Little's hat trick leads Grand Island to Division 3 title
By David Yarger
In front of a loud Hyde Park Ice Pavilion crowd, the Grand Island Vikings spoiled the Niagara Falls Wolverines' Senior Night, defeating them 4-0 on Thursday.
The win gives the Vikings the Division 3 title and a bye for the first sectional game - two things that made coach Don Pray happy.
"It's great. We've come close in the past and it was one of our goals we set at the beginning of the year," he said. "And then to get that bye in the first round, I'm just happy for the guys, because they've worked hard all year."
The game was mostly one-sided, like the ice was tilted. The majority of the game was played in the Niagara Falls zone, and the Vikings offense peppered the Wolverines with shots all night.
The Vikings got on the scoreboard 5:14 into the first period, when Richard Little perfected a wraparound goal to give the Vikings a quick 1-0 lead.
This would end up being the game winner, as the Wolverines offense couldn't get anything going against goaltender Jason Lupp. Lupp extended his record in net to 6-1, and it was his second shutout of the year.
Niagara Falls made a goaltending change halfway through the second period. Senior Max Asklar came in for fellow senior Pat Sisler. On Senior Night, Sisler made 20 saves, while Asklar made 16.
Little got back on the scoreboard in the second period when he grabbed an errant pass off the boards and took it, unassisted, for the goal. His second made it 2-0.
In the third period, Brandon Snyder tipped a deflection into the net for his eighth goal of the season, giving the Vikings a 3-0 lead.
Later, Niagara Falls pulled its goaltender to have an extra attacker on the ice. Little took advantage of this and knocked in his third goal of the game, giving him a hat trick. One fan with knowledge of the feat threw a hat onto the ice.
Going into the game, Little only had 2 goals. Pray praised his effort.
"Ricky is one of our high-energy players and, at the beginning of the year, we just told him to keep working," Pray said. "He worked so hard in practice. He listens, he eyes in to everything that the coaches say, whether it's systems or little suggestions. I'm happy for him today, because all that hard work has paid off."
Pray said Little is a fast skater, and called him a "great north-south skater," which adds to his reputation as a high-energy player.
For the Wolverines, 13 seniors were honored before the game, three managers and 10 players. Head coach Stan Wojton praised his senior players, as well as the three senior managers.
"They're sorely going to be missed," he said. "There's a handful of them that've been with us since eighth grade, and some that were in their first year. But, they're a group of seniors that will be sorely missed, because, when I talk about teamwork, character and all those things, they really buy into it."
The senior players honored were Sisler, Asklar, Mike Laurrie, Nick Lepine, Herman Bambrah, Vincent D'Anna, Derek Soluri, Michael Olszewski, Cameron Faccini and Hunter O'Donoghue. The managers were Ross Pochatko, Ryan Kinney and Louis Johnston.
Wojton said he hopes playoff wins are in the future for Wolverines hockey.
"We're gonna keep going year-by-year, and we're gonna work hard just like we did this year, and that's the only way we know how to do it," he said. "Even though we have 10 seniors graduating this year, it's not uncommon for us. We had a group of young men a few years ago, I believe it was nine seniors, and the year before was seven."
Wojton said the team would take advantage of the summer program that it has, and players will grow from there and prepare the best they can.
The Wolverines next matchup will be a playoff game at the Northtown Center at 1 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 18.
For the Vikings, they will look forward to the bye in sectionals. Pray said the message to the team is to be ready.
"The message is, come ready to work next week - no matter who we play," he said. "It's been one of those years where teams are beating each other; and it doesn't matter who you're playing on any night, you have to be ready."
Grand Island finishes the regular season with 27 points and is currently the No. 3 seed for the sectional playoffs. The game will be at HarborCenter in Buffalo, with a date, time and opponent determined at a later date.