Jan 18, 2008 Phil Blackwell Uncategorized
Since he took over at the helm of the West Genesee ice hockey program in 1994, Frank Colabufo has seen both extremes of life at the helm.
On one hand, his Wildcats won a state Division I championship in 2001 and have, on five different occasions, finished in the state top 10. On the other hand, there have been seasons of immense struggle, especially the 2-20-2 campaign of 2004-05.
Now, though, times are great. WG leads the Division I standings with a 16-1-2 mark and, on Thursday night, made Colabufo the 28th coach in state history to reach the plateau of 200 career victories.
That 200th win proved to be a tough one to attain. Liverpool turned Thursday night’s game at State Fair Coliseum into a bruising affair dominated by the defenses.
But when the final horn sounded, the Wildcats had beaten the Warriors 2-1, allowing players, fans and parents to present Colabufo with a cake celebrating this milestone in his coaching career.
When he started in ’94, Colabufo had a difficult act to follow. Dr. Roy Fitzgerald had built the Wildcat program into a powerhouse in his stint from 1986 to 1994, going 85-76-5 and winning a state championship in 1990.
Soon enough, though, Colabufo had his team winning at an even higher rate. Five times in Colabufo’s first nine seasons, WG reached the year-end state rankings, peaking with the 2001 state title and a sequel in 2002 that wasn’t bad, either, as it reached the state finals again. In those two years alone, the Wildcats went 44-11-3.
And even when it won just twice in 2004-05, Colabufo did not fret, knowing that he had a very young team that could win again if given the chance to grow.
WG went from two wins to seven in 2005-06, then went 14-9-2 a season ago as it made it return to prominence. Now league, sectional and state honors are all within the Wildcats’ reach again, as it leads the Section III Division I standings going into the regular-season homestretch.
The 200th win symbolized WG’s rise back to the top, as it did not let an early deficit or a grinding pace of play affect them too much.
Liverpool went ahead, 1-0, on Mike Conese’s first-period goal, fed by Joey Wilson and Josh LaRose, and it stayed that way for a while.
Remaining patient, the Wildcats answered in the second period as Erich Haney put home the tying goal. Then Ryan McConnell broke the tie with 2:53 left in the period, poking a shot past Warrior goaltender Jacob Gyder. Scott Lewis, Conor Thompson and D.J. Mazzoni all got credit for assists.
Gyder, who finished with 23 saves, did not allow anything else the rest of the night. But that one-goal margin held as the Wildcats’ defense fell in front of everything Liverpool tried to do to force overtime. WG goalie John Schlegel had another superb outing, turning away 23 of the 24 shots he faced.
Win no. 199 had come last Tuesday, at Shove Park, where the Wildcats relied on its defense to smother Cicero-North Syracuse in a 4-0 shutout victory.
With aggressive back-line work, WG kept the Northstars from generating any kind of attack, something reflected in the fact that Schlegel had to make just 14 saves before Evan Mazzoni replaced him in the late going.
Lewis scored twice in WG’s winning effort, as D.J. Mazzoni and Adam King also took turns getting goals. Thompson earned two assists as Haney, Ryan Michel and Eric Mazzoni each had one assist.
With Colabufo’s milestone win cleared, WG could rest up and prepare for its biggest game of the regular season, a visit to Ithaca next Saturday at 2 p.m. The Little Red are the only team close to WG in the Division I standings and played the Wildcats to a 0-0 draw back on Dec. 18 at Shove Park.
Frank Colabufo’s career record at West Genesee:
1995-96: 14-5-2, no. 8 state ranking
1997-98: 18-6-2, no. 7 state ranking
2000-01: 22-6-1, state Division I champions
2001-02: 22-5-2, no. 2 state ranking
2002-03: 19-6-0, no. 7 state ranking
Total overall record: 200-117-26