Weekly Feature

2017-07-12 / Sports

St. Joe’s hockey named 2016-17 team of the year

Sports Reporter

The St. Joe’s hockey team celebrates its state championship victory over St. Anthony’s of Long Island in Harborcenter in March. It was the fifth state title for the program in the past seven years. 
File Photo by Jeffrey T. BarnesPurchase color photos at www.BeeNews.com The St. Joe’s hockey team celebrates its state championship victory over St. Anthony’s of Long Island in Harborcenter in March. It was the fifth state title for the program in the past seven years. File Photo by Jeffrey T. BarnesPurchase color photos at www.BeeNews.com Euphoria is not an unfamiliar feeling for those who play hockey at St. Joe’s. The Marauders have won five state titles in the past seven years, dominating Monsignor Martin for much of this decade. The 2016-17 season was no different. The team went 24-1-2 before winning the Niagara Cup and CHSAA State Championship. They are now also the 2016-17 Ken-Ton Bee Team of the Year. At St. Joe’s, hockey has become the most popular and most successful sport.

“I think there’s a couple things. We have a tremendous amount of support from the school,” St. Joe’s coach Rich Crozier said. “That starts with our president, Robert Scott, and our principal, Brother Chris. We’ve had great athletic directors in Pete Schneider and Brian Anken. The school is very supportive of hockey. That’s a big piece of that. Within our program, we have 10 teams, 22 coaches, 180 hockey players in the school. It’s a team effort in every sense of the word.”

Early in the season, the team tied Lancaster and lost to Orchard Park. After that, the Marauders had just one more tie on the season. The rest of the league and non-league schedule featured nothing but wins.

“If I had to pinpoint one game that got our attention, it was the tie against Canisius in late January,” Crozier said. “It was a great game against our biggest rival, but we tied. We had a team meeting in practice the next day, and we had some really good senior leadership. This is important to all of us. We approached that game thinking we had it. We underestimated our opponent. That got our attention, and we played really great hockey the rest of the way.”

Even the playoffs didn’t feature much of a challenge. The Marauders used a big second period to defeat St. Francis 9-0 in the Niagara Cup semifinals. They then won the Niagara Cup 4-0 over Canisius. The state championship game against St. Anthony’s was close early, but St. Joe’s ran away with a 5-2 win.

“It’s interesting because if you look back on the 2015-16 year,” Crozier said, “it was the same thing. It was a couple losses before we started on a win streak. We tied Lancaster this year and lost to Orchard Park. Other people get focused on the wins and losses or ties. We’ve always had the philosophy that we need to be playing our best hockey come February and March.

“I think that outsiders look at the success we’ve been able to have over the last seven years and they think that winning championships is easy. There’s nothing further from the truth. It’s an incredibly daunting task. It’s a labor of love. Student-athletes, coaches, parents and administrators give a tremendous amount of sacrifice, whether that’s time, energy or financial resources.”

St. Joe’s obviously has talent, but that’s not the only reason the program has been so successful. The players have to buy into the system they play in. That might mean sacrificing offensive production or playing fewer minutes than you would on a lesser team. Crozier also stresses that hockey is not the most important thing in life.

“Several of the players on this team are elite athletes, yet my coaching staff asks them all to play a specific role,” Crozier said. “It’s a sacrifice. Every player on my team would have a significantly different role on another team. Put aside those individual desires to support the goal of the team.

“With the Fed team specifically, there are a couple things. One is a strong work ethic. Every time we go on the ice, the expectation is that we’re the hardest-working team. No one is going to outwork us. The second thing is having a real strong faith and understanding that there’s more to life than hockey. The main reason students attend St. Joe’s is not to play hockey, but to be strong students. Our players excel in the classroom, and that is something we’re very proud of. When your faith is strong and you try to be a great teammate, that’s the other secret to success.”

While St. Joe’s has been consistently successful for decades, and especially in the past seven years, this team’s offensive ability stood out in a way the others didn’t. There wasn’t a star player or league-leading scorer. But there were a half-dozen guys who were adept at scoring.

“I would say this group will stick out offensively,” Crozier said. “For other championship teams, we always had one or two guys that, in my mind, we needed them to score in order for us to do it. What was great about this group is there were about five or six of them that had a knack for putting the puck in the net. Ethan Louisos, a sophomore, led our team in scoring. He only had 13 goals in 26 games, which doesn’t really jump off the page. But we had two guys get 12 goals and another get 11. We had a number of players that contributed to a balanced offensive attack. That’s something that I’ll remember about this team.”

While the offense put the team out to big leads, the defense ensured a comeback was not possible. The perfect example is the semifinal win over St. Francis. The Marauders were up 7-0 by the middle of the second period and appeared to shift to more of a defensive priority. All told, St. Francis had just five shots on net. Two of those came in the final minute of the game. After taking that huge lead, St. Joe’s held their opponents scoreless for more than 20 minutes of game time. While this is an extreme example, it was not uncommon for the Marauders to hold their opponents to single digit shot totals.

“We had a really strong defense,” Crozier said. “We limited our opponents to shot totals that were at some times mind-boggling. We limited opponents to six, seven or eight shots. If you limit opponents to less than 10 shots in a game, you should win almost every time. That’s nothing new; I’ve been saying that for the 10 years I’ve been coaching here. The difference the last two years has been these guys have executed it really well. We limited our opponents to very few shots many times.”

The state championship win was the perfect way to cap off the season. The game was played at the HaborCenter in Buffalo in front of several hundred fans. The student section, the self-proclaimed “Row- dies,” was loud and seemingly always chanting in unison. Immediately after winning both the Niagara Cup and the state title, the team skated over to the student section to celebrate with the fans.

“I’m definitely a little biased, but I think we have a strong argument that we have the best hockey fans in this area,” Crozier said. “It’s just an unbelievable experience. We have something that not many places have. They come out for the Canisius games, North games; we’ve even developed a rivalry with Timon.”

After the horn sounded and all the trophies and medals were presented, the families of the players and students of St. Joe’s came onto the ice to celebrate and take pictures for close to an hour. It was the culmination of months of long practices, meetings and game after game.

“The support is so much appreciated,” Crozier said. “People often ask me about my greatest memories. We won the state championship at home this year, and the number of kids that came out to the HarborCenter was amazing. It was our most-attending championship ever. There were a ton of people there. The atmosphere was incredible. To win in front of that many rowdies, family and friends was amazing. It was a great moment and memory on a personal level. “I will remember it for the rest of my life. They’re special people and we’re incredibly lucky to have them. I can’t imagine the experience without them. They make it so great.”

email: tnigrelli@beenews.com

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