Hockey team clinches Fed Division II title
Right before taking the ice for Thursday’s league finale with Hamburg, Clarence learned that it received the help it needed — in the form of a 5-0 win by Timon over Williamsville East — to have a chance at clinching sole possession of the regular season Federation Division II title.
The Red Devils made sure not to squander that opportunity — though Hamburg did all it could to make things interesting — by defeating the Bulldogs, 3-2, to earn their best regular-season effort since clinching the top finish by a public school in Division I during the 2012-13 campaign.
“It’s really hard to get a title, so we were pretty excited about what we accomplished Thursday,” coach Rick Brooks said.
Clarence played like a team on a mission from the start, taking a 1-0 lead just 3:02 into the game on a goal by Colin Heim. Just three minutes later, David Cosentino took a pass from Justin Zulewski in neutral ice and used a Hamburg defender as a screen to fire his shot past the Bulldogs’ goalie.
Noah Corry then took a pass from Heim 42 seconds later and ultimately banged home a rebound for the Red Devils’ final tally of the contest.
Hamburg, looking to prevent things from getting completely out of hand, called a timeout and settled down a bit. It didn’t score until there was two minutes left in the second period, when a misplayed puck at the point led to a 3-on-1 break that the Bulldogs made count to cut the Red Devils’ advantage to 3-1.
The Bulldogs added a second goal — with their netminder pulled — with just 18 seconds left in regulation, but that was as close as they’d get.
“It looked like it was going to be a rout early on, but Hamburg’s a better team than that,” Brooks said. “That second goal of theirs caused us to sweat a little; I guess we wanted to make it a little more exciting of a game. Thankfully we were able to hang on and get the win.”
Thursday’s victory gave the Red Devils the boost they’d need — from both a physical and mental standpoint — to return to the Salmon River Tournament in Northern New York and secure two additional wins to close out the regular season on a three-game streak and defend their tournament title.
Clarence opened this year’s appearance with a 4-2 win over the hosts on Friday. Matt Zaffram’s unassisted goal with three minutes remaining in the first period successfully completed a rush up the right wing.
Nick Lunetta then scored on the power play in the second period, off passes from Cam Lock and Ryan Kelly, to give Clarence a 2-1 lead. Lock later found Nick Messuro with 1:40 to play in the period to give the Red Devils a 3-1 lead heading into the third period.
Clarence, which saw Justin Helms earn the win in net, tacked on an insurance goal in the third when Lunetta fired a shot while coming in off the wing that Salmon River’s goalie mishandled.
“We were short-handed for a variety of reasons, so it was really nice to see the boys come up with the type of performance that they did — and not just Friday, but for the entire tournament,” Brooks said.
Unlike in the first round, the Red Devils had to rally from a 1-0 deficit in the first period to secure their 3-1 win over Norwood-Norfolk in Saturday’s contest. Norwood Norfolk’s only goal of the game came off a penalty shot, called when the puck was unintentionally stuck beneath a Clarence player during a scramble that Brooks called “what looked like a rugby game in the crease.”
The Red Devils felt the successful shot shouldn’t have counted, however, since Norwood Norfolk’s skater came to a halt in front of the net and restarted his forward motion. The officials didn’t blow the attempt dead, however, and Brooks said there was “nothing Matthew Binkowski could’ve done under the circumstances.”
Clarence came out with more jump, determination and intensity for the second period, which led to all three of its goals. The first was the result of a Corry breakaway off a Lunetta pass, and Lunetta scored what would be the game winner with 5:48 to play in the period on a short-side shot off a break in from the left wing.
Lock then iced the decision with seven seconds to play in the second period, beating the right-side defenseman and back-handing a bar-down shot over the goalie’s left shoulder.
Lunetta was ultimately tabbed the Tournament MVP for his performance, while Lock was named to the All-Tournament Team for Clarence, which edged out Rye by half a point for this year’s title. Unlike traditional tournaments, the Salmon River Tournament awards points to the period winner and overall winner in each game; Clarence finished with 8 points for the two games to Rye’s 7½ to clinch the title for a second straight year.
“It wasn’t always pretty, but the guys responded all weekend long,” Brooks said. “A number of boys stepped up and did what they needed to do, so the weekend was pretty encouraging in that regard, especially considering the fact that we had so many guys out.”
With its end-of-the-week success, Clarence closed out its regular season with a 12-7-1 overall record. The Red Devils will have a few practices to go over things prior to Saturday’s start of the Federation Large Schools playoffs; Clarence is currently slated to face familiar playoff foe Lancaster at 5 p.m. at the Northtown Center.
The Red Devils, who took this year’s regular-season meeting between the clubs by a 2-1 margin on Jan. 21, have ended the Legends’ playoff run for three consecutive years.
“Lancaster has a good roster and is playing the big guys all the time, so with us having a bunch of kids banged up, Saturday is going to be pretty tough,” Brooks said. “We’re certainly not going to catch them by surprise given our recent playoff history with them, so we’re going to focus on doing what we have to do going into the playoffs, and that’s put defense first. They have good scorers, so we can’t give up odd-man rushes, and we’ll need to be conservative with our forecheck in their zone. Hopefully we get everyone back for the game that wasn’t there this past weekend.”