West Genesee claims another sectional title with 3-1 win over Rome Free Academy

By Lindsay Kramer/LKramer@Syracuse.com on February 22, 2014

West Genesee hockey coach Frank Colabufo knows the “0” in his team’s loss column can be a steppingstone or an anchor.

The only thing he cares about now, however, is that the Wildcats get another chance to wear it around their necks as they head off to the state Division I tournament.

That was assured on Saturday when West Genesee toppled Rome Free Academy 3-1 in the Section III final at the Utica Auditorium. The sectional crown was the seventh straight for West Genesee, including four in a row over the Black Knights.

But this one carries a little more polish, since it lifts the Wildcats to a mark of 22-0-1.

Colabufo has taken an unbeaten team into the states twice before. In 2010, West Genesee was 25-0 and won the states. In 2012, it was 23-0 but stalled in the state semis by losing a shootout.

And now?

“We’ve been here before,” Colabufo said. “We’re just not to the end of the road yet. We’re still playing. We’re happy about that. Now, there’s still another mountain to climb.”

That peak comes into focus on Saturday, when the Wildcats host the Section V champion at 7:30 p.m.

They earned that chance courtesy of scores from Derek Farrell, Aaron Jones and David Procopio that sent the Black Knights (17-5-1) packing. West Genesee also got a strong game from goalie Henry Burns, who made 21 saves.

“I think our goaltender gives us a chance to win every night,” Colabufo said. “After that, we have a bunch of blue collar kids who commit to playing hard and winning some battles.”

West Genesee’s previous six straight sectional title wins were all earned by one goal apiece, which made the Wildcats’ 3-0 lead in the second feel temporarily comfy.

That cushion was inflated by scores from Jones and Procopio just 28 seconds apart in the second to bloat the Wildcats’ cushion. With 9:19 left, Jones scooted in from the left goal line extended and jammed a close-range shot past RFA goalie Devin Hart for a 2-0 West Genesee edge.

“I saw the front was open,” Jones said. “Coach always tells us to take it to the net whenever we can.”

And with 8:51 remaining, Procopio slammed home a bid from the right circle for the three-goal Wildcats margin.

But Tyler Williams pulled the Black Knights within two with 2:31 left in the middle stanza. As the teams skated 4-on-4, Williams wired a beam from the mid slot past Burns.

“There was a lot of emotion on the ice. This was a battle,” Colabufo said. “There was nothing easy about it.”

And it only gets harder from here, even as Wildcats defenseman Nick Mellen, who played on the 2012 team, tries to turn his focus away from the glare of perfection.

“We have winning on our brain whenever we play. We’ll bust our butts every single shift to make a play and get in position to win a game,” Mellen said. “We stay humble and go on to the next game. We don’t look at our record, and how we haven’t lost. In playoffs, every team starts off 0-0.’