By Matt Parrino
The Tonawanda News
Tonawanda News — St. Joe’s (4-0-2, 2-0-2 Fed) finished 22-4-1 last season and won the regular season title in the Federation, but a disappointing, double-overtime loss to Canisius that ended its season still haunts players that have returned on this year’s squad.
There aren’t many returning players, however, as the Marauders graduated 11 seniors off last year’s team, including All-Federation first team selections Tyler Mills and goaltender Marc Mallore.
”That was a strong group,” said St. Joe’s coach Rich Crozier of last year’s bunch. “Those guys were freshman when I took over the program. We put a lot of time and energy into developing that group when they were young kids. They all turned out to be exceptional hockey players.”
This season St. Joe’s is at the top of the Federation once again, currently in fourth place with a 4-0-2 record (2-0-2 in the league), and Crozier attributes his team’s early-season success to the senior leadership left on the squad.
”My senior leadership has done a nice job acclimating the new guys to what we’re all about,” he said. “We try and keep things really simple. Every time we step on the ice we want to be the hardest-working team. Nobody ever outworks us and that’s something our team rallies around. Work ethic to me is a big deal.”
Crozier is excited about his team’s depth this season and said it has allowed him to run out four strong lines. He said that his team’s game plan is to wear down opposing teams with hard work.
Senior captain Zach Klapp is the embodiment of all the qualities Crozier hopes to instill in his team. He works hard and plays a real physical style. Eric Paradowski also fits into that mold because of his toughness and willingness to battle in front of the net.
Crozier said one of the areas he pushes his team to excel is in its ability to skate hard.
”One of my philosophies as a coach is that. ... guys have to be able to handle the puck well and make big hits — but my belief is the one skill that separates you from other players in your ability to skate,” he said.
Nick George is in net for the Marauders and Mike Iannello and Kyle Klawon are the team’s top two defensemen.
When it comes to this year’s Lumberjacks (1-3-0, 1-3-0 Federation), it’s all about sophomore goaltender Kyle Painter.
“Our team relies heavily on him because we only have one,” said North Tonawanda coach Alan Zybtek. “He’s a pretty aggressive, puck-handling goalie and he moves side-to-side real well. He communicates real well with defensemen so he’s always active in the play. ... With him in net I think we have a shot in every game we play in.”
NT only lost two players off last season’s squad, but one will be missed — leading scorer Colton Anstey.
Left to pick up the slack is senior Connor Hughes, who earned second team All-Federation last season. He’s one of four defensemen — along with Brandon Lavocat, Griffin Spatorico and Dylan Tomasulo — that anchor the team’s defense.
On offense, Zybtek said that the scoring has to be a balanced effort.
“Scoring comes from a bunch of different guys,” he said. “We don’t have any real solid snipers but my forwards work hard and they work together real well. Hopefully they can generate enough goals.”
Marty Clarke and Andrew Walck will play large roles on the offensive end, and Curtis Swan and Sam Rydzewski are expected to contribute as well.
Last season was a disappointing one for Kenmore West, but this season first-year coach Tim Knight is hoping his squad will take advantage of a fresh start.
The Blue Devils (2-2-0, 1-2-0 Federation) return most of their roster and Knight is trying to turn that roster into a group of hockey players that work hard.
“We’re trying to take on the personality of a hard-working every day hockey team,” he said. “A team that goes out there and works hard every shift, that finishes every check, that back-checks hard into our own zone, that supports our goaltender, and that’s tough to play against. That’s the team we want to be. We’re young and have only three seniors.”
Kenmore West is led by its captain, three-sport senior Tommy Ryan. He scored a hat trick against North Tonawanda earlier this season and Knight said he’s the total package.
“He’s a quiet guy but he leads on the ice,” Knight said. “We double-shift him when we can. He plays power play, penalty kill, he’s very smooth. He’s a natural athlete. Hockey isn’t even his first sport. You know you have somebody that’s not going to just throw the puck away. He’s confident, strong, takes the body and will knock someone down in front of the net. He’s an all-around great athlete.”
Junior Sean Guetti mans the net for the Blue Devils and has started since his freshman year. He’s an all-around, quality net-minder, who is technically sound and very good at playing the angles in net, according to Knight.
The Blue Devils will lean on their keeper a ton this season.
“He competes well, he doesn’t stay back in the crease and let people creep in on him and he’s not afraid to get out there and push a guy out of his way,” Knight said. “He’s very level-headed and he’s calm and cool in the net. He doesn’t let things rattle him. We’re fortunate to have him back as a junior.”
The Bulldogs (3-0-1, 2-0-1 Federation) are coming off the most successful season in program history after winning a State Championship last year.
The hard part began several weeks ago when this year’s Kenmore East squad began the 2012-13 campaign minus 14 players from that state championship team.
Bulldogs coach Kyle Pray knew going into the season that it would be an uphill battle getting back to the top.
“I’ve been really proud of this group so far because they have listened pretty well and bought into the system that we’ve developed for them,” he said. “The past couple of years we have had some pretty skilled offensive players. This year we have more of a gritty, grind-it-out type team on offense. We’re a team that tries to get pucks to the net a lot and we try to get goals — we call it — in the house, in the slot area.”
Ken East will depend heavily on senior captain Anthony Amoia, who Pray called a strong two-way player.
“I think he represents what our team is about this year,” Pray said. “He’s a gritty, two-way forward. He works hard for the goals and points he gets. But at the same time he does a good job taking care of our own end as well.”
Mike Davern and Trevor Taggert return between the pipes for the Bulldogs. Defensemen Steve Schultz is in his first season with Ken East and, at 6-foot-1, Pray has been impressed with his physical presence. He’s strong and he plays in all situations.
He’ll log a lot of ice time this season and be the main anchor on defense, according to Pray.
Pray expects his team to compete in the league and be a factor come sectionals later this season despite the team’s inexperience.
“We’ll have some growing pains but if the boys work hard and adapt to the system, I feel we’ll be better in the second half of the season,” he said.GAME NIGHT IN THE FEDERATION WHO: Kenmore East at Kenmore West WHERE: Northtown Center WHEN: Tonight at 9 p.m. QUOTE: "This is going to be a very close game this year. (Ken West is) improved from last year. Of course, we don't have the same talent level so I'm expecting this to be a pretty good game and the rivalry makes it that much more of a heated contest. A bounce or two will decide it." -- Ken East coach Kyle Pray Contact Sports Editor Matt Parrino at 693-1000 ext. 4117 and find Tonawanda News sports on Twitter @tonanewssports.