Tonawanda News — Before this season started the St. Joe’s hockey team, who lost 10 players from the 2011-12 squad, were expected to be in rebuilding mode.
Now, just three months later, the Marauders are state champions and have overcome every conceivable obstacle on the ice this season. Winners of 25 games (18 straight to end the season), a Federation and state title and a season sweep of rival Canisius, who was the Federation favorite in December, the Marauders were dominant. Coach Rich Crozier said this group will go down as one of the best in Western New York hockey history.
“I personally have never experienced anything like this as a coach, or even as a player,” he said. “One of the most impressive things about this team is that they never had an off game. We never really played down to an opponent. The teams we were supposed to beat, we beat. The real tight games, we competed enough and were fortunate enough to win.”
The state championship is St. Joe’s eighth in 11 seasons, and the second in Crozier’s three seasons.
He said the turning point of this season, when he realized his team could go all the way, came Jan. 17, with the Marauders’ second win over Canisius in a week — in overtime.
“The way we competed in that game — many people would have argued that Canisius was the favorite going into the year, but we played them the week before and beat them 5-2,” Crozier said. “I remember thinking, ‘Whoa. We just swept who was supposed to be the top Catholic team.’ Going into our first game with them they were 13-0. It was quite the (accomplishment) to defeat them twice in a week.”
The Marauders were led by a pair of Tonawanda seniors: center Zach Klapp and defensemen Mike Iannello. Crozier credits both players for their contributions on the ice and in the locker room, and said without Klapp, the most valuable player of the Catholic Federation, the Marauders wouldn’t have been state champions this season.
After the overtime win versus Canisius, Crozier could sense the team gaining confidence every day. Looking back on the season, he said the team never took a day off. The players went hard and competed in every practice and in every game, and that work ethic is what allowed them to be so successful.
Crozier said his team’s 18-game win streak is the perfect indicator for its success.
“It speaks volumes for our consistency as a team,” he said. “We competed day in and day out. In practice, I can tell you I never left the rink thinking that it was an off practice or that we didn’t work hard. Every single time — I’m not exaggerating — every single time this team stepped on the ice they competed hard. Whether it was practice or in games.”
In 1993, Crozier’s St. Joe’s squad went undefeated in the state, but he can remember, even 20 years later, the team had a few off games. He said this year’s team didn’t know any way to play that didn’t involve working hard and leaving everything on the ice.
“This is just a great group of kids to work with,” Crozier said. “Kind of reflecting back — one of the emotions I’m feeling is just being sad that it’s over. This team, we had 60 practices, 28 games, spent six nights together in hotel rooms on the road. It’s just a great group of kids to be around. As satisfying as it is to go out on top and be the best in the state, here we are a week later and I’m really missing it. It was a magical year.”Contact sports editor Matt Parrino at 693-1000 ext. 4117 and find Tonawanda News sports on Twitter @tonanewssports.