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West Genesee Wildcats win Section III title in overtime thriller

Photo credit: Scott Thomas

RFA’s Donte Sparace made 49 saves, but Jonah Vormwald’s shorthanded overtime goal gives the West Genesee Wildcats their third consecutive Section III, Division I title with a 2-1 victory on Monday night.

The West Genesee Wildcats and Rome Free Academy Black Knights finished one and two in the Section III, Division I regular season separated by just one point in the standings. It was only fitting they would have a memorable game to decide the Section III title.

Great goaltending, physicality, dynamic plays, and most of all, controversy, were featured at the Upstate Medical University Arena.

The goaltenders were busy right from the start, as there were 33 combined shots in the first period alone. The only goal of the period was scored by West Genesee on the power play when Jesse Desena put a rebound in the back of the RFA net.

Pictures from Watertown IHC at West Genesee 02-20-2024

RFA goaltender Donte Sparace was the story of the second period. The Wildcats controlled play for long stretches of the period and attacked in waves. They poured 15 shots on goal, and Sparace turned aside all of them – including several grade-A point-blank stops.

Sparace’s second-period heroics kept his team in the game, and they responded by tying it. With five minutes remaining in the middle frame, team-leading scorer Tyler Lokker beat West Genesee goaltender Luke Beck with a wrist shot from the slot. West Genesee held an advantage of 33-21 in shots, but the second period ended with the score tied at one.

In the third period, the Black Knights went on the attack, putting pressure on the defending champions. At just 1:45 into the frame, RFA thought they had taken the lead. Lokker broke down the left side of the West Genesee zone and fired a shot on goal from the bottom of the left circle. As the rising puck went by Beck near the crossbar and fluttered back down to the ice. As the Black Knights celebrated, the officials had not signaled a goal was scored, and confusion began to set in.

After a lengthy discussion, the referees told the RFA bench that there was no goal scored. Per Steve Jones of the Daily Sentinel, there was a malfunction of the camera on the goal rendering review via replay unavailable.

Shortly after the no-goal call, the Black Knights went on the power play as the Wildcats took a holding call. They killed it, with Beck making some key saves to keep the score tied. On the other end of the ice, Sparace continued his strong play. RFA seemingly played its best period of the game, but regulation ended with the score tied at one.

The overtime period began with back-and-forth play and both teams getting chances. With 12:55 remaining, the Wildcats took a hooking penalty and handed the Black Knights a golden opportunity to win the game. Despite getting some looks, they could not beat Beck (who ended up with 34 saves), and West Genesee averted disaster.

The Wildcat’s penalty-killing unit came right back out less than two minutes later as they took another penalty – this time a cross-checking infraction. With the power play winding down, the game changed in a matter of seconds. Jacob Pensabene of the Wildcats sprung leading scorer Jonah Vormwald on a breakaway with an outlet pass from his zone. On his team’s 51st shot of the game, Vormwald beat Sparace with a wrist shot, ending the game with 7:27 remaining in the overtime period.

West Genesee will now play the Section VI, Division I champion Orchard Park with the winner advancing to the semifinals of the NYSPHSAA Tournament at the LECOM Harborcenter in Buffalo. The semifinals are on March 9, and the final is on March 10.

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