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High School Ice Hockey: Frontier tripped up by Clarence

Nick Ortiz and Frontier dropped a tough game to Clarence, 3-2, in the first of four straight Monday games at the Town of Hamburg Ice Arena. (Photo courtesy of Ron Larson)

Though this may be one of the most talented teams Frontier has put on the ice in 13 seasons, head coach Bob Klimowicz warned his players it may be one of the toughest years for any Falcons group yet.

Opponents are noticeably putting forth their best efforts against defending division champion Frontier, while trying to be physical against a somewhat undersized group.

Already playing short-handed without two of their top six defenseman, the Falcons saw exactly that from a feisty Clarence team looking to get back in the Federation Large School Division I race. Clarence senior Tristan Drescher capped a hat trick with the final of his three goals breaking a tie with 4:58 left in the game to lead the Red Devils to a 3-2 win over Frontier on Monday (Dec. 7).

“I told them from the get-go, especially our top line, that teams are going to do everything they can to be physical with you,” said Klimowicz, the team’s 13th-year head coach. “We don’t have a big team so it makes it harder to deal with the physical play game in and out.

“Clarence was prepared for this game,” he added. “You can just tell in the locker room that those guys were ready to play today.”

If that was the case, it may have been the result of Clarence playing with desperation. Red Devils head coach Rich Brooks said this was a must-win game for his team which sat a game behind Frontier in the division standings and had yet to beat a team with a better record this season.

Both teams are now in second two games behind Lancaster, which has beaten them both. Defending sectional champion Niagara-Wheatfield continues to look like the top public school in the other large school division.

“It was a very important win, a very necessary game,” Brooks said. “This evens the playing field with Frontier and gives us an opportunity to at least get into the top three or four spots for a playoff run. It was a very important win because we had not beaten anyone above us. This puts us on track.”

The Falcons had taken its first lead with consecutive second period goals on a point shot from Adam Skopinski and odd-man rush score by Gavin Evancho. However, Clarence, who opened the scoring in the first period, notched the tying goal with just under a minute in the second before Drescher’s game-winner which was a result of him picking up a loose puck in open space and then roofing a shot.

“The effort was there — I don’t doubt that,” said Klimowicz, whose team is now 9-3 overall. “We fought back and got the 2-1 lead. But we gave up a goal in the last minute of the period (to tie the game). We can’t have that. Those are killers.”

Clarence and Frontier have done their battling over the past several seasons and this was yet another. The most notable of games from the two was a triple overtime victory by Frontier in the large school quarterfinals two seasons ago. Clarence has also had its trouble playing at the Town of Hamburg Recreation Center.

“We are also happy about this because we struggle against them here,” Brooks admitted. “It’s their home rink and it’s hard for us to get a feel for the ice — it’s a smaller ice surface, so I think we did pretty well holding it together, and don’t forget, having to come from behind after they went up 2-1.”

Evancho finished with a goal and an assist to continue a hot streak that includes scoring six times and assisting on five goals during three-game stretch which also includes beating Sweet Home 6-1 and Lockport 10-0.

However, without defenders Matt Schifferle (suspended) and Tyler Schwartzott (injured), Frontier consistently rolled only four blue-liners and the unit seemed to tire during a third period controlled mostly by Clarence.

“We were without two very important defenseman so we basically played the whole game with four,” Klimowicz said. “To their credit the (four) played tough and just about as well as they could, but I think if we had our core defenseman than these guys aren’t getting worn out in the third period.”

In addition to seeing step forward one of his senior leaders in Drescher, who scored two of his goals unassisted, Brooks was happy to get quality goaltending from Devin Paluh. The Red Devils senior was especially impressive in the second period when Frontier controlled most of the play.

“Against the better teams we’ve just given up too many goals and too many easy goals and I think we corrected some of that today,” Brooks said. “I thought Devin made some very keys stops (especially in second period). He came up large and you need that if you’re going to be successful.”

Cooper Soto also played very well in a losing effort in goal for Frontier. In the win over Lockport, Mike O’Rourke scored three times and assisted on another goal, while Bob Piotrowicz, Jacob Macchioni and Evancho all added two goals and a pair of helpers. Evancho finished with two goals and an assist and Tyler Gaglia, Nick Ortiz and Piotrowicz all added a goal and an assist against Sweet Home.

The Clarence game started a string of Frontier contests at the town’s ice rink, formerly known as the Nike Base. The slate will continue with a rematch with Lancaster on Monday, Jan. 14 and continue the next two Mondays before a contest there against rival Hamburg on Feb. 2.

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