After winning a second straight WNY Federation title, Niagara-Wheatfield advanced as far as the state semifinals. (Photo by Jeff Barnes)
It was an exciting run that fell two wins shy of the ultimate goal.
On March 9, the Niagara-Wheatfield Falcons hockey team saw its season come to an end when they fell to Saratoga Springs, 4-1, in the Division I state semifinals.
The Falcons earned the trip to the final four after posting a win over Ithaca in the quarterfinals March 2 at the Northtowns Center.
Penalties proved costly as Saratoga Springs jumped to a 2-0 lead on a pair of power play goals.
Senior forward Michael Parisi would trim the lead to 2-1, but that was as close as the Falcons would get.
Despite losing 14 players off of last seasons club, Falcons’ head coach Rick Wrazin knew they were talented.
It was just a matter of the kids believing in themselves and each other.
“Coming into the season, I don’t think people around here realized how many new kids we had,” Wrazin said. “As coaches we told them right from the start that we thought we were good enough to be back (in state tournament). I think that it took until about maybe two-thirds through the way of our season before they started to see it, but it says a lot about them and all the hard work that they put into it.”
Niagara-Wheatfield finished 18-5-1, won the WNY Federation Division I championship on what this year became Super “Monday” and lost to just one public school (Saratoga) opponent. It’s other four losses were to St.Joe’s and Canisius.
Wrazin also believes that even though they lost to Saratoga Springs, a team that has made four consecutive trips to the state semifinals, getting that far with a young core will be beneficial down the road as it builds confidence in every player.
The Falcons say goodbye to Parisi, forward Anthony Merante, defenseman Jeff Janese, forward Ryan Logar, defenseman Johnathan Liberti and forward Ryan Callen.
Niagara-Wheatfield is expected to return 18 underclassmen including the goaltending trio of Nate Sommers, Casey Wall and Alexis Becker.
Sophomore Domenic Senese, who earned MVP honors with his five point performance in the Falcons Super Monday win over Clarence, also is slated to return.
Frank Vecchio, Mathew Paonessa, Sam Vekich and Justin Durkee also are among the players the Falcons will look to next season.
“I’m sure when they sit back and look, naturally they have to be proud of what they did,” Wrazin said.