Western men's hockey gets 'Razor' edge
A familiar face to Buffalo sports fans will help coach the Western region men's scholastic hockey team into action later this month at the Empire State Games for a possible seventh straight gold medal.
Rob Ray, a long-time forward for the Buffalo Sabres who works as an analyst for Sabres' broadcasts on the MSG Network, is one of three assistant coaches this summer for Western.
It is Ray's first stint as a coach and he is loving every minute.
"The kids are great," said Ray during a Western practice at Holiday Twin Rinks last Thursday. "The first couple of weeks they were shy but they're starting to loosen up a bit. You just try to make them feel comfortable and pass on experiences you've had."
Ray, an East Amherst resident, attended a few Western practices last summer and when he learned that Pat Fisher was going to be the head coach, he volunteered his services to help out.
"For Razor, it's being around the game," said Fisher, Western's head coach. "He hasn't lost it. You can tell it's still a big part of him. He loves being in the locker room. He knows where he fits in. He's out there motivating the kids and pushing them."
"The kids love him," Fisher continued. "He puts a little bit of fear in them when they need it. The kids have a ton of respect for him. When he speaks, the kids are all ears. But he keeps things loose. He'll be the first one to crack a joke, whether it's amongst the coaching staff or on the ice."
Western forward Scott Moser, a senior-to-be at Kenmore West, said Ray teaches the team grit and to know where you're supposed to be on the ice.
"He knows a lot about the game, obviously, because he's been around it for so long," said Moser. "He makes everything fun but he's also serious when he needs to be."
"There's a couple times where kids have it in their mind that this is as far as they're going to go in hockey so they don't think they have to do that extra work," added Ray. "They're content with where they are and what they're doing. I just try to pass on to them, 'don't ever be content. This might be the only level you stay at but be the best player you can be at that level. Push yourself to be better. You never want to look down the road and say I wish I should have worked harder or done something different.'"
Ray said the pressure is on Western, winner of the last six gold medals, to again claim top honors.
"They know what their job is and the expectations," said Ray. "They've won it quite a bit so there's pressure on them. They don't want to be the group that didn't win. That in itself is enough pressure to push you."
While Ray is having fun coaching, it's nothing he would like to pursue in the future.
"It's something that takes a lot of time and dedication and travel," said Ray. "I'm content doing this, looking forward to it and hope we do well."
Ray played 14 years with the Sabres before closing his career in 2003-04 with the Ottawa Senators. He is ranked sixth all-time in NHL history in career penalty minutes. Seneca's Brandon Broad, Rochester's Ryan Grimshaw and Buffalo's Matt McDonald will rotate in at defense.
East Amherst's Jarrod Etengoff (Division II Second Team All-State) and Grand Island's Anthony Borelli will see time at goalie. Etengoff, who starts for Williamsville East, was the starting keeper when Western won a gold medal in 2004.
Western's biggest strength is team speed, which, with the addition of on-ice changes that mirror the National Hockey League, should only enhance the chances of bringing home gold. Fisher said he wants Western to use its speed to force other teams into penalty situations.
"What we want is to be able to roll four lines and not let up on teams at all," added Fisher. "We really don't have a first line, we really don't have a fourth line. And that's a very nice luxury to have as a coach. We've got confidence in every single kid on our bench that they can get the job done."
"We're not the biggest team but we've got speed and we think that's going to excel us to the gold medal," added Broad, who plays at Nichols.
Western begins its gold medal defense against the Adirondack Region at 4 p.m., Thursday, July 27, at Rochester Institute of Technology.
Fisher knows Western will get the other region's best game.
"They mark us off when they get the schedule," Fisher said. "They want to be the team who knocks off the Western Region in the Games. So we know we're going to get every team's best game and we've got to be ready for that. We don't want to be the team that broke the (winning) tradition."
"I think the kids themselves really know what to expect," added Geary. "They don't really need to be told. They know what the West is all about, winning a gold and nothing else is satisfactory."