Dec 11, 2010 Phil Blackwell Uncategorized
Nothing can top perfection – which is what the West Genesee ice hockey team pulled off in 2009-10.
Twenty-five teams, that special group of Wildcats took the ice. All 25 times, they left victorious, not conquered once as WG claimed the State Division I championship in Utica, capping it off with a 3-0 shutout of Saratoga Springs.
Once it was done, head coach Frank Colabufo had to deal with the next chapter – how to replace nine departed seniors, including the great defensive tandem of Ryan Michel and Tim Bubnack, plus Zach Lewis, Adam King, Erich Haney, Casey Schattner and goaltender Anthony Militello.
Also, WG had to deal with a realignment of Section III hockey that radically altered – and enlarged the Division I ranks. All sorts of teams moved up, and the Wildcats were placed into Division I-A with Central Square, Cicero-North Syracuse, Corcoran, Hamilton, Ontario Bay, Liverpool and Ithaca.
Division I-B, meanwhile, has Baldwinsville, Cortland-Homer, Fayetteville-Manlius, Rome Free Academy, Solvay, Utica Proctor and Watertown IHC. The enlarged division means that league teams will play each other only once in the regular season, and the top eight will advance to the playoffs.
With all this as background, the Wildcats were set to open the season earlier this week against two of the Division I newcomers – Central Square and Watertown IHC – but both games were snowed out.
Thus, WG had no choice but to play its first games against elite foes in the Wildcat Classic at Shove Park – and it was here that any far-flung dream of another undefeated season got swept away.
The Wildcats did make it through a tough opening-round game against Niagara-Wheatfield (Section VI), beating the Falcons 2-1 for its 26th consecutive victory.
Ryan LaVallee’s goal in the first period put WG on the board, but it was a 1-1 tie when, just 29 seconds into the second period, Shawn Lynch, the Wildcats’ top returning scorer from last season, put in the go-ahead goal.
From there, WG’s new-look defense did everything it could to keep Niagara-Wheatfield from pulling back even. That included the work of a big new goalie, Max Barone, who used his 6-3, 250-pound frame to block 15 of the 16 Falcon shots he faced.
This led the Wildcats into Saturday night’s final – against Suffern. This was, of course, the same Suffern team that appeared to have WG beat in last year’s state semifinals in Utica before a miraculous late comeback and goal in overtime produced a 4-3 Wildcat victory and kept the perfect dream alive.
The exact same scenario presented itself – but this time, Suffern won 3-1. Down 1-0 in the second period, WG tied it on Shawn Lynch’s goal (fed by Jon Lauer), but Suffern surged in the third period, Willie Baker and Jake Jaeger putting shots past Barone. And this time, the Wildcats could not make another rally. Barone finished with 19 saves.
So the win streak is over, and WG will turn to the revamped Division I this week for games against Fayetteville-Manlius at Cicero Twin Rinks and a home date with Solvay.
The Bearcats are off to a 1-1 start, having finished third in Baldwinsville’s Bobby Conklin Tournament. Solvay lost 2-1 to Clarence in the opening round, Mike Sniffen getting the only goal in the second period as Tom Missert got the assist. Goalie Ryan Bonk recorded 29 saves. In Saturday’s consolation game, the Bearcats bounced back, beating Central Square 5-2.