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Four answered goals send Niagara-Wheatfield back to Fed final

Rick Wrazin couldn’t help but be somewhat anxious when his young Niagara-Wheatfield hockey team was put in the position of being down early in the Western New York Federation semifinals.

But he need not worry. As it turns out, despite fielding a team with 15 new players coming off winning the Federation title last season, this group was also up for a challenge.

Wheatfield is heading back to defend it Western New York large school final after a 4-1 win over Lancaster on Monday (Feb. 18) at the Northtown Center in Amherst. The second-seeded Falcons trailed third-seed Lancaster 1-0 less than three minutes into the game, but reeled four unanswered goals to return to the final.

“I was a little worried because this is a young team, but they’ve come from behind before and I think that helped,” said the Falcons’ head coach. “They knew there was a lot of hockey left. If anything, it wound up giving them a kick and got them back to playing our hockey.”

Ryan Logar scored one ugly in front of the net in the second period for what turned out to be the game-winner and then made his second look pretty as he deked the Lancaster goalie on a breakaway to put Wheatfield up 3-1 with 10:32 left in the game.

“I just found the open ice tonight and was there to put the puck in the net,” said the senior forward. “I had a lot of adrenaline going on that breakaway and that gave me some extra speed and found the open net…I haven’t been able to score the past few games, so it felt good to chip in.”

His junior teammate Justin Durkee added two, as well, the game-tying goal at one apiece came from right in front of the net less than two minutes after Lancaster opened the scoring. He put the game away with an insurance goal with just over eight minutes to play as his wrister deflected off a Lancaster defenseman and found the back of the net.

“I’ve told them all year that grinding out goals wins hockey games,” Wrazin said. “When you play equally skilled teams, those are the little things that make the difference. The little things result in winning these big games.”

Lancaster was the hottest team in the Federation to start the season and reached the state’s top ranking at one point but was derailed by injuries about midway through the league schedule and never seemed to fully recover.

The Redskins opened the scoring on a goal from Will Delano, assisted by Manny Manns. Adding assists for Wheatfield were Adriano Medici, Johnathan McCasey, Matthew Paonessa and Logar.

Nate Sommers picked up the win for the Falcons in net, while Wrazin noted senior defensemen Jeff Janese, Matt Peters and Johnathan Liberatore, along with Medici, a junior, all played big games on the blue line.

Wheatfield will meet the winner of Clarence and Frontier from the other large school semifinal in the Federation final on Monday, Feb. 25 4 p.m. at First Niagara Center. It’s the first of three championship games that night.

“At the beginning of the season, we didn’t know if we’d have much of a chance to get back to the final, but as the season went on, we all started believing,” Logar said.


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