Raiders Cap Weekend With State Title, Snyder Named Most Valuable Player
Jamestown head coach Joe Gerace knew that he had a special group of players before the Raiders varsity hockey team ever took to the ice this season.
Now everyone knows just how special.
The team that first set its sights on taking home the AAU New York State Hockey Tournament Mixed Division Championship so many months ago finally achieved that goal after an arduous season that culminated in an extra-sweet 4-2 win over Royalton/Hartland on the home ice of Northwest Arena on Sunday evening.
The victory capped off a perfect 5-0 weekend for the Raiders, completed a 28-4-1 season, and avenged a 4-1 loss to the Rampage in the Western New York High School Club Hockey League Championship game on Feb. 25 at KeyBank Center.
It just doesn’t get much sweeter than that.
“It is so satisfying,” said Gerace as his team celebrated following the championship win. “This was the goal from the first meeting we had as a team and these kids just really did what they set out to do and win this championship, and it wasn’t easy. We had some really tough challenges but they never got down, and from the effort tonight you can see (that). This is a team that we played up in Buffalo that beat us 4-1. To come back and knock these guys off is huge.”
After posting the game winner in triple overtime to give the Raiders a heart-stopping 3-2 semifinal win over Manhasset just a few hours earlier, defenseman Cole Snyder had a little more magic left in him in the finals.
With just over eight minutes to play and the score deadlocked at 2-2, Snyder curled in over the Rampage blue line and into the slot, where the junior let fly a clean snapshot just over the blocker of goaltender Evan Birkemeir to lift the Northwest Arena crowd to its feet.
Ending the evening with a pair of goals, Snyder earned the game’s Most Valuable Player award for his efforts.
“He’s just a clutch guy and anytime he’s on the ice I’m comfortable as a coach,” Gerace said of Snyder. “He’s just multifaceted and confident. I think he sees in slow motion, I really do, because he just has a different vision than a lot of hockey players. We’ve got many on the team like that, but he just sees holes and knows the timing and is just an all-around great athlete.”
Shortly after that goal, netminder Tommy Chapman was tested by a slapshot from Michael Kuchey, but the Raiders were not done on offense just yet.
With two minutes to play, Jack Brinkley saw an opportunity to put any comeback out of reach by picking off a pass near the Rampage blue line and waltzing his way towards the goal where the sophomore nearly finished off a fancy move at the goal line.
Luckily for Brinkley, Blade Ellis was in hot pursuit and buried home the rebound as the Raiders bench breathed a welcome sigh of relief.
Shortly before Snyder was able to put away the game winner, it was his defensive partner, Josh Spontaneo, who put the team on his back.
Michael Kuchey of Royalton/Hartland looked like he would have a free run on Chapman after picking up a turnover and heading for open ice, but Spontaneo was able to turn on the jets and bump Kuchey off the puck while avoiding a penalty to cut off any chance of a go-ahead goal.
“Josh is our little giant and he doesn’t say very much in the locker room but boy when he gets on the ice his actions speak words,” said Gerace.
The Raiders began their second game of the day with a confident 2-0 lead after a hot first period began with Snyder’s first goal of the day at 14:13.
On that rush, the junior was able to carry in over the blue line after taking a pass from Brinkley and use defenseman Thomas Paisley as a screen, letting fly with a wrist shot that found its way into the net over the shoulder of Birkemeir for the 1-0 lead.
Less than a minute later, Jamestown captain Jacob Gerace doubled that margin when he was able to take advantage of a bobbled puck by a Rampage defenseman. All alone on Birkemeir, Gerace calmly moved to his backhand before deking back to the left and dishing a quick finish.
“My teammates hate me for it, because it works every time. It’s what I’ve been doing for about twelve years on breakaways so, gotta go with what you trust,” Jacob Gerace said.
When asked about the difference between Sunday’s championship win and the game that his team had lost to the Rampage at KeyBank Center, a few things stuck out to the Raiders’ captain.
“Two big things,” Jacob Gerace said. “The atmosphere, we’re at our home rink, we have the love of the fans and that was huge. The other thing was the momentum. We had won four straight games in the state tournament and nothing was going to stop us.
“We had more chemistry and love for each other and love for the game than I’ve ever seen in a group of guys and it really, really showed every shift. Everyone was going as hard as they could, putting everything on the ice. This meant so much to us. We’ve been playing for ten years with each other and now we finally got what we’ve been striving for.”
Not wanting to go away quietly, Royalton/Hartland responded to the two-goal deficit shortly after Gerace’s breakaway, as Jason Kuchey was able to finish on a wraparound with 10 minutes remaining in the opening period.
The game was tied at 2-2 when Michael Kuchey was able to force a turnover early in the third period, eventually dishing to Jason Kuchey in the slot for a one-timer finish.
In a game that required all the pieces on Jamestown’s roster to be working in lockstep in order to pick up a win, there was never a doubt that Chapman would show up between the pipes under the brightest of lights.
On a night that included a bevy of tremendous saves, the junior never looked better than when he stymied Dylan Krzykowski’s breakaway chance during 4-on-4 play in the closing moments of the first period.
“Tommy played a tremendous series. We didn’t end our game this afternoon until two o’clock, and then to turn around and start back up at five o’clock and have a goalie come back, that’s facing 60 or 70 shots in a four-hour span and he just stood on his head. Fantastic play,” said Joe Gerace.
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Snyder’s first game winner of the day against Manhasset came during the game’s third overtime period, in which both teams were reduced to 3-on-3 play after an opening extra period of 4-on-4.
In the wake of a blocked shot and another try that missed the net on Jamestown’s previous power play, Snyder made no mistake on his next attempt after fielding a cross-ice pass from Jadon Barron, stroking a low wrist shot past goaltender Kevin Becker to push his team into the finals.
“I was going to go back to Jadon at the top, and I was like I just have to put it on net,” Snyder said of the play. “A couple games previous, I just couldn’t hit the net. Coaches have been preaching, ‘Hit the net, good things will happen,’ so that’s what I did. Just listened to my coaches and good things happened. Just above the pad, hardest shot to stop.”
Barron was no stranger to clutch passes in the first game of the afternoon, after getting Jamestown on the board with feed to Cade Poston. The senior forward took that pass and fired top corner on Becker to make it 1-0 with just under three minutes to play in the opening period.
With Manhasset responding with a goal from Zach Puma on a rebound, Jamestown was able to take back the lead on Snyder’s first goal of the day.
While looking for open shooters on the power play, Snyder looked to feed a teammate across the ice, but received a fortunate bounce off a defender that moved Becker out of position, allowing for a finish on an open net.
“Last year compared to this year, it’s just unbelievable. This year we just play for each other. We are such a family, memories that we will never forget and, just, family is the best word for it. Playing for each other, we’re brothers,” said Snyder after the first win of the day.
Manhasset tied things up on the power play with a screened point shot from Tommy Sylvia before things headed to extra time.
During a game in which both teams were tested up and down the depth of their rosters, Jamestown was forced to go without senior John Walsh, who was suffering from a shoulder injury.
“That’s a huge loss for us, he’s a hard hitter, a very fast skater and a really tough forechecker, so we had to make those adjustments,” said Joe Gerace. “Give Will Steen a lot of credit. We moved him back and forth from defense to offense throughout the game. He was like our utility man and he played phenomenal hockey today. So they all dug deep and we just were the better team today.”
Despite the injury, Walsh was able to play significant minutes in the championship game.