By MIKE MEILER
Niagara Gazette — With their 4-0 win over Williamsville North in last season’s Section VI Large School Championship, the Niagara-Wheatfield boys hockey team earned the a trip to the state championships, as well as the title of best public-school hockey team in Western New York.
They also earned a brutal schedule to open this season.
The Falcons (2-0) beat Will. North in the teams’ season-opening rematch before topping Clarence. At 7:30 tonight, they take on their toughest opponent yet when they play perennial private-school power St. Joe’s (3-0-1) at Niagara University’s Dwyer Arena.
“We’ve probably had the toughest schedule in the league to open up,” N-W coach Rich Wrazin said. “Everyone we’ve played, they’re all top teams in the area. It’s a good test early on to see where we’re at and what we need to do moving forward.”
The Large School Division Two rivals meet twice a year during the regular season as they battle in the standings and for postseason seeding, but play in separate playoffs because of their public and private designations.
Last year, the Falcons and Marauders split their season series, with St. Joe’s winning the first game, 6-1, and N-W taking the second, 2-1.
“They’re always one of the better teams, and they’re off to a good start this year,” Wrazin said of the Marauders. “That first game (last season) was one of those days where we fell behind early. It just wasn’t our day, and we didn’t play a very good hockey game.
“The second time, we had been on a stretch of a few wins in a row and we had our confidence back. We went in knowing we could win. We didn’t have that in the first game.”
So far this season, it’s been the young guns that have led the Falcons. Sophomore Dominic Senese is the team’s leading scorer, with four goals and two assists in two games. He and his linemates, junior Frank Vecchio and freshman Alex Bauer, have carried the offensive load early on.
“They have a line that brings a lot of speed,” Wrazin said. “They’re a grinder line, a hard forchecking, in-your-face type of line.”
The Falcons’ schedule doesn’t get any easier after tonight.
They play Williamsville South on Saturday and close three straight days of games with another top private school, Canisius, on Sunday.Follow high school sports reporter Mike Meiler on Twitter @mikemeiler for updates on your local teams.