NEW HARTFORD – Whitesboro’s consistency paid off during Wednesday night’s 2-1 victory over rival New Hartford.
Despite outplaying the Spartans for the majority of the opening two periods, the Warriors found themselves trailing 1-0 after Aidan Joy’s goal with 1:31 remaining in the second. The Warriors didn’t panic and 12 seconds later senior forward Declan Simmons answered by shelving a slap shot from the right point to knot the game.
That goal allowed junior defenseman Bryce Gnatek to net the first game-winning goal of his high school career to help the Warriors avenge a 3-1 season-opening loss to New Hartford. Goaltender Jacob Domagal made 23 stops for the Warriors (8-2-1), while his counterpart Juliano Macera was also impressive, stopping 32 shots for the Spartans (4-5).
“This was a big win,” said Domagal, who’s in his fourth varsity season. “We’ve been playing really well and this is one of the games on the schedule that you look forward to all year.”
The Warriors – ranked No. 12 in the latest New York State Division II poll – have gone 8-1-1 after that loss to the Spartans. New Hartford, which won its first three games, has lost five of six.
The game figured to be a tight, low-scoring contest. Both teams entered Wednesday’s clash allowing less than two goals per game. Domagal (9.29) and Macera (9.28) came in with nearly identical save percentages.
“I think both teams are similar,” New Hartford head coach Carson Cunningham said. “Both teams have good goalies and play similar styles.”
In the opening period, the Warriors held an 11-8 advantage in shots and dominated faceoffs with a 12-5 edge, but both goaltenders were rock solid in between the pipes.
That trend continued in the second period as Whitesboro controlled the action in outshooting New Hartford 16-5. The Warriors continued to control the face-off circle as centers Noah Scranton, David LaMore, Andrei Terenzetti and Brandon Webb did a nice job giving their team possession.
Whitesboro’s defense pinched and held strong on the blue line and the Spartans had plenty of trouble clearing their own zone. Taking away New Hartford’s space was part of the game plan for Whitesboro as they didn’t allow speedy forwards Michael Fiorentino, Shane Calhoun, Logan Kraft and Tyler Penree to get into the open ice.
“This is a small rink,” Manley said of the rink at New Hartford Recreation Center. “So we tried to focus on making a small rink even smaller. We did a good job of doing that tonight.”
Despite carrying play in the second, the Warriors couldn’t break through. Whitesboro thought they took the lead with 6:12 remaining in the period as Troy Chamberlain’s shot got behind Macera. As the Warriors raised their hands in celebration, the referee signaled the puck never crossed the goal line and the game remained scoreless.
Calhoun had a great chance on a breakaway with 2:20 remaining, but his attempt to beat Domagal 5-hole was smothered.
Less than a minute later, Joy deflected a shot by Rayhill past Domagal to stake the home team to a 1-0 advantage with just 1:31 remaining in the second period.
The momentum lasted mere seconds as Simmons took the puck down the right boards, skated just over the blue line and shelved a slap shot into the top left corner for his fourth goal of the season.
“After we give up a goal we always talk about whoever goes out on the ice next needs to get a push-back shift,” Manley said. “We had a really good push-back shift with Declan scoring. I’ve been on him all year to shoot the puck.”
The third period was evenly played with the Spartans holding an 11-7 edge in shots. Each team killed penalties and had opportunities to break the tie. Penree had a point-blank shot, but Domagal didn’t flinch and turned it away with 9:50 remaining. Seconds later, Brandon Webb had a chance of his own from the slot, but Macera made one of his 32 saves.
However, Whitesboro’s next shot would break the tie as Gnatek took the puck at the right boards, drifted toward the middle, and with help from a nice screen by Terenzetti, blasted a shot past Macera and inside the near post.
“It feels awesome,” Gnatek said of getting the deciding goal. “(James Kraeger) saved the puck from going out and passed it to me. I just tried to put it on net and hope maybe we could get a rebound. I thought we started well and played fast. We won most of the battles and didn’t let up the whole game. (Declan’s) goal was huge. They had momentum and he put that one in right away.”
Manley felt a subtle move by Gnatek made the difference.
“Bryce did a really nice job getting off the wall and getting a shooting lane,” Manley said.
Following Gnatek’s tiebreaking goal, New Hartford turned up the pressure, especially after gaining a power play with 6:24 remaining.
The Spartans finally got some key faceoff wins, but often passed up open shots.
“We need to work on getting the puck to the net a little more,” said Rayhill, a freshman defenseman. “Other than that I think we played fine.”
New Hartford did put some pucks on Domagal, but the senior was rock solid with his positioning and did a nice job taking away the lower part of the net for some key saves. The experienced goaltender liked the way his team handled being in the lead and stuck to the game plan.
“It’s the same all game,” Domagal said of his mentality when playing with the lead. “It really goes for the entire team. We got to stay steady and focused all game.”
As the Spartans applied the pressure, Whitesboro got a key steal and clear by Scranton to withstand the pressure. Moments later, the freshman nearly made it 3-1 but his shot from the left slot found the post.
The Spartans pulled Macera to get an extra skater, but within five seconds a penalty on New Hartford damaged their chances of gaining the equalizer, and Whitesboro was able to run out the clock.
“I thought the first two periods, and you could argue the entire game, that they stuck to their game plan and didn’t waiver from it,” Cunningham said of Whitesboro’s performance. “It was a good effort by them. I don’t think they’ve lost much this season and that’s why. Sticking to the game plan is what wins hockey games. We need to do a better job of that.”
Whitesboro 2, New Hartford 1
Whitesboro (8-2-1, 5-1-1): Declan Simmons 1-1, Bryce Gnatek 1-0, James Kraeger 0-1. Jacob Domagal 23 saves.
New Hartford (4-5, 1-3): Aidan Joy 1-0, Ed Rayhill 0-1, Michael Fiorentino 0-1. Juliano Macera 32 saves.