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Division I Boys Hockey Preview

St. Joe’s ended last hockey season on quite the roll. The Marauders won 21 games in a row to end the season, culminating with a 3-2 overtime win over St. Anthony’s. This is a new year and St. Joe’s wants to experience that magic again. But it won’t be easy in the Section VI Federation Division I, which contains the biggest and best programs.

“Who do I think is going to be tough for us in our league?” St. Joe’s coach Joe Crozier said. “North, Canisius, Lancaster, Niagara-Wheatfield and Orchard Park. Every single team is going to be tough. And if we’re not ready to go, we’re going to lose. There’s no off nights and that’s fine. That’s the way we want it.”

Indeed, all six teams in Division I can play at a high level. Players and coaches from the teams were on hand at the first Federation media day, held on Saturday at Lancaster High School, sharing information and thoughts on the season.

St. Joe’s Marauders

St. Joe’s finished 23-2-1 and claimed the program’s 10th Catholic school state championship. The Marauders enter the season with a bull’s-eye but they’re ready for the challenge.

But with some losses come some key returners, including Greco, Conschafter, and Ienco, as well as defenseman Jack Lalley.

I’m very excited for the season,” senior forward Trevor Conschafter said. “I think we just have to keep working harder. There’s probably a target on our back but we just have to work hard every game and do our best.

Conschafter is one of several key seniors returning from last season as is Jeremy Ienco, the man who scored the golden goal in the state title game. Senior Michael Greco is another key forward while senior Jack Lalley leads the defense.

“We have a lot of forwards that can move,” Greco said. “I think that’s the strength of our team. Our speed is going to be a strength as well as our depth. It’s nice to have four lines that can go out there and get it done.”

Williamsville North Spartans

It starts with defense this season for the Spartans, who are looking to defend their Section VI championship from a year ago. A number of key forwards have graduated, but Williamsville North is relying big on the man it considers the best goalie around.

Senior Jake Zurat had a 2.08 goals against average last season and looks even better this season.

“Jake’s awesome; he was really the backbone of our team last year,” said senior Matt Jeffries, who’s expected to lead a strong group of defensemen this season. “We’re looking to him again this year. As a team, we’re looking good. Obviously the section title as well as states is in the back of our mind, but right now we just need to focus on each game.” Senior forwards Dan Mosher, Adam Batz and Tyler Durfee return up front and sophomore Rocco Bonafini has impressed as a newcomer.

“I think we’re pretty solid,” Mosher said. “We’re definitely built from the back up – a little bit different from last year,” Mosher said. “Having Jake in net coming back, he’s a really good goalie and our defense is strong as well.”

Niagara-Wheatfield Falcons

Wheatfield’s run at the top ended last season as the Falcons fell a game short of a fourth straight Division I sectional title. They want it back this season.

“We’re always optimistic,” assistant coach Ryan Coyne said. “Coming off the championship loss last year for the first time in a few, that’s just a little bit of motion to get right back in there and start a new tradition.

The 1-0 loss in the championship game to North ended a run at the top for Niagara-Wheatfield. They hope not to stay down long.

“We don’t think about it too much. Just a reminder than we can lose, obviously anybody can beat anybody,” junior forward Chris Tobey said. “I think a lot of last year kind of lost our focus; we started thinking about not losing the four-peat and it kind of got to our heads.”

Senior goalie Dominick Tallarico, junior forward Chris Tobey. A lot of different players can fill a lot of different roles and a group of 13 seniors is expected to lead the way. “We have a good mix of guys,” Tallarico said. “I think having a lot of seniors is big. Having a lot of guys in the same class helps; we have a lot of experience together.”

Lancaster Legends

Lancaster has a mix of mainstays, newcomers and returning players this season. Some key players return for the Legends as do some guys coming back to Lancaster from full-season travel leagues. Pair that with some promising youngsters and the Legends have reason to believe.

“We’re excited about the season,” Lancaster coach Kevin Miller said. “We’ve got a number of guys that are returning from last year and a lot of guys coming up from our lower levels, and we have guys coming back to us from full-year teams. So we’re excited for this season.”

A strong group of senior returnees will be huge for the legends, a group including Shawn Kross, Kevin Loftus, Connor Carrow, Don Horbett and Jeff Coons. Two more seniors, Jackson Vanserbosch and Chris Blachowski, are back to the program from travel teams. With a lot of senior talent onboard, the Legends have high hopes in 2016-17.

“I think it’s going pretty well,” senior forward Shawn Kross said. “Our depth is big. The expectations are to stay on top of the list and not dropping down and playing hard against every team.”

Orchard Park Quakers

With tons of talent in Division I, Orchard Park understands it’s not the favorite right now. But that’s OK with the Quakers, who are looking forward to doing their talking on the ice. “Nobody’s really out for us right now,” senior goalie Tom Held said, “so we’ll be out for them. We are kind of the underdog coming into this year but I expect us to be able to compete with North, Canisius, Joe’s, Lancaster, Niagara-Wheatfield – all great teams. But we’ll definitely be beside them if we play like we can.”

Held is coming off a strong junior season and the Quakers are confident he can keep them in every game on the schedule. Senior Tyler Bienias will lead the offense but he’s far from alone. Zach Biasillo is also expected to be huge up top and defensively, the Quakers will feature seniors Ryan Riter and Eric Lyon.

“We’ve got to start scoring,” Bienias said. “We have a great goalie, so if we can put the puck in the net, he’s going to stop the rest of them. We have guys that can score, even our D, they can get into the play. That’s how we play.”

Canisius Crusaders

The Crusaders were not in attendance at media day but they had a very good reason. Canisius was at the Prudential Center, home of the New Jersey Devils, taking on Jersey City (N.J.) power St. Peter’s Prep. The Crusaders dropped a pair of hard-fought 6-4 decisions to the Marauders.

Canisius will be led this season by seniors Kevin Bennett and Cole Beitner, the last remaining pieces of the 2015 state championship team.

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