In the first game of the 11th annual event, the Rochester Junior All-Stars scored six unanswered goals in the second half to claim a 6-3 victory over the Buffalo Junior All-Stars.
After a slow start in which they found themselves in a 3-0 hole, Rochester seized control in the final 17:51 to win the Tim Horton Memorial Cup.
Jack Dugan (McQuaid) led Rochester to victory with two goals, including the game-winning tally with 2:22 to play. Matt Montgomery (Webster Schroeder) registered a goal and assist in the winning effort as well.
Rochester head coach Jody Gage, a member of the Rochester Americans Hall of Fame, was pleased with how his players responded n the second 22-minute half after falling into that three-goal deficit.
“We came out very good and then all of a sudden, got into a little bit of a funk,” Gage said. “The puck wasn’t bouncing our way and they got three real quick ones. Once we got the first goal, we seemed to get everything back on track.”
On the Buffalo side, head coach Rich Crozier would’ve preferred a tighter defensive game, but let his players embrace the high-paced nature of this contest.
“It was a little more wide open than I would like,” he said. “Even when we got up 3-0, I felt a little nervous. They’ve got some really talented kids down there and hats off to them. We just wanted to have fun. I wanted the kids to enjoy it so we played wide-open, and that’s what you saw.”
From the start of the game, both teams had to adjust to their new teammates and the ice surface at First Niagara Center. Quality scoring chances were few and far between early on, although Buffalo’s Zak Klinko (West Seneca West) nearly got the action started on a shorthanded breakaway chance that was denied in the opening minutes.
Buffalo’s Matt Radder (West Seneca East) and Rochester’s Morgan Brown (Geneseo) each started the game between the pipes, and neither surrendered a goal. In just over 17 minutes of playing time, Radder made 13 saves, while Brown turned away four shots.
Nick Rockhill (Penfield) replaced Brown in net and was peppered with four Buffalo shots in the closing 4:51 of the first half.
Rockhill turned away a breakaway chance from Buffalo’s Jack Attea (St. Joe’s) with a nifty glove save, but he surrendered the first goal of the game just a few seconds later.
Buffalo forward Matthew Terrance (Williamsville North) threw a puck on net and it bounced off both Rockhill and Buffalo’s Alexander Hailey (Niagara Falls) before finding its way past the Rochester netminder.
After struggling to get shots on net through the majority of the first half, Buffalo nearly doubled their lead in the dying seconds of the first as Klinko fed Curtis Vivian (North Tonawanda) for a one-time shot that flew off the crossbar.
When the teams returned to the ice for the second half of action, shots were flying at both ends as the scoring picked up drastically.
Buffalo opened the half by pushing their lead to three. Mason Cool (Williamsville South) buried a shot from the point on a power play 42 seconds in to make it 2-0. Two minutes later, Buffalo’s two forwards from Niagara Falls connected for a goal, as Hailey found Nicholas Kindzia alone in the slot.
“The assist was great, especially since it set up my high school teammate,” Hailey said. “I loved doing it.”
The momentum shifted entirely to Rochester after they got on the board just over four minutes into the second half. Evan Conolly (Spencerport) found Hunter Howell (Hilton) on a 2-on-1 chance and Howell beat Buffalo’s Bradley Hermann with a quick one-time shot.
With just under 12 minutes to play, Rochester tallied on the power play as Dugan worked the puck behind the net and found Montgomery in front.
Montgomery’s shot was denied, but Nick Charron (Spencerport) picked up the rebound and scored. Just 1:15 later, Dugan picked up a rebound of a shot from his McQuaid teammate, Craig McCabe, and beat Buffalo goaltender Zachary Farkas (Sweet Home) to tie the game 3-3.
As the game came to a close in the final five minutes, Rochester picked up the pace and ended up taking the lead. On the power play, Dugan was denied by Farkas at the left faceoff dot, but Montgomery set up Dugan for a second shot which found the back of the net for the eventual game-winning goal.
In the closing seconds, Jesse Edwards scored into the empty net. And on the ensuing faceoff, Elliott Clemmons (Aquinas) set up Mitch Henshaw (Brockport), who worked the puck across the slot to beat Farkas on the glove side for the game’s final goal.
After a hard-fought contest between 43 players from Buffalo and Rochester high schools, the kids left with an experience that they will never forget.
“It’s all about the kids,” Gage said. “To get them an opportunity to play in this beautiful barn and get Scotty Bowman coming in to give them a speech beforehand, it’s pretty special. These guys will have these memories for the rest of their lives.”
They can also look back on the event and build upon the lessons learned as they advance their young hockey careers.
“One of the things that I love the most about this experience is that next year, these kids become seniors and they’re going to compete hard,” Crozier added. “That’s a thrill for me, the bonds and connections we make in a two- or three-hour experience, those go on for many years to come.”