Clarence inches closer in playoff race, knocks off Frontier
AMHERST – The Clarence Red Devils jumped into second place in Division I of the WNY Varsity Hockey Federation, defeating the Frontier Falcons – the team previously two points higher in the standings – by a count of 4-1 on Thursday at the Northtowns Center at Amherst.
The win – coupled with a Niagara-Wheatfield Falcons loss – also propelled the Red Devils (7-4) into the No. 2 seed for the postseason, at the moment. Frontier (7-4) fell to third place in the division and currently holds the No. 4 seed in the postseason rankings.
“I’m worried about public-school seeding,” said Red Devils head coach Rich Brooks, moments before Niagara-Wheatfield took the ice – a 7-4 loss to the Canisius Crusaders. “I want to be one or two. And we have a shot at that now, if we get help. I need Lancaster or Niagara-Wheatfield to lose a game, and we’ve got to win our next two.”
The Falcons hung around – it was a 2-1 game with less than five minutes remaining – but Red Devils forward Brian Ruff stuffed in a rebound, beating Frontier goaltender Cooper Soto to make it 3-1 at the 9:44 mark in the third period.
Ruff’s father is Buffalo Sabres head coach Lindy Ruff. The Sabres were in Boston Thursday, taking on the Bruins – also a 7 p.m. faceoff. The crowd made sure to keep Brain Ruff posted of the score – particularly when the Sabres were trailing, 3-1, in a game that ultimately went in Buffalo’s favor.
“Oh, definitely,” said Brain Ruff, asked if he was thinking about the happenings in Boston. “As much I want to check my phone in the locker room, when I’m not supposed to, I’m sitting there thinking about it.
“And then you hear kids yelling that they’re losing – it gets under my skin a little bit, but in the end, all it does is pump me up and get me going. It aggravates me in a way, but that’s good, because it makes me play better – and I ended up staying in front and burying that rebound.”
Red Devils forward Matt Colicchia opened the game’s scoring – on the power play – at the 1:20 mark of the first period, chipping in a rebound, which was the result of a Mark Armstrong shot from the point. Armstrong, a captain, also assisted the second goal – again on the power play – by feeding forward Frank Willhauck, who flipped a backhand shot past Soto to give the Red Devils a 2-0 lead.
Soto finished with 26 saves.
The Falcons narrowed the gap at the 4:52 mark of the second period, when forward Nick Ortiz stickhandled his way into the offensive zone and whipped a wrist shot past Red Devils goaltender Devin Paluh, who stopped 13 of the 14 shots he faced, making it 2-1.
Less than two minutes after Ruff’s goal, Willhauck tacked on his second of the contest, closing the scoring.
Both schools have two regular-season games remaining. On tap next for Clarence is Lockport on Saturday, followed by a Feb. 7 meeting with Williamsville North. Frontier faces off with Hamburg on Saturday, and takes on Niagara-Wheatfield on Feb. 9.
Freelance sportswriter Charles Roberts covers the WNY Varsity Hockey Federation for MetroWNY.com. Reach him at ChRobert3@aol.com or twitter.com/cHartleyRoberts.