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Orchard Park riding high into state hockey semifinals

Any team with championship aspirations wins a regular-season game that proves to be pivotal toward the chase.

Orchard Park's first such moment came roughly a month ago. On Feb. 9, the Quakers played the second two two back-to-back games on short rest in Rochester against then state No. 3 McQuaid and had its epiphany. Orchard Park played the role of spoiler on the Knights’ Senior Day by leaving the arena not just with a 2-1 triumph, but a heavy infusion of belief and confidence.

“That was a big step ... I think that was a season-changer,” Quakers coach Josh Dannecker said.

Anyone who might disagree, check out the schedule for this Saturday’s New York State Public High School Athletic Association Final Four at Harborcenter. The Quakers are among the teams two wins away from more championship glory.

Orchard Park hits the ice in the final game of the day Saturday at 4:30 p.m. against the combined team of Corcoran Syracuse (22-1-1), which is ranked third in the state. The program features student-athletes from various Syracuse public schools.  The winner faces either I-Suffern or X-Canton in the Division I (large schools) final at 3 p.m. Sunday at Harborcenter.

The tournament begins at 9:30 a.m. Saturday with the Division II (small schools) semifinals. I-John Jay meets II-Queensbury, while the 11:45 a.m. tilt pits III-Skaneateles against V-Webster Thomas. The winners play for the title at noon Sunday.

This will be the fourth year the NYSPHSAA Tournament takes place in the practice facility of the Buffalo Sabres. Tickets cost $10 at the door.

In previous editions of the event at Harborcenter, a Section VI team has captured a state title in one of the classifications each year. Kenmore East (in 2016) and Sweet Home (2018) won Division II crowns, while Williamsville North (2017) captured the Division I title in familiar surroundings.

Orchard Park (12-7-1-2) hopes to join those teams as it gets to play a state semifinal game on the same ice on which it celebrated nearly two weeks ago when it won the program’s first Section VI championship by beating last year’s state runner-up Niagara Wheatfield, 4-0.

OP advanced with an overtime win over host Ithaca of Section IV in the state quarterfinals last Saturday. The game-winning goal came courtesy of Jack Kinsman with 2:57 left in overtime.

It’s kind of fitting that someone from the top line scored the game-winner for the Quakers. Their big line has been giving teams fits all season with its ability to use its size on the forecheck, cycling down low and producing scoring chances.

Kinsman shares the team lead in goals (15) with Kyle Flynn, but also has team bests in assists (18) and points (33). Linemate Zachary Mecca has 14 goals and 31 points. Flynn has 28 points.

“They are probably one of the harder working lines,” Dannecker said. “They have high motors. They’ll go hard to the net. They’re physical. They’re big guys too. On a team that’s not really big, that one line is probably our most physical line … that makes them successful. They put a lot of pressure on the other team’s defense down low, create turnovers and capitalize.”

Dannecker knows what it’s like to coach a state champion. He served as co-coach with Brittany Schermerhorn in 2015 when OP won it all in softball.

“I think with softball we had a team that had a little more expectation,” Dannecker said. “I think this team here because we have a team that is so young I don’t think we have the same level of expectation as we did in softball. I think this one is a little bit more of a surprise to people outside the organization.”

“We’re really jelling as a team,” Mecca said. “We have to bring the momentum in this weekend and hopefully bring home the title.”

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