Dunkirk-Fredonia falls in playoff action to City Honors/ Cardinal O’Hara

BUFFALO – It was a familiar scene for the Dunkirk-Fredonia Steelers on Sunday as they watched City Honors/Cardinal O’Hara celebrate a berth into the Western New York Club Hockey Super Sunday championships, which will be held at First Niagara Center next week.

But, the Steelers didn’t go down without a fight.

Trailing the best-of-three series, 1-0, the Steelers were able to tie City Honors/Cardinal O’Hara, 1-1, to force a 10-minute mini game to decide who would advance.

In the first game of the day, Dunkirk/Fredonia’s penalty kill and goaltender Jared Hebner propelled the Steelers to a 2-1 victory.

“He is a phenomenal goalie,” Dunkirk/Fredonia coach Jay Bishop said. “He has been the strongest goaltender in the league all year. He really stood on his head all year for us. I couldn’t ask for anything more. He did a tremendous job.”

Hebner made 25 saves, including several on the power play. The Steelers successfully killed off five penalties, including two, 5-on-3 situations.

“Tremendous job,” Bishop said of his penalty killers. “We worked on the regular triangle for 5-on-3. The kids played it well. Everything we asked, they did.”

Dunkirk/Fredonia got on the board first with a power-play goal by Connor Graves.

As a City Honors/Cardinal O’Hara player tried to clear the puck, Graves intercepted the puck and his wrist shot from the slot found the back of the net for a 1-0 lead.

In the second period, after the Steelers killed off two 5-on-3 penalties, they regained the momentum as Matt Sheridan scored to give the visitors a 2-0 lead.

“We changed our strategy around for the second game and thought it really paid off,” Bishop said. “Everyone stuck to the game plan. I thought we played a hell of a game. We had everything going the way we wanted.”

City Honors/Cardinal O’Hara scored a goal in the third period as Conor McGrath’s shot from the point was deflected into the net. However, that was the only goal Hebner allowed in that game.

As the final seconds ticked off the clock, City Honors’ Lucas Natalli instigated a scuffle with Graves. Nick Formanowicz got involved with the incident and all three players were ejected for the mini game.

“It definitely hurt us,” Bishop said of the incident. “(Natalli is ) a guy who only saw a couple shifts the whole game. What he did cost two of our players to lose their composure and each got suspended. It was very frustrating. I told the kids there is little picture in life and big picture in life. The little picture is the immediate gratification you get from getting in a scuffle. The big picture is we needed to win a mini game to get to Super Sunday. For a second, we lost sight of the big picture.”

While City Honors could not find the back of the net in the first game on the power play, it did in the mini game as John Liberti scored eight seconds into the man advantage.

Liberti added an empty-net goal in the final seconds to seal the victory and a trip to First Niagara Center next Sunday.

“I think it was a tremendous effort,” City Honors/Cardinal O’Hara coach John Dunn said. “I thought they were more tired than us. I think our guys were a little bit more conditioned. Our guys were pressing quiet a bit. They relaxed a little bit for the mini game and it showed. It’s another chapter to the rivalry. Unfortunately, they have been on the short end of most of it. Maybe next year will be their year. I hope for them it is. I just hope it isn’t against us.”

“It’s very frustrating,” Bishop concluded. “I coached against John Dunn for a long time. We always have great, hard-fought games. We just have come out on the losing end too many times.”