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  • Writer's picturetgardner1167

Ken/GI, Williamsville to meet in Girls Hockey sectional final

Over the 10-season history of the WNY Girls Varsity Ice Hockey Federation, Kenmore/Grand Island (Ken/GI) has earned a reputation for being a team that the rest of the league tries to avoid come playoff time.

Thursday afternoon, they showed why.

Facing a team in No. 1 Lancaster/Iroquois/Depew (LID), who had no reason to lay back after losing by a seven-goal margin last week in the Federation title game, No. 5 Ken/GI did what few expected them to do in beating the top seed, 3-0, in the first Section VI Girls Hockey semifinal game.

“It’s all about who wins the last game,” said Ken/GI coach Jeff Orlowski, who recently served his 200th game behind the bench for the program. “They are buying in. This team is no different than the ones before. They are buying in and working hard every day in practice.”

They’ll face No. 2 Williamsville (Will-ville), who won by the same score Thursday night. Will-ville beat No. 3 Frontier/Lake Shore/Orchard Park (FLOP) in the second semifinal. Ken/GI and Will-ville will face off in the sectional championship game on Monday at 7 p.m. at the Cornerstone Arena in Lockport.

“We had nothing to lose tonight,” said Ken/GI captain Abigail Blair, who had a goal and an assist. “We came in as the underdog and I couldn’t be prouder of my team for working as hard as they have. Everyone really believed in us, that’s what got us through.”

LID was the more talented team. More importantly, they had motivation to show last week’s 8-1 loss to Williamsville last week was a fluke and they were still the team that won 13 of 14 games in the regular season.

On the other hand, Ken/GI had won just four games in the regular season, but had some momentum from Tuesday’s 5-0 victory over Hamburg/Eden/West Seneca.

In the opening minutes, Ken/GI matched LID’s speed and size with gritty determination and there was a sense that all Ken/GI needed was a goal and LID would be on their heels.

Then after a couple of good chances at the net, Ken/GI finally got their break midway through the second period. Kaylynn Savoy tipped a Blair shot from the point and it landed next to the goal line. Carissa Buyea was there to push the nicely wrapped gift in the net.

From there, the upset-minded Ken/GI grew stronger.

Savoy found Blair in front of the net who put it in the five-hole for the game-sealing goal about five minutes into the third.

“Blair was with us when we went to the state final in her eighth-grade year and hasn’t been back,” Orlowski said. “She really wants to get back. She’s motivating the team and they are following her lead.”

This will be Ken/GI’s seventh appearance in the sectional final, first since 2017.

Blair, who was one of the first players from Grand Island to join the team, remembers what it takes to win at this time of the year.

“I just remember as an eighth-grader always looking up to the older girls and following in their footsteps,” Blair said. “I just remember the team being so close and it feels like that this year.”

Savoy added an empty goal with less than a minute left. Carolyn Bourgeault put on a show in net with a 31-save shutout.

The Ken/GI upset win put the defending state champion Williamsville on notice as they faced perennial power FLOP in the other semifinal game.

“I think we always know that any team can beat anyone in this league, but that game showed it,” said Williamsville forward Emma Roland, who had two goals and an assist in her team’s win Thursday. “We have to take everyone seriously.”

And FLOP, who has an array of playoff experience as well, gave them all they could handle.

The two teams went back and forth with chances throughout the early parts of the game.

FLOP nearly scored midway through the second when the puck was inches from crossing the Williamsville goal line before being knocked away by a defenseman.

A few moments later, Will-ville responded with a power-play goal. Emma and her twin sister, Erin, both earned assists when Jenna Cavalieri found the back of the net.

But Williamsville took back-to-back penalties and gave FLOP the two-man advantage late in the second.

However, none of FLOP defenseman Brooke Becker’s rockets from the point or the rebounds they created found there way past Will-ville goalie Mia Wendell as her team held onto the one-goal lead going into the third.

Wendell finished with 28 saves for Will-ville.

While he admits Williamsville lost some key pieces from last year’s teams, coach Rick Hopkins believes the core he brought back this season, along with some new players, is good enough to win it all again.

“I’d say this team is right there with last year’s team,” Hopkins said. “It helps when you have a huge nucleus back from a state championship winning team.”

The featured photo was provided courtesy of Janet Schultz, NYHockeyOnline.com

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