Steelers let one slip away

In 2009, the Dunkirk/Fredonia Steelers competed in their first ever Super Sunday high school hockey championship game and fell to City Honors at then HSBC Arena.

In 2010, City Honors knocked off the Steelers in the semifinals to advance to Super Sunday.

The two teams are at it once again this year with a trip to Super Sunday at First Niagara Center on the line in the best-of-three series.

Thursday night, City Honors scored four unanswered goals, including three in the third period, to take the 1-0 series lead with a 4-3 come-from-behind victory at Steele Hall.

The Steelers looked as if they were well on their way to taking the series lead after a dominating first period as they outshot the visitors, 20-6, and took a 3-1 lead.

“We came out exactly like we wanted to in the first period,” Steelers coach Jay Bishop said. “We wanted to get momentum and maintain momentum. We came out like banshees and scored three goals. We had the upper hand the entire first period. We just let off the gas. We lost momentum to a City Honors team that just won’t let you do that. They made us pay for every mistake we had.”

Nick Formanowicz got the home team on the board 3:01 into the game as Kyle Leysath skated towards the goalie and forwarded a pass to Formanowicz, who deflected the puck into the net for the quick lead.

With 5:04 left in the period, Matt Sheridan outskated a pair of City Honors defenders and faked a wrist shot to get the goaltender to the ice and then scored on a backhanded shot for a 2-0 lead. Formanowicz was credited with an assist on the play.

Just two minutes later, Formanowicz found the back of the net again as Sheridan centered a pass from behind the net and Formanowicz put the puck in the top right corner for what seemed to be a commanding 3-0 lead.

Unfortunately for Dunkirk/Fredonia, all the scoring came from the team’s top line, and did not receive much from the other three lines.

“Our scoring line got shot down in the second and third period,” Bishop said. “They did a great job doing that. The other lines have to step up and make up for that and we couldn’t. We have to get more production from the other lines. Everyone has to step up. Playoff hockey is a different tempo than the regular season. For some of these kids, they aren’t used to it. We have to get used to it fast. We have to win Sunday and then a mini game if we want to get to Super Sunday.”

City Honors got on the board with 2:07 left in the first period as Nick Kindzia scored his first of two goals to cut the deficit, 3-1.

After that goal, City Honors picked up momentum and played a much stronger second period, as it outshot the Steelers, 9-8, but still trailed 3-1, heading into the final period.

“We changed our lines,” City Honors coach John Dunn said. “We had three balanced lines and it wasn’t working. It was leaving us vulnerable defensively. We wanted to form a triangle in front of the net. We had a defenseman on the weak-side post. Put the center on the strong-side post and the weak-side wing in the middle of the slot area. That’s where they scored a couple of their goals. If we can shut down that area, they had no answer for us.”

Then in the third period, it was all City Honors as Kindzia netted his second goal and linemate John Liberti scored two goals of his own, including the game winner with 3:11 left.

“Strategically, what we had to do was take the puck and carry it wide to open up the zone,” Dunn said. “We weren’t doing that in the first two periods. One guy was trying to beat two. We saw a lot more passing and team work in the third period. We also told them (Dunkirk/Fredonia) were relying on their one line. We knew they wouldn’t have much left. We told them we had to go right after them.”

The Steelers had several chances in the third period, but could not find the back of the net, in part to the strong play of goaltender Rachael Farmer, who finished with 37 saves.

Midway through the third period, the Steelers had a chance to take a 4-2 lead as Matt Szalkowski and Formanowicz had a 2-on-1 break. However, Farmer made a spectacular save with her left pad. In the final minutes, Leysath and Szalkowski worked a give and go, and again, Farmer made a strong save to keep her team alive.

“I have to give her a lot of credit,” Bishop said. “She did a great job. We had a lot of opportunities to beat her high and hit the corners. We just shot low and into her. I thought we had a lot of opportunities to score. We didn’t take advantage of them. It just didn’t pan out for us.”

“Farmer has been a great goalie for us all year,” Dunn added. “She played really good (Thursday). You aren’t going to score too many goals on her.”

Jared Hebner had a solid performance for the Steelers as he made 19 saves.

Now the Steelers must go back to the drawing board as they must find a way to even the series Sunday at Riverside. The game is slated for noon. If the Steelers win that game, a 10-minute mini game will follow to determine who advances to First Niagara Center.

“In the second and third period, they had a lot of odd-man rushes into our zone and we had a simple gameplan,” Bishop said. “We had to get pucks in deep and not stick handle at the blue line. Unfortunately, no one wanted to do that today. We scouted them. I thought we did a good job of preparation. We knew who their good players were. Unfortunately, they got the best of us. We have to regroup here. I’m going to have to look at a lot of film and come up with a gameplan to beat them. We have an uphill to climb.”

As for City Honors, it will look to feed off Thursday’s win to advance once again.

“We can’t come out flat like we did (Thursday) in the first period,” Dunn said. “We have to play with the same intensity we did in the third for the entire game. We have had a series of great playoff games against Dunkirk/Fredonia. They have always been like this. Knock on wood, we have been fortunate to come out ahead.”