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Familiar St. Joe’s heading to Niagara Cup finals

It hasn’t been the typical St. Joe’s hockey season that folks have been accustom to seeing over the years.

The two-time defending Catholic state champions graduated their fair share of pieces in 2017 and began to feel the effects of that this season as they were handed five losses which are two more than they accumulated in the previous two years.

But despite all that the Marauders find themselves in a familiar spot, preparing for a sixth straight appearance in the Niagara Cup finals.

They did it by pounding the Bishop Timon Tigers 8-0 in the semifinals at the HarborCenter Monday night.

“The past two years we’ve had really good teams,” said senior Max Wopperer, who had two goals and four points in the win. “After all the adversity we’ve been through this season it’s nice to come together.”

Many thought St. Joe’s reign as Monsignor Martin champions would come to an end as the team went through an uncharacteristic slump and looked out of sorts at times this year.

Lancaster snapped the Marauders’ local unbeaten streak in mid-December with a 4-2 triumph.

During the holiday break St. Joe’s traveled to Providence, Rhode Island, for the Mount St. Charles Tournament, a tournament they’ve won the past two years. They lost 2-0 in the semifinals to eventual champion Fairfield Prep of Connecticut.

However, the Marauders reached their darkest moments a few weeks later during a four-game winless streak.

During the week and a half stretch, St. Joe’s suffered losses to Niagara Wheatfield (1-0), Canisius (4-2) and Williamsville North (3-1). The Marauders also had a 1-1 with St. Francis, a Division 3 team.

But the loss to Will North on Jan. 19 was a turning point for St. Joe’s.

“In the first two periods I felt like we weren’t bringing it,” St. Joe’s coach Rich Crozier said. “Then in the third period I think we outplayed them. From then on, we talked about bringing to every game and practice an intensity, passion and work ethic like no other.”

The school on Kenmore Avenue than began to look more like a perennial power going 8-0-2 down the stretch.

“We outshot North like 13-5 in that third period and turned everything around,” Wopperer said.

Monday night’s semifinal thrashing of the Tigers was a present for Crozier and the Marauders, who have had trouble scoring all year.

“If you look at our losses and ties this year it came down to our inability to finish,” Crozier said. “To see the puck go in eight times tonight, I can’t tell you how thrilled I am about that.”

The Marauders’ turnaround has been helped in large part by getting back a few players including senior blueliners CJ Goss and Shane Scheeler. Both of them had a point in Monday night’s win.

Scheeler returned to the ice for the first time Monday after suffering a bad injury to his hand on Dec. 2 that cut several arteries and tendons.

“It felt good to get back out there and feel the hair on your back stand up,” Scheeler said. “I always had the hope I would come back and here we are.”

After all the trials and tribulations of this season a win on Monday against St. Mary’s of Lancaster would put St. Joe’s right back to where it’s been the last the two years.

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