By JOE KONZE JR. email@example.com
The Tonawanda News
Tonawanda News — TOWN OF TONAWANDA — At its first hockey practice back in November, the St. Joe’s hockey team met at center ice to embark on its 2013-14 Western New York Federation hockey season.
After a brief introduction, there was a simple goal presented that resonated throughout the rink: to win another state championship.
But after losing their captain to a broken collarbone in the first game of the season and losing three of their first four games, the Marauders’ chances of reaching the top of the mountain looked bleak.
St. Joe’s overall record took a hit mid-way through January.
“We were 6-10,” said Marauders coach Rich Crozier. “Our goal, after a rocky start and losing some key players, was to still to win a state championship.”
However, the blue-collared style of play that has been the team’s mantra for quite some time started to come full circle. That simple goal that was agreed upon in November was now an expectation; it was state championship or bust.
The Marauders capped off an impressive post-season run with a 2-1 victory over St. Anthony’s on March 1 — accomplishing their goal.
It was the program’s ninth state championship in 12 years and its third in four years in the Crozier era.
“I’m incredibly blessed having the opportunity to lead such a successful program like St. Joe’s,” Crozier said. “From the outside, people might say, ‘It’s St. Joe’s they are expected to win, or ‘must be easy to coach such a strong program year in and year out.’ But I can tell you each year brings on its own challenges. Nothing in life is going to come that easy. I really feel that this year’s team proved that.”
Competition was not easy leading up to the Marauders’ state championship matchup, as they had to exercise their past demons and defeat a couple teams that had their number on the year.
They upset Canisius in the Niagara Cup semifinals, 5-2 on Feb.18, and then earned a 4-2 victory over Timon St. Jude in the Super-Monday championships at the First Niagara Center on Feb. 24.
This run was special to Crozier and had a different feel to it. He said the atmosphere of the locker room was much different when it came to the post season.
“These gentlemen were very focused,” Crozier said. “Our work ethic, our intensity, our passion and our competitive drive, it never faltered. It was strong, incredibly strong.”
Finishing an impressive season in goal for the Marauders was senior netminder Peter Chopra, who at the beginning of the season was vying for a starting role on Crozier’s roster.
Chopra completed the season with a 13-6 record to go along with a 1.83 goals against average while stopping 92 percent of the shots he faced.
Crozier alluded to the success of Chopra and said that his play down the stretch helped keep the team on track to chase down its goal of a championship.
“Peter was incredible,” Crozier said. “As far as I’m concerned there’s no better feeling as a coach than having one of your seniors play the best hockey they can play. … We won as a team and certainly all 22 guys had a hand in that win, but Peter was incredible down the stretch and he brought his game to a whole other level.”
Leading the way offensively for St. Joe’s this season was junior forward Dominc Perna, who was aggressive and an all-around type player. He finished the season with 18 goals, 15 assists and 33 points.
His ability to score in clutch situations helped propel the team on its championship season.
The Marauders lose nine seniors this season but the blue print is there for future success, Crozier said.
“As far as next year is concerned, we certainly think our future looks bright,” Crozier said. “Our junior varsity team won their championship, our varsity maroon club team — who only had four seniors, so the rest of the team will be up with us next year — won their state championship as well.”
The Marauders finished the season with an overall record of 17-11 overall and 10-7 in Federation Hockey. They continue to be a standard on the ice and each year when new players come up through the system to play for Crozier there is a different story to tell.
“I definitely miss it (already),” Crozier said. “The first week (after) you just don’t know what to do. Especially the relationships that you make with the kids. You’re so involved. It’s not casual time. It’s such an intense commitment. We’re out on the rink 6-7 days a week. … I definitely miss the guys and I miss it. This season was magical.”Follow @tonanewssports and contributor @JoeKonzeJr on Twitter for complete high school sports coverage.