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Quakers Conquered By Cougars, Fall In Hockey State Semifinal

Photo courtesy of Janet Schultz | NY Hockey OnLine Magazine

The clock finally struck midnight for Cinderella.

Orchard Park, in the midst of perhaps the best season in school history, took a 13-7-1-2 record into Saturday’s Division I state semifinal against the Syracuse Cougars and fell by a score of 5-1.

However, the unexpected success of this season left the Quakers feeling hopeful for brighter days ahead.

“I know losing today feels bad, but in the long run we’re going to look back on this and realize that we were a part of putting Orchard Park on the map as a state power,” coach John Dannecker said. “One of the things we harped on with the kids was that now you know what it takes to get here, and that can help propel you going down the road.

“You look at successful teams in the past – the Williamsville Norths, the Niagara Wheatfields – they’ve been able to do it on a consistent basis, and it has to start somewhere. We’re hoping that this run gets us there eventually.”

Junior goaltender Ryan Albert echoed those same sentiments.

“Right now in the heat of the moment, it’s definitely a disappointment,” Albert said. “I think when we look back on it though, we’ll be proud of what we’ve done.

“This is the first time we’ve ever made it this far… It really hurts to lose the way we did, but we had an unforgettable run. We’ve got some talent coming up from junior varsity next year, so we’ll be excited to make another run next season.”

The first period between the two contestants played out as a physical battle, with quite a bit of jostling around, plenty of hitting, and a handful of shots for each team. Both squads were deadlocked with no score, and it looked as if the game might go down to the wire.

Then the second stanza of play began. And the Quakers soon found themselves on the wrong end of the spectrum.

Phillip Zollo scored the first of his three goals on the day with 11:37 remaining in the period and a snowball effect began to take place. Nathan Frye and Ryan Eccles then notched goals of their own within the next five minutes to give the Cougars a lead that they would never relinquish.

“We were under assault and back on our heels a little bit in that period,” Dannecker said. “Give credit to Syracuse. They have a lot of talented, big, physical, fast guys and we kind of backed up a little bit. We certainly didn’t quit at all and tried to keep plugging away, but we didn’t end up capitalizing.”

About a minute later, Jack Kinsman got the Quakers on the board with a powerplay goal but Orchard Park couldn’t muster any more offense, as they were shut down for the rest of the game and Zollo completed his hat trick.

“This was a great group of hard-working guys who wanted to win from day one,” Cougars coach Neal Purcell said. “We just knew that we needed to keep an even-keel, and if we kept grinding it out, we would get our way.”

The Cougars will play against the Suffern Mounties on Sunday for the state title.

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