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Depth of a major contender being built by Hamburg hockey team

PETERS PUCK HANDLING — Alex Peters is among the many returning players looking to make their mark for the Hamburg ice hockey team, this season. Photo courtesy of Ron Larson.
The building back up of the Hamburg hockey program has advanced so far that head coach John McFall can put out on the ice four forward lines, three defensive pairings and use three different goalies without feeling uneasy about doing so.

The same players that were once struggling to learn and gain experience at the varsity level as youngsters are now the veterans leading a team that pairs last season’s junior varsity state championship team.

With the two groups’ meshing, along with coming off the Western New York Federation small school semifinalist season, Hamburg is feeling like a major contender for a sectional title.

“We’re taking the two groups and seeing where we can take them,” said McFall, who has coached Hamburg the past six seasons, since it first became an official high school-sponsored varsity team. “I feel like we have all of the pieces. We have high expectations.”

Leading the top line are senior forwards Brendan McFall and Colin Coppola, both of whom played in last year’s Bowman Cup juniors game. They’re joined by forward Brett Ross. John McFall said that the three have played on the same line since the modified level.

“They push each other to do well,” the coach said. “They’re seniors now and they’re strong and powerful players who are having fun, playing with one another.”

Jordyn Bellitto, whom McFall once said was the smallest player on the ice, has grown into a senior playmaker, centering the second line and serving as the point man on Hamburg’s power play. Senior Alex Peters brings a big shot to the wing and Jason Lucarelli, one of two sophomores on the team, returns to the varsity in a bigger role, playing on the second line.

Jonathan Liberatore, who is a two-way player with a big shot, leads the defensive corps, along with first line pairing mate Jacob Wittmeyer, a senior four-year varsity player, who is more of a stay-at-home defender, his coach said. Returning juniors on the second line, Tyler Scull brings size and speed and Eric Shearer is a smooth outlet passer, according to McFall.

In goal, Hamburg was already returning senior Brendan Bartoo and junior Zach Sortisio, who shared the duties last season, and now Timon transfer Vinny Goodrich has been added to the fold. McFall said that each will get their opportunity, during a busy month and then he will ride the hot hand down the stretch.

“They’ll not only get a chance to prove themselves in practice, but also in games,” he noted. “We have 11 games in December and each will be given a few games and then I’ll look for one to take over, when the games really matter.”

Adding depth on offense are two forward lines. McFall put together three juniors: Brendan Hart and Colin Mills, cousins who have grown up playing hockey with one another and helped lead the JV last season, along with 6-foot-1 Alex Suchan, who got a chance to play varsity in 2012 – 2013.

The energy line, made up of players who are all at least 6 foot tall, includes seniors Joe Fenske and Ethan Sachse and junior Alex Conomos. The line will also play on the penalty kill.

“It’s great to have confidence in all of your lines,” McFall said. “They all deserve an opportunity and I’ve got to find time for all of them.”

He will also look to find time for third line defenders Brian Kazmierczak, a sophomore up from the JV, and Evan Wright, a junior with a heavy shot. Junior Brendan Maurer will also be worked into the defensive mix, while 6-foot-2 eighth grader Jordan Gonzalez has practiced with the varsity, in preparation for getting a shot. McFall also credited assistant Brian Dehlinger for working diligently with the defensemen.

Hamburg has started 2 – 1, including what McFall called an impressive showing in a 4 – 0 season-opening win against Timon. The Bulldogs also beat Grand Island 5 – 1 during the weekend and fell to Williamsville East 6 – 5, in a rematch of last year’s sectional semifinals, in which Hamburg also lost.

“Timon came with great intensity and we weathered it and were able to match it,” McFall said. “We played a strong game. We scored 4 good goals and our goalie was on his game; a few of his saves were in the spectacular range.”

Against Timon, Brendan McFall scored twice, both on the power play; Ross added a short-handed goal, to put Hamburg up 2 – 0, early in the second period; Mills found the back of the net, for his first varsity goal. Goodrich, who stopped all 24 shots he faced, had a little extra incentive playing against his former team, McFall said.

After spotting East three goals – all on giveaways – the Bulldogs cut the lead to one, by the end of the opening period, but could never get over the hump. Ross and Brendan McFall scored goals on a power play that their coach said has been clicking very well, in the early season. Hart added two, including one short-handed, and Bellitto chipped in with a goal and two assists.

The Federation has changed to a three-division alignment, with one for large schools and the small schools split into two. Hamburg will play in Division II in a group that also contains the likes of defending small school champion West Seneca West and powers Williamsville East and Kenmore East, along with Williamsville South, Sweet Home, West Seneca East and Grand Island.

“The great thing about the realignment is that we now play our division twice and we get a second shot at Will. East, who beat us,” he said. “One of our goals is to not lose any series. We don’t believe there’s a team that can beat us twice.”

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