BY JOE KONZE email@example.com
Niagara Gazette — During the regular season, the Niagara-Wheatfield hockey team was defeated twice by its conference rival Williamsville North.
In both those games, the No. 2 seeded Falcons fell behind early and couldn’t find a way to climb out of a hole.
But on Monday night, after falling behind 2-0 early on in the first period to No.1 seeded Williamsville North, there was a feeling that surrounded the First Niagara Center rink; enough was enough.
The Falcons went on to score three unanswered goals to defeat the Spartans 3-2 for the Western New York Federation large school championship.
“It wasn’t the way we wanted to start the game,” said Niagara-Wheatfield coach Rick Wrazin. “And I can’t say enough how I proud I am of them for coming back after dropping two (against Williamsville North). … They hung in there, they came back.”
It was the program’s third large school championship in three years and they are the only team in WNY Federation Hockey history to do so.
After a slow start to the first period, the Falcons got on the board with 3:01 left in the first period on a goal from junior forward Domenic Senese to bring the game to a 2-1 margin.
Senese’s goal seemed to breathe some life into the Falcons as they took the ice for the second period.
“We just called them in (after the first period) and said ‘look, there is a lot of hockey left, you guys have almost 40 minutes of hockey left. That’s forever in hockey time. You’ve got to keep your head up and you’ve got to keep grinding, and keep coming at them and play your game’,” Wrazin said.
Coming out of the locker room for the second period, Niagara-Wheatfield had a more aggressive style of play, getting pucks deep and getting closer to the slot.
Freshman forward James Stenzel scored the game-tying goal followed by a game-winner just a few minutes later by senior forward Justin Durkee.
Durkee said after the game that he was surprised he got a pass from the corner.
“I just remember that Senese was in the corner and we were all over them the whole shift,” Durkee said. “He just passed it in front. I was kind of stunned when I first got it but (glad) I put it in.”
Durkee was named the game’s MVP.
Senior goaltender Nate Sommers was solid in the net for the Falcons on the evening, as he was able to track down pucks much easier in the second period.
In such a tight game, Sommers buckled down and made 21 saves on 23 shots to help secure the win for Niagara-Wheatfield.
Sommers spoke after the game about holding a 3-2 lead with the clock ticking in the final moments.
“It wasn’t time to celebrate yet,” Sommers said. “There was obviously a lot of time left. So, I just made sure I kept playing my game.”
Niagara-Wheatfield will head to Ithaca on Saturday for a matchup against Ithaca High School. Puck drop is set for 12:45 p.m.