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Frontier trying to answer questions to get into Federation mix

STRETCHED OUT — Senior Mike O’Rourke and an array of Frontier players will be filling larger roles this season, for a team that finished as sectional semifinalists last year. Photo courtesy of Ron Larson.
There were some question marks, going into Frontier’s opening game this season, after the Falcons hockey team lost most of the scoring from its top two lines to graduation.

And Frontier had little time to mull over possible answers with a stretch of games to open the season, which included defending private school champion Saint Joe’s, defending large school champ Niagara Wheatfield and perennial-hockey power Williamsville North.

Frontier delivered what it hopes will be the first of many answers in the opener with a 4-goal performance against fellow Federation large school St. Joe’s, in a two-goal win. But, as expected from a very even large school field for this season, the less-experienced Falcons hit a bit of a rut, with a pair of loses during the weekend: 3 – 0 to Williamsville North on Dec. 7 and 4 – 3 to Wheatfield, the next day.

“We started to get a feel for the team, during our scrimmage with Hamburg; they got some of the excitement out and we got to see what type of players we have,” Frontier head coach Bob Klimowicz said. “But there are still some questions that need to be answered.

“Talk about a tough way to start the season,” he added. “The league is so close. I think you’ll see a lot of 4 – 2 [and] 3 – 2 type games.”

The Falcons are a team of seniors and juniors, but they don’t have as much playing experience as the squads of the past two seasons that made it to the large school semifinals. Frontier won the program’s first regular season division title in 2011 – 2012. The year prior, with a young squad, the Falcons were Federation finalists.

Klimowicz noted there are several first-year players on the team, but also a number of guys who came back to the district, or returned to the squad, who should help, this season. The top two forward lines are pretty interchangeable, with an array of talent, and four seniors lead the returning group on defense. Klimowicz also welcomed back a little depth at the goaltending position.

Klimowicz noted that he is looking for some scoring punch; right away, four-year varsity player Jim Gleason provided it, with two goals against St. Joe’s. A checking line center last season, he will be in the middle of a line with Mike O’Rourke and Brandon Galanti, who returns to the team, after taking a year off to focus on soccer. Galanti was the Western New York player of the year for soccer, this fall.

Phil Stamer, who returned from playing with the Buffalo Junior Sabres last season, will center senior Tyler Gaglia and junior Will McDonald, who is back in the district, after playing for Saint Francis. Gaglia and Galanti each added goals, during the win.

“Jim has been are most effective and dominant forward so far, “Klimowicz said, before the weekend. “That line isn’t very big, but they work well together. Having McDonald and Galanti come back to the program gives us more depth up front than I anticipated having.”

Frontier’s top five defensemen this season are all returning players. They include seniors Adam Skopinski, Alex Buczek, Matt Schifferle and Tyler Schwartzott, while junior Michael Hughes is developing into one of the team’s best at the blueline, his coach noted. Sophomores Christian Buszek and Ryan Piniewski may also see some time on defense.

Junior Connor Harman has returned from St. Francis to man the net, but with a lingering injury, sophomore Ryan Kaska got the chance to start against St. Joe’s and impressed, Klimowicz said. The coach said he expected Harman to start his first game over the weekend, and for Kaska to remain in the mix, throughout the season.

“We went from goaltending being an area of strength in the program to a major void,” said Klimowiz, who had Cooper Soto come back from juniors for the past two seasons, but many youngsters have moved along to play at different levels. “Having Connor back – he’s not only good, but it gives us depth again.”

Klimowicz said that he is still trying to figure out his third line, with five or six players’ fighting for a spot. Matt Kelley has been centering a line that at times has included fellow juniors Brandon Stone and Nate Sawicki and senior Zach Eberhardt. Klimowicz said he expects to also look at freshman Jared Compise, sophomore Ryan Hennigan and junior Mitch Knihinicki.

Even with some of those lingering questions, Klimowicz said e expects that his team, which fell to Clarence last season in the large school semifinals, should be in a large school mix that could include five or six teams vying for a sectional title.

“There shouldn’t be any teams like St. Joe’s, who finished 17 – 0 – 1 last season,” he said. “Most matchups will be like, ‘You beat me this time, I beat you next time.’ I told the kids that there are no gimmes this year; we’ve got to be ready every game.”

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