By Matt Parrino
The Tonawanda News
Tonawanda News — Zach Klapp and Michael Iannello grew up as friends in Tonawanda. When they both decided to attend St. Joe's, hockey had a lot to do with it. They wanted to be a part of the tradition and the atmosphere.
"You go to Joe's because you want to play hockey for them and make the Fed team," said Iannello, a senior captain and top defenseman for the Marauders. "The whole experience with the guys is a good time. It's a different atmosphere than a public school. I think it's helped me excel through my high school career."
St. Joe's is off to an almost perfect start in the Federation. The team is sporting a 7-0-1 league record and notched a big 5-2 victory over rival Canisius on Jan. 10 — and its "Tonawanda connection" has been a big reason why the Marauders have been so successful, said coach Rick Crozier.
"We're a Tonawanda school and we draw upon this community," he said. "It has an excellent recreation department and over the years I've been coach we've had some great hockey players and great individuals from the Tonawanda area. It's no shock to me that two of our captains are Tonawanda-based players."
Klapp and Iannello are the embodiment of the Marauders' identity as a hockey team: hard work and toughness. Crozier said that Klapp, the team's top center, is a power forward that is tough to knock off the puck, bringing strong physical presence.
Iannello anchors the defense and Crozier said that he is able to use him in every situation — five-on-five, power play and on the penalty kill. He's also developed into an offensive threat.
"He's scored some big goals for us this year," Crozier said. "One that comes to mind is a beautiful goal against Williamsville North earlier in the season that got things going for us."
Both players have matured into key leaders for the Marauders and are aware of their impact on the rest of the team. Iannello and Klapp both lead by example and let others take the lead in terms of being vocal on and off the ice. They both try to show others, especially underclassmen, what it takes to be a good hockey player every day — in practice and in games.
"As a captain you have to lead by example," Klapp said. "We have some vocal guys on the team but I like to lead more by example and I feel that has a bigger impact, especially on the younger guys. As seniors you have to try and motivate the younger guys and get them active in the lineup."
Iannello said the players have developed a system of leadership that's generated positive results.
"We have our top two lines that go out and get the goals, but our next two lines go out and they know their job is to generate a good forecheck and gain momentum for the next line to come out and put the puck in the net," he said. "We've all accepted our role on the team, and we know what we need to do as a line or a person to get out there and get the job done."
Crozier said Klapp and Iannello have played fantastic all season and he's been pleased with their development and how they've matured, both on and off the ice. Along with Ben Higgins, Mike Crawford and Alec Basehart — who are also from Tonawanda — Crozier said the group of Tonawanda players represent St. Joe's well.
Tonight is round two of the St. Joe's-Canisius rivalry and it promises to be an exciting and energetic contest.
Klapp said that there's hype in school all week when Canisius pops up on the schedule and that St. Joe's always looks forward to the game. Iannello said it's a different kind of game that requires an elevated level of focus.
"For this game when you come out of the locker room you see everyone in the stands and it gets you real pumped up," he said. "It's a different atmosphere and as a senior and a leader you learn to get it out of your head because it could be negative too. We stress to the younger guys to block out the distractions. There's a different intensity and they always bring a good game when they play us."
Crozier graduated in 1994 and has grown up in the rivalry, which he called "unbelievable."
He said to expect the Crusaders to spread the ice because they're a fast team. St. Joe's is physical and will try to slow Canisius down and make it hard for skaters to find open areas.
Klapp, Iannello and the rest of the seniors on the team are hoping to knock off Canisius in the final regular season showdown. Crozier said the game is like no other.
"It's an incredible atmosphere of 1,500 of your closest friends and your biggest enemies," he said. "As a coach it's exciting because I look out in that crowd and there's a guy I coached five years ago, next to him is a guy I played with at St. Joe's and next to him is a little kid who's told me he wants to go to St. Joe's. It's just quite an atmosphere to be a part of and certainly a privilege for us to be able to compete with them each year."
Contact sports editor Matt Parrino at 693-1000 ext. 4117 and find Tonawanda News sports on Twitter @tonanewssports.