Weekly Feature



2018-02-15 / Front Page

Girls hockey team wins first state title

by TAYLOR NIGRELLI
Reporter


Williamsville’s Kaylee Conover and Frontier/Lake Shore/Orchard Park’s Emily Kromer battle for a puck during FLOP’s 3-1 victory in the Section VI Girls Hockey Championship on Feb. 7. FLOP would go on to win the NYSPHSAA Girls Hockey Championship on Sunday. They are the first Section VI girls hockey team to win the state championship. It is the second state championship for a girls’ team in Orchard Park’s history. 
Photo by Kathleen KramerPurchase color photos at www.BeeNews.com Williamsville’s Kaylee Conover and Frontier/Lake Shore/Orchard Park’s Emily Kromer battle for a puck during FLOP’s 3-1 victory in the Section VI Girls Hockey Championship on Feb. 7. FLOP would go on to win the NYSPHSAA Girls Hockey Championship on Sunday. They are the first Section VI girls hockey team to win the state championship. It is the second state championship for a girls’ team in Orchard Park’s history. Photo by Kathleen KramerPurchase color photos at www.BeeNews.com The Frontier/Lake Shore/Orchard Park girls hockey team was not messing around this time. FLOP was new to the state playoffs last year when it lost the title game after winning its first-ever Section VI championship. This year, the team was dominant in winning the Section VI title, state semifinal and then, on Sunday, the first New York State Public High School Athletic Association championship for a Section VI team, 5-1, over Salmon River.

This is just the second girls team in Orchard Park history to win a state title. The softball team took the title in 2015.


Frontier/Lake Shore/Orchard Park defenseman Brooke Becker carries the puck into the Williamsville zone during her team’s 3-1 win in the Section VI Championship game Wednesday. 
Photo by Kathleen KramerPurchase color photos at www.BeeNews.com Frontier/Lake Shore/Orchard Park defenseman Brooke Becker carries the puck into the Williamsville zone during her team’s 3-1 win in the Section VI Championship game Wednesday. Photo by Kathleen KramerPurchase color photos at www.BeeNews.com “For the coaching staff, coach [Bob] Klimowicz and coach [Chelsea] Hausberger, we’re just proud of the girls,” FLOP assistant coach Lucian Forcucci said. “We’re happy to play our part in helping the team prepare mentally. At the end of the day, they’re the ones out there playing, so they deserve the credit.

“We had a strong senior class of leaders and talented young girls who were able to produce. We knew we had the kind of team that could win the state championships. Being there last year, getting back, knocking off the team that beat us, then bringing home the state championship was exciting.”

There wasn’t much drama in the final game. Brooke Becker opened scoring in the first period. In the second period, Haylee Tatar and Emily Kromer both racked up goals to run the lead to 3-0. Becker made it 4-0 with her second of the game in the third period.

“They were a big, physical team, so we thought if we could play a high tempo, they would eventually drop off, and that is exactly what happened,” Forcucci said. “We played at a good pace going back and forth. There were good chances by both teams. That allowed us to get some of the younger girls in the game.

“We controlled the game, the pace and tempo. They weren’t used to playing at that speed; they couldn’t keep up as far as skating ability. We were confident that we could bring home the championship.”

The team may have gotten an even bigger win in the semifinal round when it defeated Skaneateles, 6-3, in a rematch of last year’s state title game. Becker also opened scoring in this game, putting one on the board with just 31 seconds left in the first period. Jess Peters scored soon after to make it 2-0. Skaneateles cut the deficit to 2-1 before the first period ended.

In the second period, Emily Kromer extended the lead back out to two, and then Becker’s second made it 4-1. Skaneateles scored two more goals, but Emily Kromer and Gabby DeMeo put in two late to make it a 6-3 final.

“We felt like Saturday’s game was going to be the more challenging one,” Forcucci said, referring to Skaneateles. “[Salmon River] didn’t have the high-end talent that Skaneateles or even Williamsville had. Skaneateles played a really good game.

“They have a player on their team that was the most talented girl that we have seen all season. We really had to keep her under control because she produced 60 percent of their offense in the regular season. We had to contain her, and we really weathered the storm when they put the pressure on us.”

