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H.S. Ice Hockey Preview: Defending champ St. Francis eager to turn latest group into winner

Junior goalie Pat Kinderman readies for a shot in an early-season contest as defensive help comes from senior teammate Mike Prentice. (Photo by Jeff Barnes)

St. Francis isn’t off to the same quick start of last season when the program won a first Western New York Federation title since 1999, but that doesn’t worry head coach Craig Fattey.

Every year is like a brand new season for the Red Raiders’ Federation team with players being lost to graduation and others to the school’s elite prep team and at the Juniors level, so there always an early-season adjustment period.

Plus, the team’s 0-3-1 start includes three losses by one goal and in the tie, St. Francis lost a lead in the final minute of the game. Fattey points out that it’s actually not too far off from where his team started last year when instead it was winning these early games by only a goal.

Fattey believes it’s a long season, so just because his team won’t be off to another 14-1-2 hot streak like it was last season doesn’t mean the Red Raiders won’t compete as they did in 2011-12.

“One bounce the other way and you’re talking about these losses turning into wins and ties,” said Fattey, whose team finished 18-6-3 last season. “The big thing is to keep building game by game.”

St. Francis returns four players from a team that lost by only one goal to St. Anthony’s in the Catholic state championship but is the youngest group Fattey has had since he returned to the Federation team as its head coach several seasons ago.

In their third consecutive season playing in the Western New York Catholic final last year, the Red Raiders earned a 4-1 win over Canisius. Last year’s group was their most experienced group of the three that advanced to the final.

“We’ve talked about that we have four returning players from a team that was a goal away from the state championship, so they can taste that, but when you have 16 new guys on the team, it also makes it a challenge,” Fattey said. “When you have a bigger group back, it’s easier to say we’re going to do it. That’s what we’d like to do, but the reality is that we have to play a long tough season and then get through four tough Catholic teams (in St. Joe’s, St. Mary’s, Timon and Canisius).”
Tyler McTigue is one of only four returning players from last year's Federation Catholic champion team. (Photo by Jeff Barnes)

The four returning players include seniors Tyler McTigue and Bernie Lettieri at forward and Mike Prentice on defense, along with junior goalie Tim Galley. McTigue, the team’s leading scorer last season, who is serving as team captain, was an all-division first team selection and Galley, a second team honoree. Lettieri scored in last year’s Federation final, while Prentice has grown into a defensive leader for the squad.

The four have attempted to assist Fattey in helping the team along in an early transition phase. Fattey has found that since the program lost 28 players between its five ice hockey teams, the biggest challenge for each coach has been creating that team chemistry.

“You have to have the talent — and I’m confident that we do, but it also takes time for a an attitude to develop,” he said. “You also need some time to sort through who plays best on the ice together and who might compliment the other the best. It makes a big difference when you have juniors and seniors who have played next to each other for years.”

Some of the top newcomers up to the Federation squad include junior Ryan Stefaniak, a strong two-way player who can play forward or defense and is equipped with a big and accurate shot. Sophomore Ryan DiPasquale has already become a big contributor on defense.

McTigue, Lettieri, Stefaniak and DiPasquale have accounted for all but one of St. Francis’ first 12 goals this season. Junior Cory Schneid also scored in a 2-2 tie with St. Mary’s in the second game of the season-opening Nichols Tournament in late November. The Red Raiders lost the opener 3-2 to Lew-Port.

In falling 6-5 to Sweet Home, McTigue netted the hat trick and he, Lettieri and Stefaniak were the scorers in consecutive games when St. Francis fell to Williamsville South 4-3 on Sunday (Dec. 2).

With Galley being injured in warm-ups before the first game, junior Pat Kinderman saw some time in net to start the season. On the young team, there is only one other senior, Sean Devine, a defenseman.

Fattey said the team will continue to build toward playing a style that best suits this roster, but his idea of creating balance throughout his lines will not change.

“I don’t like to load up on one line; I’m looking for contributions from everyone,” he said. “This is the ultimate team sport and everyone’s got to play their part. A lot of guys need to get involved and buy into the team concept. It’s a big step up from a physical stand point for a lot of these guys, so it’s going to take time for them to adjust to it. But they’ll get it.”

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