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Niagara Wheatfield falls in state Division I hockey final

That's not how it was supposed to end for Niagara Wheatfield.

The Falcons were the ones who had envisioned themselves celebrating a historic state hockey championship in their own backyard much like Williamsville North (2017) and Kenmore East (2016) had before them the first two years the New York State Public High Schools Athletic Association final four took place at HarborCenter.

Instead of winning their first state title as a varsity program in familiar Section VI surroundings, all the Falcons could do was watch Victor celebrate wildly after it secured the storybook ending to its season to remember.

The Section V champions completed a virtually flawless season by scoring the final five goals of Sunday afternoon's contest to skate away with the Division I title following a 5-1 victory.

A standing-room only crowd at HarborCenter watched the Blue Devils (22-0-4) overcome a 1-0 deficit by scoring three times in the final 6 minutes, 29 seconds of the second period. The goals came against a Niagara Wheatfield crew that had yielded just one goal its previous five playoff games and entered the final unbeaten in its last 13 games (11-0-2).

Sam Lambert and Ashton Collazo each scored twice while goaltender Chayse Ierlan finished with 18 stops as Victor won its first state championship in the sport.

"It hasn't even hit me yet that we're state champions yet," said tournament MVP Lambert. "It's the closest group of guys ever in there. It's been a heck of a ride."

It's been a memorable ride for Niagara Wheatfield (19-4-3), a six-time Section VI champion in just 10 seasons of varsity hockey. The Falcons soared into the final by taking down three teams ranked among the top seven in state – including No. 3 North Rockland, 4-0, in Saturday's semifinal. They were attempting to become just the second Section VI Division I program to ever win a state title, joining five-time champion Williamsville North.

NW had reason to believe early in the second period when Chace Woods scored with 9:31 left with Zach Belter earning the assist. The goal came after netminder Payton Siegmann made a save on a short-handed breakaway. Siegmann, who posted his fourth shutout of the playoffs Saturday, finished with 20 stops Sunday.

Victor wouldn't be denied.

The Blue Devils had the Falcons scrambling in its defensive zone and the scene ended with Lambert one-timing a shot past Siegmann with 6:29 left in the second. Nearly two minutes later, Josh Albert scored what proved to be the game-winner for Victor. Ashton Collazo scored with 1:42 left in the second on a great end-to-end rush down the left wing, cutting in front of the net and beating Siegmann short side to the glove high to make 3-1.

"We started running around in our own end," longtime Falcons coach Rick Wrazin said. "We got beat on some plays we don’t typically get beat on."

The Falcons had a couple chance to trim their deficit early in the third period but failed to get that momentum-turning goal against Ierlan, the state Division I Player of the Year.

"I don't know if it was the pressure of the game or because they came as hard as they did," said Wrazin of his team's inability get its offense untracked. "It's not that we didn't have the effort but guys were reading instead of pressuring a little more than normal. Our strength has been making teams make mistakes and we gave Victor too much time."

Only one team gets to win the last hockey game of the season. While Niagara Wheatfield came up short in its quest to win it all, the fact it reached the final validates that it's more than just a local power in the sport.

"It's the farthest we've ever come as a program," Wrazin said. "This group was confident. … I believed in them. I came in comfortable if we played our game we'd be OK. Credit to them (Victor), they got us off our game."

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