Two power-play goals were the difference earlier in the week when the team won its second consecutive Section VI girls hockey championship, 3-1, over Williamsville. The sectional title game was dominated by whistles, as 17 total penalties were called, 10 of which went against FLOP. However, the team was able to hold Williamsville on each penalty and scored two power-play goals to break a tie in the third period.

“We pressured. We talked about not giving them the opportunity to set things up,” FLOP coach Bob Klimowicz said. “When the puck is on the boards, we’re pressuring you. If you try to go out in front, we’re pressuring you. Then we’re blocking shots. We didn’t let them take their time to set up, and that was key.”

Williamsville opened the scoring just under nine minutes into the game when Ella Huntley scored off assists from Rachel Juneau and Kaylee Conover. FLOP tied things up with two minutes left in the period when Mary Kromer found her sister, Emily, in the slot, who banged it home for a goal.

After a physical, tightly played second period ended without a goal, FLOP started the third period on the power play. Kromer got her second of the game again off a pass from her sister and Taylor Gehen.

“I really had the backing of my teammates, and that’s what’s most important,” Kromer said. “On the ice and off the ice, they always had my back. Even my sister with those give-and-go passes, we’ve been working on that all season. I really, like, can’t even take credit for them. It was just a matter of positioning. If it was anyone else, it would have been the same outcome.”

After another Williamsville penalty, Gabby DeMeo caught a Sirena Fitzery pass while moving left to right and put the puck in the upper right corner. The two power-play goals came just after the team had been focusing on special teams in practice.

“If I was on the losing end, I’d be upset with how many penalties we took,” Klimowicz said. “I’m sure [Williamsville coach Rick Hopkins was] upset with how many penalties they took. That’s not usual in a girls’ hockey game. A lot of times, you don’t have a lot of time to work on your penalty kill and your power play. Our last practice we had the opportunity to do that. We changed things up going into the third period. We switched our power play. We banged one home right off the bat, so that was good, obviously. I guess that intermission really helped us.”

FLOP tightened up on defense over the final 10 minutes of the game and prevented Williamsville from getting many chances. They led the final shot count, 29-23, underscoring the defensive nature of the game.

“We knew it was going to be a very close, low-scoring game with them,” Hopkins said. “When you have as talented of teams as these two are and no one gets over 30 shots, that tells you how close this game was. We got good goaltending at both ends, and they were able to capitalize on two power plays they had in the third. Hats off to their special teams; they got the job done. We certainly had our power play chances, and weren’t able to capitalize. We hit a crossbar when we were up 1-0. If that goes in, maybe it changes the complexion of the game.”

FLOP is now the two-time defending sectional champions and the first-ever state champions from Section VI. They’ve been a force over the past two seasons, especially since adding Lake Shore to the fold, bringing the Kromer sisters in. The major role they played in the sectional final is an example of how vital they’ve been these past two years.

“We play travel together and high school,” Emily Kromer said. “We get to know each other really well. I really kind of forget that she’s my sister on the ice. We treat each other like teammates, but we have each other’s backs like sisterly love when it comes to battles in the corner and everything.

“We definitely had an expectation to fill going into the game since we are the defending champions. That really was our motivation.”

Now that the state playoffs have ended, the teams will turn their attention to the Federation playoffs. FLOP has a first-round bye and will play in the semifinals Thursday against the lowest seed left alive. They’ll be looking to also repeat as Federation champions after defeating Williamsville in the final last season.

“Now we have the league championships coming up,” Forcucci said. “It’s funny because you win the state title and you’re on this high and enjoying yourself, but you have to refocus for the league games this week.”

Regardless of how things turn out for FLOP in the Federation playoffs, it’s been a historic season for the program. The team will be remembered as one of the best teams in any sport in Orchard Park history. It could also be the first step in Section VI staking its claim as the best area for girls hockey in the state. At the very least, it was an experience to remember.

“I have to thank our athletic director and school superintendent, who have been so helpful,” Forcucci said. “The Orchard Park police gave us an escort back to the high school. The fire department was there along with some community members and parents. It was another thing to add to the experience.

“Section VI hockey has improved so much over the years. We felt that Williamsville, Monsignor [Martin] and [Clarence/Amherst/Sweet Home] were as good as any team we saw at states. We’ve continued to grow into the best section in the state, as far as girls hockey is concerned.”

email: tnigrelli@beenews.com

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