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  • Writer's picturetgardner1167

Orchard Park Overpowers St Joe’s To Stay Undefeated

The unbeaten Orchard Park Quakers remain just that after spoiling senior night for the St. Joe’s Marauders, winning 4-1.

As the sunset leaks under cloud rippled skies, through the windows seven stories above restaurants and parking garage, a team of Marauders are doing jumping jacks in the hallway above the KeyBank Rink at LECOM HarborCenter.

The sounds of sticks slapping and skates circling the surface of the ice is not new to the ear. It the speed, passion, and elite skill of the adolescent Junior Sabres, cycling in synchronicity, that brings an energy to the wooden-roofed arena.

Balloons of maroon and grey, tied tautly to a net behind the western boards, frame four digits taped to the glass. It’s an ode to the graduating class of 2022. Twelve full-body portraits of eldest members of the Marauders line the corners. Six pictures on each side of the shrine at the center, with the two senior netminders, Evan Blatner and Jack Stack, nearest the goal they would defend just once tonight.

Fans in maroon and black trimmed windbreakers and hoodies begin to fill the aisles above the stands. It is yet to be determined who will be friends one the puck drops, and who will be enemies.

St. Joe’s sophomore Joshua Gowron is the first player to emerge from either locker room. The goaltender sways on his blades at the end of the hallway in anticipation for the battle in front of his team: The undefeated, maroon and black donning, Orchard Park Quakers.

Gowron retreats down the hallway, a whistle blows on the ice, signaling for a new drill for the youngins to run. With influence of the NHL All Star game this past weekend, one audacious skater attempts to score with his stick between his legs. His coaches admired his adventurous nature.

A timer is set for ten minutes on the scoreboard, just to the left of a decently sized video-board scrolling advertisements, allowing enough time for the lone Olympia branded ice resurfacer to spread a fresh layer of water in preparation for tonight’s match.

The St. Joe’s team take this time to place battle bottles across the bench and greet an early row of student fans sitting across the blueline. A single flower is passed to each senior respectively, wearing marron jerseys to designate their status as a graduate-to-be. The Quakers of Orchard Park watch on, peaking around the portraits on the boards.

Richard Crozier, the well respected and long tenured head coach Richard Crozier introduces a video presentation, underscored by Guy Meets Girl’s ‘Send Me On My Way,’ showing photos of young hockey players fade to transition to reveal that the once youth hockey players like the ones on the ice before them, are now just months away from completing their scholastic journey at St. Joe’s Collegiate Institute.

Among the seniors is a defenseman in his first year with the team with the “A” on his chest, Nate Rivet. Just like all of his classmates had before him, the number 25 skates across the ice to pass a rose to his parents and pose for a photo that will be cherished for a lifetime. Nate, however, is the only senior to be posing with a 16 year NHL veteran. His father, and former Buffalo Sabre, Craig Rivet embraces Nate in a moment of overwhelming pride.

The Quakers take to the ice for warmups wearing a primarily white uniform with black shorts and maroon socks, with white stripping similar to those of the 1990’s Toronto Maple Leafs.

First Period

Withing the first seven seconds of the game, we have our first collision of the night. An early high sticking penalty to Orchard Park’s Blake Hearn send the Marauders to the power play, just 59 seconds into the game. Before the puck can make it’s way to the point off of the face off, St. Joe’s’ Samuel Herr gets called for tripping. The pace of play picks up during the following two minutes, but teams are held shotless on the 4v4.

After both culprits are released from the sin bin, a two on two rush for the Marauders was denied by Orchard Park’s senior goaltender, Michael Pohrte, who had to follow up his first stop with an immediate save on the rebound. That would be the third and final shot on goal recorded for St. Joe’s for the remainder of the first period.

The speed of the top line for the Quakers consisting of Tyler Kelley, Tyler Menz, and Jack Roberts is a clear difference maker, as St. Joe’s goalie Jack Stark was forced to make a high, right shoulder save on a blistering fast Menz shot from the near boards seven minutes into the opening period.

Orchard Park begins to control the pace of play, not without taking a beating from the St. Joe’s defenders, as Frank Neeson can attest to, being crunched into the boards in front of the crowd of St. Joe’s fans twice in a five minute span. The Marauders have one last rush left in them for the period, but the speed of OP’s Brandon Licursi broke that up before a shot was taken.

Then, with just 28 seconds left to play before the first intermission, a diving attempt from St. Joe’s defenseman Benjamin Hausle nearly blocks Sean Becker’s shot from the slot, but the puck dribbles and tucks its way inside the near goal post behind Jack Starck, giving Orchard Park the 1-0 lead heading into the locker room.

Second Period

After a motivational speech from head coach Richard Crozier, the Marauders came out flying off the opening puck drop in period number two. A blocked shot in the defensive end sparked a fast break two-on-one opportunity for Matthew Croll and Jude Berry. The lone Quaker defending, Alex Armstrong, went flat onto the ice to try and stop the cross crease pass, but Berry was able to get everything on the shot, burying it behind Michael Pohrte. Just 15 seconds into the second frame, we had a tie hockey game.

That tie would hold tight for eleven minute of play, filled with numerous St. Joe’s pressure in the offensive end. Pohrte had to use every part of his body, including his mask, to keep it at a 1-1 score. The Quakers would respond in the shots department, going up 19-9 in that stat while the Marauders killed off a penalty to Luke Deakin.

Minutes later, Michael Robertson found the loose puck off of a block in front of the St. Joe’s net and made no mistake on the backhand, taking the lead back again for Orchard Park. Continuous OP pressure forces ST. Joe’s to call for a timeout at the next whistle. However, the last 3:09 in the second period was dominated by the Quakers, who ended the period leading 30-9 in shots on goal.

Third Period

Jack Starck did his best to give the Marauders a fighting chance, making 3 big saves on clean cut shots from close range within the first two minutes of the third period. After a slashing call on the Marauders’ Evan Becigneul, Orchard Park’s Presley Schlitz, camped at the right of the net, redirected a slap pass from Brandon Licursi over the glove of Starck on the man advantage, padding the lead to 3-1 with 13:55 to yet to be played.

St. Joe’s would have won last push of consistent pressure, thanks mainly to Nate Rivet’s relentless forechecking ability, but the defense of the Quakers wouldn’t allow any easy shots from within the faceoff dots.

With 7:41 to go in the game, Orchard Park sealed the 4-1 victory with a powerful put-back shot, off the rebound from a Tyler Kelley wrister that bounced off the back wall, buried from the slot by Tyler Menz.

The Quakers stay unbeaten, as outshooting the Marauders 50-11, prepped and ready for a matchup with Williamsville North on Wednesday, 2/9, at Depew Ice Rink. Puck drop set for 8:00pm.

St. Joe’s will look to bounce back against another tough ECIC opponent at Starpoint on Wednesday 2/9, with the opening faceoff at 6:50pm at Holiday Outlet, Rink 1.

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