By David Yarger and Rob Amberger
The clock read all zeros. Niagara Falls High School's successful season had come to a sad ending with the score reading 9-0 in favor of the No. 2-seeded Williamsville North Spartans.
Although the loss stung, it didn't take anything away from the success the 2014-15 Wolverines team had.
"One game does not make a season," head coach Stan Wojton said. "Win or lose, I define a season by what you are able to accomplish."
Accomplishments were aplenty this season for the Wolverines, winning a school-record 14 league games, scoring a federation-record 104 goals as a team, and having an individual player, Alex Hailey, break the federation record for goals in a season (27), and points in a season (50).
Most important to coach Wojton was bringing home a division title.
"It's a great honor to win the title," Wojton stated, but said he enjoyed seeing the kids have success, because of everything his staff asked from them.
While the team's success is important to Wojton on the ice, the success his players have off the ice as student-athletes is even more important. Wojton's bunch also does great deeds for the community, such as going to local elementary schools and reading to children.
The team's 4-2 loss to the St. Francis Red Raiders in early January was a small bump in the road to the top.
"I really felt we outplayed them, and we outshot them, but just a couple bad bounces hurt us," Wojton said of the big division game. St. Francis and the Falls were both atop the division when the game was played.
The Wolverines would get another opportunity to try and defeat the thorn in their side a month later at Buffalo State.
"We put it in the back of our heads, 'They got us once, but they won't get us again,' " Wojton said of facing St. Francis a second time. The Wolverines came armed and loaded, defeating the Red Raiders 10-4 behind four goals from forward Nick Kindzia. Wojton said to score 10 goals against a team like St. Francis was incredible.
Although that game gave the Wolverines a hold on the division lead, the team had three games that week to finish the season. After dropping the first game against Division II opponent Kenmore East, 6-2, the Wolverines bounced back in the next game versus the Amherst Tigers. Defenseman Nick Lepine netted the squad's 100th goal of the season in a 7-5 victory. Niagara Falls then finished up the year versus Kenmore West with a 3-0 victory. The win not only helped Hailey break the federation points record, with his assist on best friend Kindzia's goal, but also it was a very memorable game for coach Wojton.
"It honestly was such a great feeling having him score for me to break the record," Hailey said of his record-breaking assist. He said Nick was a big reason why he broke the record, because most of their points came from each other.
Wojton couldn't attend the game for reasons much bigger than hockey. The night prior, Wojton and his wife welcomed a baby boy into the world. Coach Nick Ruffalo stepped in for Wojton and said after the game "We won this game for 'Baby Stan.' " Wojton went on to say it was a very touching moment to be sitting with his son and learn the team won the division.
The team has some work to do over the offseason to get prepared for next season.
"We have to get bigger, stronger and faster," Wojton said. The coach said they were just as skilled as teams, but lacked the strength to hang in the game.
Wojton said he plans on conducting offseason workouts during the summer as well as having members of the team skate at the summer camp to get skating in. He also said the team would take full advantage of utilizing the brand-new "beautiful" field house behind the high school.
Hailey agreed with his coach. "It just shows we need to get stronger and faster to compete." He said the offseason will show how much the team really wants it.
As for the roster, the team will still be young and, barring an opportunity to play at a higher level, current juniors and top three point leaders Hailey, Kindzia and Cody Bielec will return.
"They are very dynamic players," Wojton said of NF's "big three." "Next year do I expect them to go out there and shatter all these records? No, but I do expect a lot of the same product."
Alongside Hailey's 27 goals and 23 assists, Kindzia netted 20 while dishing out 21 assists, and Bielec netted 16 and dished out 22 assists. Wojton said he hopes they can work on stepping into leadership roles and being role models on and off the ice for next year's team.
Other notable returners will be defenseman Dylan Mort, and Nick Lepine, as well as forward Paul Barker, and starting goaltender Thomas Orfano.
Although much of the roster seems steady, the team is losing senior captain Ian Ivancic, and seniors Nick Frame, Fritz Proctor, Evan Asklar, Erik Baille and Dajon Maye.
Wojton said replacing a captain like Ian is very tough. "He might not have lit up the score sheet, but he was very important to the team, an ideal student-athlete with a 90-plus average. It will be difficult finding someone to fill Ian's shoes."
The coach noted his senior crew might not have been putting up incredible numbers, but they were a very important aspect and were role models for the team.
The team is also losing senior manager Keith Parmer.
"He went above and beyond for us, and the little things were greatly appreciated," Wojton said. Parmer also took control of the video for the team as far as using GoPro cameras to help improve the team on the ice.
"It won't be easy to find another manager like Keith," Wojton said.
For next season, the thought of a possible jump to Division II from Division III has certainly crossed the mind of the NF head coach. Wojton said he feels his team is ready to compete at Division II and said it would benefit the Wolverines come playoff time to play better competition. With each step up in division, the competition gets better.
Wojton said there are talks going on with the executive committee of the federation that there could be an expansion to four divisions, putting six teams in each division.
"It's just talks right now," Wojton said "But it would split six teams into four divisions. Division I being the strongest with all the powerhouse teams, and then Division II and III being the elite and up-and-coming squads, and then Division IV containing the teams who have struggled of late."
Wojton said a decision should be made on the split sometime in mid- to late-March.
Designed by Xadiel Taveras