By Jeremy Ellis
Closing time here in Buffalo and what a day of hockey it has been been. With a 630 am first horn we have been busy handing out medals in 6 championship divisions. Including last night’s men’s final, 3 Gold medal games went to overtime with the Bantam Gold final being decided in a shootout. Drama ruled the day with fans on the edge of their seats as the outcomes were never certain until late in the game.
The squirt division here in Buffalo saw 5 entries with round robin being 4 games. After that teams were seeded into the Silver and Gold division final. The silver final came first with two teams with a definite familiarity; the Butler Cobras Blue took on the Butler Cobras Grey. Grey jumped on the board first on a goal by Will Hohman. Blue answered the bell when Adam Hoffman scored. However, too much Hannah Lindey, as she finished with 2 goals and one assist. Final Score was civil war revenge as Grey defeated the Blue 4-2.
In the gold final the two dominant teams squared off with #1 seed Pittsburgh Bandits, undefeated in Round Robin, versus the Mississauga Rattlers. This one proved to be a mano v mano between the Bandits Ryan Soboslay and the Rattlers Matthew Bird. Soboslay opened the scoring and added 2 assists, including the OT forcing equalizer by division high scorer Randy Raida with 33 seconds left. Soboslay paced his team with all 4 goals during regulation. An unlikely hero emerged just past the 2 minute mark of overtime with Rory Kerins firing home the gold medal winning goal in overtime to clinch the victory. This wouldn’t be the only time we would see the Rattlers fighting for Gold today. Raida would finish as the top scorer with an amazing 14 goals and 4 apples while the rattlers goalie Dario Gagliardi edged the competition to earn the title of Top Goaltender.
The 14U division saw 8 teams take to the rink with medal aspirations. It would be a similar seeding scenario after 3 round robin games, 4 duking it out in the gold division while the remaining 4 took the silver division road. In the silver division it was the Butler Cobras Blue taking on the hometown RV Reebok Wings. The wings played a strong defensive game all tournament and looked to capitalize on opponents mistakes. This was no different in the final as they rode solid defense and goaltending to a 4-1 victory. Four different goal scorers for the Wings backed up a strong effort by Ryan Sutton.
The Gold division was a highly anticipated tilt between the Mississauga Rattlers and Reebok Bandits. The Bandits survived a 4 way tie to secure the #2 seed and breezed by the Butler Cobras Grey in the semifinal. After the Rattlers scored a quick goal to take the lead on a Damien Heinle snipe, Connor Williams tied it at one. Williams could not muster any help and in the end a goal and an assist by both Heinle and Kyle Soper helped salt away the 3-1 victory. This was made even sweeter by the fact that this very same rattlers team came up short in Detroit last week in the Gold medal final of the Joe Dumars regional. Coach Phil Nolan rallied the boys to take care of business here in Buffalo.
For individual honors it was a rattlers sweep with Damien Heinle the top scorer and Mackenzie Fenech earning top goaltender.
We saw another set of 8 teams do battle for bragging rights in Bantams this weekend. Some familiar faces from programs like the Rattlers and the Reebok Bandits as well as the Butler Cobras and Brampton’s own Radicals. One tiebreaker was needed to separate the 3rd and 4th seed and due to that Brampton faced the high powered Rattler team in the Gold Semis. Mississauga made it 2 in a row over Brampton shutting out the radicals 5-0 in one gold semi. The other side had the Alkali Fusion dominating the Rattler 96 entry 7-1 avenging a 3 all tie against them in round robin play.
This set up a highly anticipated showdown between the #1 and #2 seed Rattlers and Fusion. This game came late in the day and many teams and parents stuck around to watch some of the best roller hockey around. These 2 teams will represent this side of the country well out west for this year’s NARCh finals.
Fusion jumped out to the early one goal lead when Kevin Eberth scored. The rattlers answered back and we went to the half knotted at one. The second half saw the Fusion with a little more pep in their step early on. Chris Maue and Jake Plew etched their names on the score sheet to give Alkali a 2 goal lead. The Rattlers would fight back though as Mississauga’s Andrew Oosterveld tallied twice to tie the game at 3. The Rattlers took a late lead with under 4 minutes to go only to see it disappear when Ryan Cook tied it at 4 with only a minute and a half to go in regulation. Two periods was not enough as we headed to overtime. The OT period saw the Rattlers Goalie Blake Lockhead and Fusions Brandon Junik trade highlight reel saves. The horn sounded at the end of overtime which meant a 4 man shootout was needed to decide these teams fate.
Three shooters aside could not get the job done as no one scored on either one of these fine tenders. After the 4th skater for the Fusion was turned aside by Lockhead, Mississauga’s Tyler Kitzul had a chance to seal the deal. Kitzul’s five hole deke snuck past Junik and trickled across the goal line giving the Rattlers an epic gold medal win and Coach Phil Nolan’s 3rd championship of the day. It was an exhausting effort by both teams with the rattlers only deploying 5 skaters. I spoke with the Fusion head coach Garrett Eberth prior to the final about his team. He mentioned that his guys were all from an ice hockey background but loved the roller hockey arena as it gave each of them more of a chance to handle the puck while working on their hands and passing. This team will only get better as it gets more time on the floor and faces stiff competition like a veteran Rattler team provides. It was all Mississauga in the individual awards with top goalie going to Blake Lockhead and top scorer to Aidan Board
Lastly was the Bantam Silver bracket as the Butler Cobras looked to bite the RV Reebok Wings. These two faced off early in round robin in a one goal Wings victory so expectations were high for another exciting tilt. It did not disappoint. In a highly contested game throughout it were the Cobras jumping to a 2 goal lead on goals by Zach Richey and Nick Lazzaro. The Wings finally solved the riddle of Cobra Goalie Adam Morgan when Ben Speyer scored before halftime. It remained 2-1 until the Cobras found the net for the last time with under a minute left on a goal by Luc Hendrickson. That would be enough for Morgan to hang his hat on and Joe Volock’s Cobras take home the gold medal in the Bantam Silver division.
Final thoughts here from Buffalo and we would like to thank all of the rink staff and Jason for the help they provided. The teams and parents were awesome this weekend on all levels. Everyone was very respectful to the officials, appreciative to both Mike and me, and generous at the merchandise booth. We ended up with just a few remaining shirts, all in youth sizes. Parents were genuinely happy to be here this weekend and out of the multitude of rain we had here outside. This area is very supportive of both the sport and NARCh and we hope to cross paths at other regionals and Finals this summer in San Jose.
Thanks once again for making this weekend a fun and successful event and we hope to see you all soon. Jeremy and Mike, rolling out!