CELEBRATE — Hamburg had plenty to celebrate as it ended the season with a big OT win over West Seneca East . File photo courtesy of Ron Larson.
The Hamburg hockey team has been waiting for a signature win against one of the other front-running teams in Division II. On Feb. 9, they finally got it.
Collin Mills jammed home a loose puck 2:21 into overtime as the Bulldogs battled back from two goals down to defeat West Seneca East, 4-3, in front of a packed house at Buffalo State College.
The win gives the Bulldogs the fourth seed and a bye to the quarterfinals of the Western New York Federation small school playoffs. They also handed East its first loss of the division season. Quarterfinals will take place on Sunday, Feb. 16 at the Northtown Center in Amherst.
“I hope we are flying under the radar. I don’t think we are,” said Hamburg coach John McFall. “It’s our first win against one of the top three teams. We are down two goals total in the six games against those teams. Every single game between [West Seneca East, Williamsville East and Kenmore East] has been tremendous hockey.”
It wasn’t the start the Bulldogs were looking for, as the Trojans, looking to clinch the top seed and division title, jumped out to a quick 2 – 0 lead. Jaret Werner wristed a shot that beat Hamburg goaltender Vinny Goodrich high to the glove side. Just 36 seconds later, the Trojans took a 2 – 0 lead, when David Brunka jammed home the rebound past a sprawling Goodrich.
“That was not like us at all,” McFall said. “I think we had a little case of the nerves. We had put a lot on this game. We were flat and we weren’t moving our feet.”
McFall helped settle down the team during the intermission and Hamburg started buzzing around in the West Seneca East zone to start the second. The hard work would pay off midway through the period as Jason Lucarelli fired a shot past West Seneca East goaltender Matt Rader.
The relentless pressure continued for the Bulldogs and they would tie the game 2 – 2 a half-minute later when Colin Coppola tipped home a shot from the point. The Bulldogs took the lead when Brendan Hart pounced on a rebound and jammed it home. While the offense was clicking, the defense was solid in the neutral zone, shutting down the speed of the Trojans.
“They are the fastest team we have played,” said McFall. “Guys were sacrificed moving up to the net to play defense first. That helped, and the offense came off that, too.”
The third period saw the Trojans come out flying and it also saw Goodrich stand on his head. Goodrich made the save of the game midway through the period when he slid over and somehow got his blocker on a shot that was headed for the top corner of the net. His play gave the Bulldogs a chance to win.
“I have no idea how he made that [save],” McFall explained. “He is a kid that challenges every single shot. That starts at 5:40 a.m., when he hits the ice, to that overtime save. Every single puck he challenged. That one save right there, I don’t know how he got it. He came across and found it somehow.”
Late in the third, the Trojans were pressing for the tying goal and got it with 17 seconds left in regulation when Michael Benaquist jammed home a rebound past the diving Goodrich. The celebration was short lived, however, when Mills scored in overtime.
Also, Frontier finished the regular season losing four straight and dropping two spots in the standings to the sixth seed in the upcoming playoffs. The Falcons will meet third-seeded Orchard Park in a large school quarterfinal on Saturday, Feb. 15 at Northtown. The Falcons and Quakers split their regular season series. During a 4-11-0-1 division season, Tyler Gaglia led the team with 16 points, including 8 goals, and Jim Gleason was tops with 9 goals.