Weekly Feature

2017-12-06 / Sports

St. Joe’s hockey looking to remain dominant with new group

Niko Pavicich of St. Joe’s celebrates a goal behind the net during a Marauders victory last season. The team has lost many players from last year but returns a solid group and will look to again be a dominant force in local hockey. 
Photo by Jake FrenchPurchase color photos at www.BeeNews.com Niko Pavicich of St. Joe’s celebrates a goal behind the net during a Marauders victory last season. The team has lost many players from last year but returns a solid group and will look to again be a dominant force in local hockey. Photo by Jake FrenchPurchase color photos at www.BeeNews.com There are few programs in any sport in Western New York that are as successful as St. Joe’s hockey. The Marauders have won NYCHSAA championships in five of the past seven seasons. They’ll look to continue that success this season with a mostly new group.

St. Joe’s graduated 13 seniors from an absolutely dominant 2016-17 team. However, there are some major contributors returning this season. Captain Spencer Frome is among those who is back. He’ll play on a line with David Matthew and Jimmy Grable, who are also veterans.

“They played together as juniors last year,” St. Joe’s coach Rich Crozier said. “Offensively, that’s a good line for us. They’re real hard-working. They’ve got a lot of chemistry. We’re certainly relying on them.”

Ethan Louisos is another returning stud. He’s a skilled offensive player who should produce plenty of goals this season.

“He just has incredible hands and a great shot,” Crozier said. “We’re expecting big things from him this year on the offensive side of the puck.”

The team will also be strong defensively, where three returners will lead that group.

“Defensively, we have a couple players back,” Crozier said. “Shane Scheeler is a captain. He’s a really hard worker and incredibly physical. Patrick Gilbert and Matthew Barrali are two players from last year’s team. We’re really looking for them to step up and play more important roles on the back end this year.”

The team will have two goaltenders who will see time in Ben Weppner and Daniel Mikolajczak. The Marauders should also be strong in net.

“We’re counting on Ben as well as Daniel Mikolajczak,” Crozier said. “Danny is actually back to the team after a year off. He played for us as a sophomore. Now he’s back as a junior. He really feels strong about our goaltending. Both young men would be the clear starting goalie on another team. They’re going to be in a battle.”

The team will also gain a group of players who have had success on multiple levels. Several players are coming up after winning a state title at the club level last season.

“There are a bunch of them that are up that won a state championship at the club level last year,” Crozier said. “Adam Glica is a tough, physical forward with a great shot. Kellen Pulera is a real strong physical forward. CJ Goss is a senior that plays defense. He played for the Buffalo Junior Sabres for the past three years. He’s going to play a very important role on our back end, including some time on our power play.”

Beyond those top players, depth will be a strength for the Marauders. Traditionally, the team is able to roll four lines and no players really stand out from the pack. Each line is looked upon relatively equally in terms of ability to take on big minutes. The goal is to keep things that way.

“Our depth is a strength,” Crozier said. “We have 12 forwards, seven defensemen and two goalies that are very good hockey players. When we’re at our best, we’re rolling all four lines, we’re getting all six or seven defense involved in the game. That’s when we’re at our best. There’s no one individual player that we have to rely on to win a hockey game. Everyone gets an opportunity. Everyone contributes.”

As always, expectations are high for St. Joe’s. They’ve been a dominant force among local private school hockey over nearly the past decade. They’ll aim to make it to the state title game again this season.

“Expectations are high every year at St. Joe’s,” Crozier said “We’re optimistic that we have a group here that hopefully will want to put in the time and effort that it takes. We also realize that it is going to be a tremendous challenge. To be able to do it would be our third state championship in a row. What we believe as a coaching staff is that if it is going to happen, it will be the most challenging one. Only because there is a target on our back. We have to play our best every night in order to achieve success. We’re going to enjoy the journey, but we’re hopeful to be able to represent the Catholic schools in the state championship again this year.”

The team has already gotten off to a hot start, going 2-0-1 through three games. The Marauders started things off with a 5-1 win over Bishop Timon last Monday.

Two minutes into the first period, St. Joe’s opened scoring with a Connor McKendry goal. Sheeler and junior Will Redding got the assists. Bishop Timon would later tie it up, but St. Joe’s responded in the second period with a Pulera goal from Max Wopperer. They then added three straight goals in the third period. Louisos scored twice in a row before Redding closed out scoring with an assist from junior Niko Pavicich and McKendry.

“I thought we got better as the game went on,” Crozier said. “We had some first-game jitters. There are 11 new guys on this team. It’s natural for guys to be a little nervous. There are some high expectations on this team. We needed a little time to get our feet under us. Timon is a scrappy opponent; they always will be. They played tough. Even though the score was 5-1 and the shots would indicate the game was one-sided, it wasn’t. I was happy with our third-period play. We responded well after the intermission.”

The team then travelled to Mount Vernon over the weekend for the Fab 15 tournament. Saturday featured a rematch of last year’s state title game, as the Marauders took on St. Anthony’s. Louisios scored three goals and added an assist. Pavicich, Matthew, Goss and Frome also tallied goals. Mikolajczak earned the shutout.

“One of the things we’ve discussed is trying to wear down opponents,” Crozier said. “That took a combination of things. We did a really good job early of establishing the forecheck and being persistent in putting pressure on the puck. The second thing came as a result of us going up three or four: we saw a drop in intensity from them. That’s a credit to us because we were relentless in our approach. As the game continued, our effort was strong. I’d say we were just as surprised at the score as them. They have been a rival of ours for several years. The last five state titles we have won have come against them. They’ve always been tough games. They had some early-season jitters that they were working through. I’m positive that if we’re lucky enough to see them again, they’ll have a team that is much improved from what we saw Saturday.”

Louisos has been a major part of the success the team has had in the first two games. He averaged more than two points per game and already has five goals. His skill on offense is noticeable.

“Ethan got two goals against Timon,” Crozier said. “He scored three against St. Anthony’s and got an assist on our only goal Sunday. He’s a very skilled player. He can be a difference maker. He certainly was against Timon and St. Anthony’s. He’s got really good hands; he’s a finisher. For us to reach our goals this year, we’re counting on him. He worked really hard in the offseason. He’s coming into this season looking better than ever. We’re expecting some big things this year.”

Sunday, the Marauders tied Mamaroneck at 1. Goss scored the lone goal as St. Joe’s outshout the opposition 22-6 as Weppner made five saves.

“It was a little frustrating,” Crozier said. “We played our best game of the three so far. We really competed well yesterday. It’s kind of one of those things. Our effort and positioning were there, but we just didn’t finish. We hit three posts and one crossbar. We’ve been doing this long enough that a tie isn’t going to make anyone hit the panic button. The shots just didn’t go in. Credit to them, too, they played well. They were a state semifinalist last year and lost to North. They have strong goaltending and they played a bend-don’t-break style.”

The team will play some league games this week, as they’ll take on Orchard Park Friday at 7:30 p.m. at Leisure Rinks. Sunday, they’ll play Frontier at 3 p.m. at Buffalo State College.

A couple of league games are on the schedule for St. Joe's this week. The Marauders take on Orchard Park on Friday at 7:30 at Leisure Rinks in Orchard Park. On Sunday afternoon, they face Frontier at 3:00 p.m. at Buffalo State College.

email: tnigrelli@beenews.com

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