Tonawanda News —
Two games in two nights is a tall order for any high school hockey team, but add to that equation playing two of the top teams in the Federation and St. Joe's is in for a challenging back-to-back.
The Marauders (3-0-1) notched a win in the first leg against Williamsville North on Thursday night 3-1 and tonight they travel to Dwyer Arena to battle Niagara-Wheatfield (2-0) at 7:30 p.m.
Marauders coach Richard Crozier said that the two-game stretch will be a great early-season test for his team.
"(Today's game) is for first place and it's going to be a challenge," he said. There's a lot of emotion in this game. It's a great opportunity because we wanted to be in first place come christmas time. Now is our chance."
With their 4-0 win over Williamsville North in last season's Section VI Large School Championship, the Niagara-Wheatfield boys hockey team earned a trip to the state championships, as well as the title of best public-school hockey team in Western New York.
They also earned a brutal schedule to open this season.
"We've probably had the toughest schedule in the league to open up," N-W coach Rich Wrazin said. "Everyone we've played, they're all top teams in the area. It's a good test early on to see where we're at and what we need to do moving forward."
The Large School Division Two rivals meet twice a year during the regular season as they battle in the standings and for postseason seeding, but play in separate playoffs because of their public and private designations.
Last year, the Falcons and Marauders split their season series, with St. Joe's winning the first game 6-1 and N-W taking the second 2-1.
"They're always one of the better teams, and they're off to a good start this year," Wrazin said of the Marauders. "That first game (last season) was one of those days where we fell behind early. It just wasn't our day, and we didn't play a very good hockey game.
"The second time, we had been on a stretch of a few wins in a row and we had our confidence back. We went in knowing we could win. We didn't have that in the first game."
So far this season, it's been the young guns that have led the Falcons. Sophomore Dominic Senese is the team's leading scorer, with four goals and two assists in two games. He and his linemates, junior Frank Vecchio and freshman Alex Bauer, have carried the offensive load early on.
"They have a line that brings a lot of speed," Wrazin said. "They're a grinder line, a hard forchecking, in-your-face type of line."
Crozier added that he too has a lot of respect for the Falcons.
"Last year they won the Federation championship and I have a lot of respect for Rich (Wrazin)," he said. "They've always played us tough. We lost three times last year and one of them was to them. ... They have some really good skaters."Follow high school sports reporter Mike Meiler on Twitter @mikemeiler for updates on your local teams.