Thursday January 23, 2014 | By:Michael J. Petro | Sports
HART HAT-TRICK — Brendan Hart scored three times in Hamburg’s win over St. Francis on Monday. Photo courtesy of Ron Larson.
John McFall looks back with fondness at the memories made while coaching many of the 11 seniors on the Hamburg hockey team since they were 4-year-olds.
Some of the same mementos from those days hang on the walls of the town of Hamburg Ice Rink where, on the afternoon of Jan. 20, that group, now upperclassmen, celebrated senior day with an 8 – 1 win against neighboring Saint Francis.
“It’s been fun to see their growth and watch them become tough and strong hockey players,” said McFall, also the father of one of those seniors.
He has also watched as the seniors united with one goal, to reach the sectional finals, and been selfless in giving up their own stats for the betterment of a deep team now rolling three to four lines.
“It was fun just going out here on senior day, last time playing here, to end on a good note,” said one of those seniors, Colin Copolla, who scored twice.
Division all-stars like Brendan McFall, Brett Ross and Copolla may not be putting up gaudy numbers, but their contributions have been felt, as Hamburg is among the top four teams down the regular season stretch run in a top-heavy WNY Federation small school Division II.
“It’s always nice when you can put four lines on the ice — it keeps everyone fresh and it’s a lot harder for other teams to match lines,” said Ross, Hamburg’s physical presence on its top line. “Because there are so many seniors, we’ve taken on the leadership role and tried to show the younger kids how to be a varsity hockey player.”
The beneficiaries of the leadership have been a group of up-and-coming youngsters, including the line of juniors Brandon Hart and Colin Mills, who are cousins with patience and a keen awareness of one another, according to John McFall, along with Alex Suchan, who’s nursing a separated shoulder.Hart recorded a hat trick against St. Francis, during a 4-point day. Mills also scored and added 2 assists. Depth players, sophomore Jason Lucarelli and senior Ethan Sachse, also scored in the win.
“We can trust anyone to go out there at anytime,” said senior forward Jordyn Bellitto. “We’re not afraid of any matchup. We can put our second and third lines out there with no problem and we feel like they’ll get something out of it.”
Senior Jake Wittmeyer and Jonathan Liberatore continued to provide solid and consistent defensive play, in front of Zach Sortisio, who got the win in his turn in net as he’s split time (five games each) with teammates Brendan Bartoo, who is unbeaten but out with a broken wrist, and Vinny Goodrich.
After splitting the season’s opening two games, Hamburg has been on a six-game streak without a loss and then a four-game streak without a win, before winning its last three. Also included in the latest win streak is beating Lew-Port 3 – 0 on Jan. 9 and Grand Island 3 – 2, two days later.
“All the games are battles and we’ve been getting every teams’ best and we’ve had some peaks and valleys all year, but we’ve battled every single day,” Copolla said.
According to McFall, that’s what happens when a team is playing in such a strong division. Hamburg is among the bunch that also includes front-runner Kenmore East, West Seneca East and Williamsville East. All four, at one time, have been sitting atop the division.
“When you look at strength of schedule, we’re in one tough division,” the coach said. “The three East teams are strong and we’re just a couple of goals away.”
During the winless streak, the Bulldogs fell to Williamsville East for a second time this year and tied both West Seneca East and Kenmore East.
“We started off hot, kind of cooled down, but as of late, we’re back on the winning track,” Ross said. “We’ve played some tough games and we know we’ll see those teams again in the playoffs.”
Hamburg finishes the year against Kenmore East and West Seneca East, in what McFall expects to be a playoff-like atmosphere. Only four points separated the four teams as of Monday.
“We know we’re going to have to beat at least two of those teams to win a sectional title,” said John McFall, whose team was a semifinalist, last year. ‘It’s that tight. The kids are playing hard. They’ve got their goal. They were close, last year.”
St. Francis came off a 5 – 4 win against Lockport, but is having a difficult season in Division III, at 2 – 6 – 3. A young Red Raiders squad, with only four seniors, got a goal from Stephen Gosciak, which was assisted by Cory Schneid on Monday.
“We don’t have a lot of guys who have ever played in an atmosphere like this so we had a lot of unforced errors, in real bad areas of the ice,” St. Francis head coach Tom Murphy said. “The stuff they do in practice, they’re not able to do in games, and I attribute that more to nerves.”
Murphy believes he’s got a future top of the line goalie in freshman Ryan Wierzbicki He also noted Mason Coleman has been solid on defense, using his speed and strength, and Zach Gawronski has shown grit and scored a few times in the win over Lockport.