It's been an up-and-down season for John Sitzenstatter and his Southwestern/Maple Grove hockey team.
"We've had our peaks and valleys," Sitzenstatter said. "We started the year slow, but then in December, January and February we really got on a roll."
Now, the squad, which early in the season was 5-10 but has since surged ahead to four games above .500, is hoping to ride that roll all the way to a state title.
The Southwestern/Maple Grove team will play host to the New York State High School Club Hockey Tournament beginning Friday at the Jamestown Saving Bank Area. In front, from left, are goaltenders Noah Weinstein and Ben Richard. In the second row are Elizabeth Gerace, Andy Farnham, Tommy Gerace, Ryan Schutte, Thomas Sirianno, Zac Hammond and Joey Gerace. In back are head coach John Sitzenstatter, manager Ted Farnham, Curtis Carlson, Dylan Hartman, Graham Josephson, Tyler Bell, Alexander Carlson, Nat Stephen, Brendan Decker, Nic Brooker, Bryce Moyer, Tyler Chase, assistant coach Jordan Farnham, assistant coach Doug Shutte and assistant coach Joe Gerace. Absent was Travis Sanders.
Qualifying for the eight-team New York State Club Tournament following its thrilling, overtime victory over Depew - trailing by a goal, SW/MG knotted the game with 11 seconds remaining in regulation and then captured the victory in the second overtime - SW/MG will be vying for a state title for the fourth straight season when tournament action kicks off on Friday morning.
Guaranteed three games, SW/MG's first contest is with St. Joes at 9 a.m., at the Jamestown Savings Bank Arena. It then will battle with Canisius later that day at 5 p.m., and finally face one more opponent on Saturday at 4 p.m.
As both St. Joe's and Canisius are large school teams (SW/MG is a small school), it will be a difficult - though hardly impossible - task to move on to the semifinal round on Sunday.
Other squads competing include Cheektowaga and Starpoint.
"We better be ready," Sitzenstatter said. "This year is a mixed tournament with large, small and independent schools (competing). We've just got to be ready for the challenge and play hard-nosed hockey. It's going to be an uphill battle, but we've beat teams like that before. All we can do is play our game, play up-tempo and physical hockey and see what happens."
Sitzenstatter will rely on his three seniors - Alex Carlson, Ryan Schutte and Tyler Chase - as well as netminder Noah Weinstein and standout junior Andy Farnham, to set the tone early.
Carlson, a defenseman, has tallied nearly 30 goals this season alone.
"They're the core of my team," Sitzenstatter said. "Alex is one of the leading scorers in our league as a defenseman. Ryan is a solid player, I wished everybody played like him, Tyler is a great kid and our energy guy and Andy is heady hockey player with great skills.
"We'll be depending on them to keep us in the games."
Though its difficult to forecast what it will take to reach the semifinals - Sitzenstatter has noted that he once had a team qualify with a 1-1-1 record and also had one fail to qualify with a 2-1 record - should they manage to do so they will first square off against the other small school qualifier.
"I looked at the format and it looks as though (one semifinal) will be small school versus small school for the small school championship and the (other semifinal) will be large school versus large school for the large school championship. Then those two winners will play for the overall title."
He finished, "We've just got to try and score some goals, not give any up and play hard."
And if local fans wanted to come out and support their team, that wouldn't be too bad either.
"I would encourage people to come and watch. It will be entertaining."