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High School Hockey: Frontier loses lead, falls short of final

Junior forward Jim Gleason and Frontier fell to Clarence 4-2 in the WNY Federation large school semifinals. (Photo courtesy of Ron Larson)
It was just a matter of time before the Clarence hockey team broke through in its Western New York Federation large school semifinal game. Once they did, there was no stopping the Red Devils.

Clarence came back from down two goals in the first period to defeat Frontier 4-2 on Monday (Feb. 18) night at the Northtown Center in Amherst and advance to the sixth-year Federation program’s first championship game.

“I think it was coming. In the first period, I felt like the guys were nervous and playing tight,” Clarence coach Rich Brooks said. “We gave up two beautiful chances and they were able to capitalize. What we talked about in the locker room was bringing it back to fun — not playing nervous and scared, and getting back to the gameplan. I thought it was a matter of time before something went in and then it did go in and then you saw what followed after that.”

After fourth-seeded Frontier executed on those two opportunities and played about as well as it could in the opening period, Clarence changed the momentum in a flash. Just like that, the top-seed erased the two-goal lead in a two-minute second period span and then added two more in the third.

“Going into the second period, we really got over some adversity and turned it around,” said forward Tristan Drescher, one of a dozen seniors on the team and part of a productive top forward line, also including Josh Owczarzk and Matt Colicchia.

“They came out flying in the first period, but in the second period, we started dumping it in and beating them to the pucks, and doing the little things was the key to success,” he added.

The Red Devils increased the pressure as well as their physicality in the second period. The forecheck Frontier head coach Bob Klimowicz expected to see right from the outset of the game took one period to get going.

“It wasn’t that we were sitting back; they just came out flying,” Frontier head coach Bob Klimowicz said of Clarence. “They came with an aggressive forecheck and some good team speed and they finally put it together. Last time we played we shied away from the physical play and that’s what happened in the second period. We started coughing up the puck. That’s what happens when you put pressure on a defense at any level.”

Clarence had won two tight-checking, close games against Frontier during the regular season.

In fact, Clarence began to turn around its season the first time the teams met in early January at the Town of Hamburg Ice Rink.

“Physicality is part of the game. You’ve got to take the body, you’ve got to get in lanes and you’ve got interfere with people — that’s our game,” Brooks said. “When you get on top of them, that’s when they make mistakes…We’ve had three fantastic games with Frontier and either team could have won any of them.”

Owczarzk scored what turned out to be the game-winner on a shot from the point in the final seconds of a power play during the opening minute of the third period.

Clarence struck for two quick second period goals between the 6:30 and 8:30 mark in the second period. George Haugeto finished off a 3-on-1 rush, depositing into the net a pass from Colicchia, and Josh Sliwinski tied the game with a goal assisted by Brian Ruff and Ryan Peters.

Frontier struck first just over five minutes into the game as Gavin Evancho hit the back of the net from the right circle with Ortiz assisting. Ortiz then sent home a one-timer from Jacob Macchioni and Bob Piotrowicz with just over a minute to play in the first.

Clarence senior goaltender Devin Paluh stopped two point-blank chances in the second before his team got on the board to keep the Red Devils within two. Cooper Soto also made some key saves for Frontier when Clarence was putting on some heavy pressure.

Drescher provided an insurance goal for Clarence, stealing the puck from Frontier’s defense and going in on the Frontier goal alone to score a short-handed goal with 4:30 left in the game. The Falcons had two late-game power play opportunities but could not convert.

Clarence will meet defending large school champion Niagara-Wheatfield, on Monday, Feb. 25 starting 4 p.m. at First Niagara Center.

The loss ends a three-year era of many accomplishments for most of the nine Falcons’ seniors, who Klimowicz said will be missed. Many of the nine have been part of the varsity for a Super Sunday appearance in 2011 and program-first division title last year. This was the second straight year Frontier has been knocked out in a semifinal.

Falcons’ JV hockey to start playoffs

Frontier’s junior varsity hockey team is going to the state tournament as the No. 2 seed after finishing up the regular season with a 14-4 record. Matt Kelley, Brandon Stone and Ryan Hennigan have all been selected to the all-star team. The team starts the postseason on Feb. 25 at 7:45 p.m. against Timon at Leisure Rinks. The finals are on Feb. 27.
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