H.S. Ice Hockey Preview: Frontier all in on looking to reach lofty goals
The accomplishments of the past two seasons have helped put a spotlight on the Frontier hockey program, but it’s also left many of the players returning this season thirsting for more.
After playing in a Western New York Federation large school final two seasons ago and winning the program’s first regular season division title last year, the Falcons have set their sights on the biggest and most elusive goal yet — winning a Section VI title.
The most veteran team 14th-year head coach Bob Klimowicz has had in some time, Frontier will rely on a group split near evenly between seniors and juniors, most of whom are back from last season.
Klimowicz said he can sense the excitement from many of those players for what lies ahead this season, which begins on Sunday (Dec. 9) against perennially-strong Catholic school Canisius starting 3 pm at Buffalo State College.
“I don’t have to tell this group to get on the ice — they’re there 10 to 15 minute before practice every day,” said Klimowicz, who will carry only one sophomore though he does admit there is some inexperience in his depth players. “Having a group this motivated is a coach’s dream. We want to go after the league’s top dogs, so we have lofty goals.”
The Falcons return their complete top line of forwards, which includes the team’s leading scorer Bob Piotrowicz and Nick Ortiz on the wings and Gavin Evancho at center. They’re now seniors and each veterans of at least three seasons. Piotrowicz was an all-division first team selection and Evancho, a second team honoree.
“They were one of the top lines last year and I expect big things but they also know that a lot of other teams will be shooting for them,” Klimowicz said. “There will be no more flying under the radar for them.”
Frontier will also rely on its second forward line for scoring. Senior Jacob Macchioni and junior Tyler Gaglia, both returning players on the wing, have been paired with junior center Mike O’Rourke, who moved into the spot when classmate Jim Gleason ruptured his appendix three weeks ago. Gleason is back, but for the time being Klimowicz likes using him to provide some experience for the third line and as a top line penalty killer.
Also bringing invaluable experience and determination will be senior goaltender Cooper Soto, Frontier’s starter last season who was named a first-team division all-star. He’ll be important for not only his ability but also his presence with much of the Falcons depth at the position being lost to players competing at the Juniors level.
“Cooper is so competitive. He gets upset when someone scores on him in practice,” noted Klimowicz, who will have inexperienced senior Tom Coyle backing him up. “Tom will get some opportunities to play, but we’ll live and die with Cooper.”
The defensive unit features three players who saw time last season, but was the hardest hit by graduation in losing three big contributors. Klimowicz said the team is working to build some depth there.
Junior standout Adam Skopinski returns as a defensive stalwart who this season will be part of the top even strength and penalty kill pairing with classmate Matt Schifferle. The stay-at-home defensive pair will lead a six-player unit that won’t be overly physical but should be good at shooting and moving the puck.
Also a returning player, junior Alex Buczek will be teamed with senior Josh Desing, who moves from his forward spot to bring his big shot and offensive ability to the defense. Klimowicz did the same thing last year with Jacob Sawicki, who wound up having a big season paired with first team all-division defender Jacob Weiser.
Junior Tyler Schwartzott will be the team’s fifth defenseman, while Mike Hughes, Frontier’s lone sophomore, is expected to be brought up from the junior varsity to add depth to the blueline. Four players are fighting for two winger spots remaining on the third line of forwards. Klimowicz said whoever can play a forechecking style and remain consistent will probably see the most ice time.
“I’m a little concerned that there’s not much experience on that third line but our goal is to develop that line throughout the season and match up certain guys depending who we play,” Klimowicz noted.
As always, Klimowicz is preaching playing a disciplined-style that goes above and beyond just staying away from penalties. “When we talk about discipline, it’s not all about staying out of the box; it’s about having a role, knowing it and doing it to the best of your ability,” Klimowicz said.
While the team goal remains taking home a division championship, which includes beating out the likes of rival Orchard Park, this group is focused on also taking down the large school’s best such as perennial-power Williamsville North and defending champion Niagara-Wheatfield.
During a 15-5-2 season last year, the Falcons lost to North 5-4 in overtime and just missed an opportunity at a finals rematch, losing another overtime heartbreaker 4-3 to Wheatfield in the large school semifinal. The year prior, Frontier advanced to Super Sunday where it lost to eventual state champion North.
“If we just got by Niagara-Wheatfield last year, I feel like we could have beat North,” said Klimowicz, whose team has not beaten North in 13 years of varsity hockey. “We’d like to get back to First Niagara Center (formerly HSBC, home of Super Sunday). Anything short of that would be a disappointment.”