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By Dave Ricci
They worked as one with the common goal of a title. And they succeeded.
Captain Justin Walker had 8 points as Lewiston-Porter came away as the champion of the High School Hockey Holiday Showcase that was played at Riverworks Dec. 27-28.
Mike Naccarato scored the game-winner in the title game as the Lancers topped Iroquois/Alden, 5-4, in overtime.
"The boys came out hard and learned it’s gonna take everybody on the ice, and it’s gonna take every guy giving 110% in order for us to be successful," said coach Kevin Kirsch.
The Lancers punched their ticket to the title game after breezing to a 13-3 win over West Seneca East in the opening round. Walker and assistant captain Mike Baio notched 5 points each in the win. Baio totaled three goals and four assists while Walker had five goals and three helpers.
"They're stepping into those leadership roles. They're a little more vocal now than they have been in past years," Kirsch said. "Their play on the ice and the example that they're setting off the ice, as far as their work ethic, their practice habits, it's rubbing off on the other kids. It's great to watch, and it's great to see, and I'm real happy for them.”
To call this a confidence-booster might seem a little odd if you consider the run of success Lew-Port has had over the past few seasons, including reaching the sectional semifinals two years ago.
"That's huge," Walker said. "The team really needed that."
The Lancers have also been playing a few men down so far, as injuries and illness have taken its toll on their roster.
Kirsch also explained this is a group that is somewhat on the younger side compared to past years. So, many of them are still adjusting to bigger roles.
Kirsch said the coaches knew the boys could get the job done, but felt that, up to this point, maybe some of the guys were struggling with some bouts of insecurities. This win sends the message they are all more than capable of doing what is asked of them.
"I think the last few games they've put together a solid effort and have been learning how to win," Kirsch said. "Learning the game they need to play to be successful. We're a little bit on the younger side. I think we've got six seniors. The last few years we've had 10 or 11 seniors each year, so we're a little bit on the younger side. We've got some younger guys that are stepping into key roles and they're embracing their roles now. And they're accepting the responsibility and they're playing with confidence. That's huge once they start playing with confidence. The sky's the limit."
Perhaps the best example of stepping up when needed was backup goalie Mike Sloma, who came in after starter Chris Collesano was felled by an injury with four minutes left in the second period of the championship game.
Though Iroquois/Alden popped a couple of quick goals to take a 4-3 lead, Sloma answered the call when it was gut-check time, and slammed the door shut the rest of the way.
"Even talking with him, he had some nerves about getting put in," Walker recalled. "He was nervous but, after a couple saves, he got used to it. We talked to him. He let in a couple (early), but he bear down when we needed him."
Walker scored the game-tying goal, and sophomore Eddie Lynch set up Naccarato for the game-winner.
"Eddie Lynch and Naccarato, they've both been playing a huge role in scoring and everything, and those are two young kids," Walker said. "Eddie Lynch has really stepped up. He has great vision. Great speed. Our team just didn't give up. And that's the real (big) thing."
The best part of the win is that it was a perfect example of what Kirsch said this group would need to do to succeed.
Early on, Kirsch said they would have to all be pulling in the same direction: team first and play for each other.
That's exactly what they did.
"We don't really notice who scores. We just celebrate together," Walker said. "We have some players that really stepped up. At the beginning of the season, they might not have started off too hot, but I think we made some line changes and I think everyone has really found their spot and knows their role. I think we're on a little bit of a streak here. I think we're hot and we need to keep it going.
“But I think everyone has a huge role in this team. There's not one player that I would say that doesn't contribute. It just makes a big difference, because you can't do it with just one or two lines."
Rocco Randazzo had a goal in the title game and 4 points in the win over West Seneca East.
Iroquois/Alden beat Kenmore West, 5-4, in their opening game.
The Blue Devils took the third-place game, beating West Seneca East, 9-4.
Since this was the first year of the tourney, Kirsch said no MVP or All-Tournament team was selected, because they wanted to take it slow and build as they go along. Next year will see awards handed out and, hopefully, Kirsch said, a larger field of teams competing.