Jan 12, 2014 Phil Blackwell Uncategorized
Halfway through its regular-season schedule, West Genesee’s ice hockey team stood at the top of the state Division I rankings, having not faced that much late-game stress.
Of the Wildcats’ first 10 games, all victories, just one of them was decided by a single goal, a 2-1 decision against Watertown IHC on Dec. 17 at the Fairgrounds Arena.
A similar sort of road test awaited WG last Wednesday night as it ventured to Lysander to take on Baldwinsville. In the latest chapter of this fierce, physical rivalry, WG got the best of it, hanging on at the end to edge the Bees 3-2.
Through the years, B’ville, even when it couldn’t earn many victories against the Wildcats, always made things difficult, and this game was no exception as the teams battled through a scoreless first period, despite WG getting most of the opportunities.
Then WG appeared to take over in the second period, as David Procopio scored twice and Corey Raaflub also found the net. Ryan McDonald and Derek Farrell both got credit for a pair of assists as Collin Kobuszewski also got an assist. B’ville got on the board, too, Charlie Bertrand scoring off a feed from Matt Abbott.
So it went to the third period with the Wildcats in front, 3-1,but it wasn’t over. B’ville cut the deficit in half late in the frame, Abbott again getting the assist as Garrett Gray found the net, but the Bees could not pull even and force overtime.
The Wildcats ultimately took twice as many shots as the Bees, though Nick Harper stopped most of them, making 27 saves as WG’s Henry Burns had 13 saves.
Two nights later, WG was back at Shove Park and taking on Liverpool, vastly improved this season with a 7-3 record and a determination to measure itself against the reigning champions.
That didn’t matter much here, though, as the Wildcats leaned on its work in man-up – and man-down – situations to put together an efficient 3-0 shutout of the Warriors.
Early nerves were in place for Liverpool, as evidenced by the way it easily surrendered the puck in its own end, giving WG a string of early opportunities. The Wildcats took seven shots in the first six minutes, but freshman goalie Steven Kozikoski stopped all of them.
As the Warriors settled down late in the period, it got a power-play opportunity, only to come up empty. Then, on WG’s first power play, Procopio’s wrist shot from the point beat Kozikoski with 48.7 seconds left in the period, and Liverpool trailed 1-0.
It stayed that way through much of an evenly-played second period. The Warriors started to pick up its attack and got plenty of chances to pull even, only to meet frustration as Richie Hart pumped one shot off the post and Burns twice stopped Dalton Horton on point-blank looks.
Then, late in the second period, the game’s pivotal sequence took place. A boarding penalty by Procopio gave Liverpool a four-minute power play that would extend into the third period.
But with 39.1 seconds left in the period, the Wildcats, well-known for its capability when a man down, burned the Warriors as Nick Mellen nabbed a short-handed goal, assisted by Corey Raaflub.
Thus, despite the Warriors’ soild play, it trailed 2-0, and both of those goals had come in the last minute, which is always a momentum shift. Unable to recover, the Warriors surrendered another power-play goal, this one to McDonald, with 4:49 left.
Kozikoski finished with 26 saves, but Liverpool came up short of the 20-shot mark head coach Chris Mathes had set before the game. None of the Warriors’ 15 shots got past Burns.
With no time to rest, WG turned around and ventured to the Albany area Saturday to face the Shaker-Colonie Jets, from Section II.
Playing for the third time in four days, the Wildcats beat the Jets 4-0, the team’s sixth shutout in 13 outings this winter, again scoring at least once in each period and again clamping down on the defensive side, limiting Shaker-Colonie to just 12 shots, all of them stopped by Burns.
McDonald, with two goals, led the attack as Mellen scored for the second straight night and Grainger Sasso also found the net. Farrell, Procopio and Kobuszewski each had one assist.
This led to Monday’s game at struggling Cicero-North Syracuse, a precursor to Friday’s big showdown with Rome Free Academy at Shove Park, the only time the Black Knights (who lost each of the last three Section III finals to the Wildcats) will face the Wildcats in the regular season.