By AARON GARLAND
Niagara Gazette — Before Thursday night’s game against Williamsville North, Niagara-Wheatfield's top-line pairing of Anthony Veckich and Mike Parisi found out they would be split up for the game.
But after the Falcons went down 3-0 midway through the second period, the two found themselves back on the same line, and the decision by head coach Rick Wrazin paid dividends as N-W came back to beat Will. North, 4-3, Thursday at Hyde Park.
Parisi finished the game with two goals, while Veckich had a goal and two assists.
“It’s a really big two points for us. Everything’s tight,” Wrazin said. “If the two had gone the other way we would have been neck-and-neck with North.”
The Spartans (3-6) saw their former three-goal lead become a deficit shortly after Jon Lunney was called for slashing with 4:36 remaining in the game. N-W's Matt Paonessa won the ensuing draw to Ryan Logar, who corralled the puck from his left wing position and beat Spartan goaltender Matthew Ladd glove side. The goal came just three seconds into the power play.
That proved to be the game-winner, as Nate Sommers was brilliant in net down the stretch, stopping all 17 pucks he faced in relief.
Starter Alexis Becker was pulled after the Spartans’ third goal with 8:32 left in the second. She recorded 15 saves on 18 shots. Wrazin doesn’t fault his starter as the reason for the early deficit, however, as the team struggled in front of her.
The Falcons (6-2-1) came out flat, and the Spartans took advantage. They controlled the play for much of the first half of the game, as N-W didn’t have an answer for the Spartans’ physicality.
“Our kids need to get used to that, that’s how most teams are going to come out against us,” Wrazin said. “It’s been happening more and more lately, and I think we got a little shy when they did it.”
It was after Becker was pulled that N-W found their energy and the Veckich-Parisi combo took over.
On an odd-man rush, Veckich found a trailing Parisi, who fired a shot from the high slot into the net. The goal made it 3-1 with 3:10 remaining in the second, and the momentum carried to the start of the final frame.
Just seven seconds into the third, Parisi, camped near the goalline, tried to pass to a teammate in front, but it was deflected into the net by a Will. North defender to put the score at 3-2.
“I think that made them hang their heads a little bit. As much as it was a lucky goal, it was probably the difference,” Wrazin said.
With just under eight minutes to go, Veckich tied the game. He concluded his three-point night with a highlight-reel goal, beating his defender clean on a one-on-one, then faking Ladd to his forehand, only to lift the puck top shelf on his backhand.
With the win, the Falcons pulled within four points of first-place St. Joe’s (8-0-1), which they will play on Sunday. Wrazin believes the Marauders could suffer their first loss of the season if another slow start can be avoided.
“I don’t think we played very well the last time we played them,” Wrazin said of the Falcons’ 3-0 loss on Dec. 21. “They’re a very good hockey team. It’s going to come down to bringing energy, having a good, hard forecheck and moving pucks out of our end.
“Also, our boys realizing that they need to come for an entire game, and bring it like they did late in the game (yesterday).”
The Falcons will get an added boost in both the defensive end and in leadership, when senior defenseman Jeff Janese returns from an injury that has cost him the last four games.