots, but the Panthers made their foe sweat a bit when John Mozrall's power-play goal pulled them within a goal with 6:17 left.

North, which won the sectional title and its state quarterfinal game in overtime, didn't let Pittsford spoil its day. The Spartans chipped pucks out of their zone. They rubbed players out.

Most importantly, they prevented Pittsford from getting that potential game-changing opportunity that could have resulted in a goal that could have deprived Williamsville North of its crowning moment.

"Being a senior and winning this," Batz said, "I'll remember this for the rest of my life."

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