Mar 14, 2010 Phil Blackwell Uncategorized
Only one outcome – a state Division I championship – would satisfy the West Genesee ice hockey team after its previous two trips to the state “Frozen Four” at Utica Memorial Auditorium ended in disappointment.
On Sunday afternoon, the Wildcats got the outcome it wanted, beating Saratoga Springs 3-0 in the title game to earn the team’s first state hockey crown since 2001.
“I’m so happy for our kids, our fans and for the town of Camillus,” head coach Frank Colabufo said.
With its win on Sunday, WG completed a perfect season. Twenty-five teams in 2009-10, the Wildcats hit the ice. Every time, it won.
And 15 of those victories came through shutouts, so it was fitting that the championship was yet another instance of WG slamming the door on the opposition.
It didn’t take long – 24 seconds, to be precise – for the Wildcats to seize the lead. Attacking from the opening face-off, WG worked until Adam King poked a shot past Saratoga goaltender Graeme Bulmer.
From there, both sides settled into a long scoring stalemate, even though WG controlled the flow of play. It attacked with regularity, and only Bulmer’s fine work in the net kept the margin at a single goal.
Meanwhile, the Wildcats’ defense, anchored by seniors Ryan Michel and Tim Bubnack, played close to perfection, limiting the Blue Streaks to a handful of scoring chances.
Saratoga’s best looks came early in the third period, on the power play, when it had two point-blank shots at the net, but couldn’t put it past Anthony Militello.
Then, with one of its trademark bursts, WG put it away. Fittingly, Michel, the team captain and newly-minted State Player of the Year, started it, going from end to end and blasting a shot past Bulmer with exactly eight minutes to play. A mere 42 seconds later, Erich Haney punched in the final goal of a perfect season.
Even with all that took place in the championship game, what happened the day before in the semifinals will be remembered as long as there is a West Genesee hockey program.
Down by two goals with less than 40 seconds to play, staring once again at the bitter end to a beautiful season, the Wildcats somehow rallied, forced overtime and beat Suffern 4-3 on Casey Schattner’s goal 4:24 into the extra period.
Great as WG was playing with its unbeaten mark, Suffern entered the Frozen Four riding its own hot streak, to the tune of 22 wins in a row, including a victory over state no. 2-ranked Williamsville North in the regional finals.
As fits a game with such high stakes, both sides battled for position through much of the first period before Schattner, off a feed from Shawn Lynch, poked in a goal 1:36 before intermission to put WG ahead 1-0.
Suffern would answer in the second period, the Mounties tying it on Justin Goetz’s tip of a Steve Scholer shot, then pulling in front 2-1 when Kevin Norwin’s slap shot beat Anthony Militello.
It would get worse. Another deflection, this one off Bubnack’s stick, allowed Willie Baker to score 2:19 into the third period, and now the Wildcats trailed 3-1.
Rarely had WG been behind the entire season, as it usually would get a big early scoring burst, then lean on its air-tight defense to take care of the rest.
Now, though, the situation was dire. Suffern resisted every Wildcat turn and, as the clock ticked under two minutes, WG pulled Militello for the extra attacker, something that hadn’t been done (or needed) all season.
Nothing happened immediately – but with 31 seconds to play, Zach Lewis took a pass from Bubnack and beat Mounties goalie Tyler Stark, making it 3-2. Now there was a chance.
WG won the ensuing face-off, attacked again – and when Suffern’s John Redgate got a tripping penalty with 13.2 seconds left, the Wildcats essentially had a two-man advantage, six attackers to the Mounties’ four defenders.
Again, the Wildcats won the face-off. Several shots went on the net until, with 7.2 seconds remaining, Bubnack blasted a shot past Stark, tying it 3-3. Somehow, WG had pulled itself from the brink and now had all the momentum as Suffern stood shell-shocked.
Somehow, amid the joy and bedlam, WG had to regroup for overtime. Perhaps too excited, it got a penalty early in the OT, but killed it off and resumed its all-out attack.
The comeback climaxed when King passed to Lewis, who took a shot that Stark stopped. But Schattner pounced on the rebound and, before Stark could react, flipped the puck into the net – and soon was buried by his WG teammates in celebration.
Barely 24 hours later, a bigger celebration took place as, after a nine-year wait, West Genesee claimed the biggest prize in state hockey.
Haney would be named the tournament MVP as he, Michel, Lewis and King earned spots on the All-Tournament team.
WG also swept the year-end awards, too. Colabufo and his staff earned State Coach of the Year honors, while Haney and Lewis joined Michel on the Division I All-State first team.
“This team had a quiet confidence all season,” Colabufo said. “They never got too high or too low. They believed in each other, and it worked out.”