pblackwell, Mon, March 9th, 2009
Expect a big pilgrimage of local hockey fans to Utica Memorial Auditorium this weekend, as both New Hartford and West Genesee will go after state championships.
They got there in wildly divergent ways. New Hartford and its 17-game win streak were in trouble Saturday in the regional finals in Brockport, but rescued a 3-1 win over defending state champion Webster Thomas.
Though the Spartans had most of the scoring chances in the first two periods, Webster Thomas still had a 1-0 lead going to the second intermission.
It takes a whole lot of patience to stay cheerful in the face of this kind of pressure. And as far as the Spartans are concerned, the explosion is not a question of "if", but "when".
The "when" commenced when Clayton Whittemore tied it 1-1 2:57 into that third period, and barely two more minutes before Tom Fiorentino converted and put the Spartans in front. Mike Zalewski added some insurance with 2:20 left.
So now New Hartford will have a serious home-ice advantage when it plays Kenmore East in Saturday's 12:30 semifinal at Utica Aud, with the winner moving to Sunday's final against Burke or Pelham. Twelve years have passed since the Spartans' 1997 state title. Is another one imminent?
West Genesee, by contrast, was not in any trouble in its regional final in Albany, jumping on Shaker/Colonie and not letting up until it had a 7-0 victory in the books.
Accustomed to this kind of pressure, the Wildcats had a 3-0 edge by the end of the first period, with Ryan Michel's power-play slap shot right before the intermission a fitting exclamation point.
That margin doubled in the second period, and the game was never in doubt as D.J. Mazzoni got two goals and two assists, and Evan Mazzoni earned his second playoff shutout.
Now comes an exciting state semifinal Saturday at 5:45, where WG will attempt to stop the undefeated Greece Thunder, from Section V and the Rochester suburbs, who barely got past Ithaca 1-0 to get this far. The winner gets Mamaroneck or Niagara-Wheatfield in Sunday's 3:30 final.
WG now has that chance to atone for that state final triple-OT loss to Massena a year ago. They've worked for a year to get this shot at redemption, and I like their chances of getting it.
Of course, Section III is already home to some state champions, thanks to events last weekend in Ithaca and on Long Island.
At the state indoor track meet at Cornell, F-M's Alex Hatz led from start to finish and took the 1,000-meter championship, just ahead of Marcellus' Chris Stogsdill (third) and Liverpool's Colin Savage (sixth). Sean Curry, from Bishop Ludden, got second in the 3,200 and Canastota's Jeff Willis took fourth in the pole vault. F-M's Courtney Chapman took third in the girls' 1,500.
Meanwhile, Section III boys swimmers fared quite well at the Nassau County Aquatic Center.
Auburn's Patrick O'Donovan went to the top, in fact, winning the 100 backstroke while becoming the first sectional swimmer ever to break 50 seconds in that event. Westhill star Dan O'Connor took second in both the 200 IM and 500 freestyle (it took a state record in the latter event to beat him), while West Genesee earned a runner-up finish in the 200 medley relay.