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Late Game Challenge Leads to Championship Berth for St. Joe’s Hockey

Pictures by Andrew Miller

On what would have been his Father’s 95th birthday, St. Joe’s head coach Rich Crozier looked to the Heaven’s Monday evening for some advice and whispered a silent prayer during his teams playoff game versus St. Francis at the LECOM Harborcenter.

His late Father, former Buffalo Sabres head coach and alumnus Joe Crozier provided the inspiration.

The Marauders fought off a late St. Francis surge and defeated the Red Raiders 3-2 in front of a great hockey crowd, earning another trip to the Key Bank Center Friday night to play for the Monsignor Martin Championship.

“Before the playoff’s Pete Schneider (MMAA Executive Director) reminded all of the coaches about the challenge rule on any goal scored,” Crozier said. Trailing 3-1 in the middle of the third period, St. Francis had begun mounting a comeback against St. Joe’s. After surrendering a goal to the Red Raiders Anthony Venditti, you could sense a bit of a momentum shift in St. Francis’s favor.  And with 7:17 to go in regulation Connor Nannen’s wrist shot beat Joe’s goaltender Quincy Unger glove side to tie the score.

Then Crozier challenged the goal. Prior to the shot, a Red Raider player was knocked down and lost his helmet, which is an automatic whistle in high school hockey. The helmet came off before the puck left Nannen’s stick, and the goal was disallowed. The challenge worked and the Marauders were able to preserve the lead.

“My Dad, he did something during a playoff game against the Canadiens back in the 70’s. He asked for a measurement of goaltender Ken Drydens pads before overtime of a playoff game resulting in a Montreal penalty,” Crozier recalled. The Sabres would go onto win the game with a powerplay goal.  

St. Francis’s Andrew Markle scored the game’s opening goal in a relatively quiet first period.

The second period was played similarly to the first, both goaltenders made quality saves keeping it close. There was a scary collision in front of the Marauders bench halfway through the 2nd. St. Francis senior forward Thomas Knickerbocker landed awkwardly after a hit along the boards and needed assistance leaving the ice and was unable to return. Following the game, the young man was walking around on his own power, thankfully.

In the final minute of the 2nd period, the St. Joe’s offense woke up. Back-to-back goals by Sebastiano LaTorre and Anderson Cornwell, thirty-six seconds apart gave the Marauders their first lead of the game.

Zachary Zemrac gave the Marauders an insurance goal at 13:37 and that proved to be the game-winner when it was all said and done.

Unger finished with 17 total saves picking up the win in net. “The boys came through for us,” Unger said. “The locker room is such a tight knit group of guys who believe in each other and never got down. Even when we were down, we kept our heads up.”

Jayse Jemiolo made 15 saves for the Red Raiders.

“Those were gritty, blue-collar goals,” Crozier told his players in the dressing room post-game. “Those are your typical St. Joe’s goals. You guys earned them, that’s what makes us who we are. These games are about keeping your composure. The teams that get into these match up’s, and Donnie (assistant coach Don Held) have won six of these championships, that keep their composure usually come out with the win.”

Crozier was also critical of his team in the dying minutes of the game, he didn’t like all the icing. “We have to clean that up boys, those moments can come up again and we have to be better. You don’t want to give teams like that face-off’s in your zone.”

St. Joe’s will face Bishop-Timon (13-3-3-2) Friday at 3:30pm for the Championship. The Marauders went 1-2 against the Tigers during the regular season. The game will be available on the NFHS Network, Stu Boyar and Randy Schultz of WNYAthletics will be on the call.

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