And still champion... Niagara-Wheatfield hockey

James Neiss/staff photographerMembers of the Niagara-Wheatfield High School hockey team celebrate the first goal against Williamsville North during the Section VI Large Schools championship Monday at First Niagara Center in Buffalo. The Falcons won, 6-4, to claim their fourth-straight title.

BUFFALO — Prior to the game, Garrett Downie joked with coach Rick Wrazin that he would score two goals in Monday's championship game against Williamsville North.

Downie did that — and two better.

Downie's five point night, highlighted by a natural hat trick, helped No. 1 seed Niagara Wheatfield top No. 2 Williamsville North, 6-4, in the Section VI Large School Federation Hockey championship game that was part of the Super Monday tripleheader at the First Niagara Center.

The victory gave the Falcons their fourth consecutive sectional title and lifts them into the Far West Regionals, where they will play Section V's McQuaid this Saturday at R.I.T.

“It feels amazing,” Downie said, seconds after exiting the locker room celebration. “It's just unheard of. There's no words for it actually. It feels amazing.”

What was impressive about Downie's performance was not just that he scored four times and assisted on Andrew Logar's eventual game-winner, but rather how he played all night.

Downie's first goal came after he fought off two Spartans defenders to main control of the puck, spun around, stopped, then lifted the puck over Will North keeper Nick Stafford's shoulder.

His second goal came five minutes later, when he made an alert play of intercepting a pass then skating into the slot and firing it by Stafford, who was handcuffed by the shot.

“I don't know,” said Downie. “I was just in the right spots, getting the puck.”

Taking both regular season games against North, the Falcons didn't put too much stock into those wins as they came into Monday's title game, treating it as a whole new contest. Which is good, because Monday's shootout bore no resemblance to the two 1-0 defensive battles the two clubs previously waged.

Adam Batz got his team on the board just 22 seconds after Downie's second tally of the night and the offensive battle was on, as each time the Falcons scored, the Spartans seemed to answer back with one of their own.

Niagara-Wheatfield was holding a 4-2 lead late in the second when Matt Terrance scored his second goal to pull his team within one. Wrazin knew he had to do something daring to stop to keep the Spartans from stealing the momentum. So he removed senior starting goalie Casey Wall for sophomore Domenic Tallarico.

“Just looking for a little push and a little momentum,” said Wrazin. “Williamsville North seemed to be to be starting to take the game over at that point. First of all, it gave our guys a little time to regroup. We're very fortunate to have two very good goaltenders back there. Actually, we have three: (Tyler) Jamieson is a good goalie as well. Sometimes you make a change like that and it gives you a kick and gets them back on track and that's what we were looking for.”

Tallarico stopped 11 of the 12 shots he faced, including 10 of 11 in the third period.

Tied 4-4 late in the game, the Falcons had the puck deep inside North territory when senior defender James Stenzel (two assists) shoveled the pass to Downie. He cycled out of the corner and threw a pass to the front of the Spartans net. But the puck deflected off of the skate of a North player onto the stick of Logar, who buried it for the game-winner.

“I think he went to pass it to (Dakota) Becker and it just came right out to me,” said Logar, who also had two assists. “Coach has been telling us to get shots on the goalie and I just shot it and made sure I hit the net.”

Game notes: Stenzel appeared to have scored Wheatfield's fourth goal, but the official scoresheet credited it to Chris Churakos... Williamsville East became the first-ever team to win back-to-back Small School titles as they defeated Kenmore East 2-0. Max Battitstoni made 17 saves and senior Matt Steffan scored the game-winner... Canisius edged St. Joe's, 2-1, to claim its first Catholic title since the 2009-10 season. Jake Nichols stopped 27 of 28 shots for the Crusaders, who were coached by Sam Belsito, who returned after a three-season hiatus.

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