The Spartans received goals from juniors Brett Sardina and Andrew Bruno, and senior Adam Batz, and solid goaltending from senior goalie Jake Zurat, to secure a 3-2 win over Section V Pittsford in the New York State Public High School Athletic Association Division I final Sunday before an estimated crowd of 2,000 at Harbor- Center.
It is North’s eighth appearance in a state final since 2001 and fifth title in school history, last winning in 2011.
North also became the second straight public school from Section VI to win a state title at HarborCenter. Kenmore East won the Division II title last year.
The Division I state finals were also a rematch of last year’s state quarterfinals won by Pittsford.
“To be in this position with this group, I was thrilled to have had the chance,” North coach Bob Rosen said. “Whatever we have asked them to do, they have done. They have certainly overachieved in my book. They did all of the little things that a team is supposed to do to win championships. They value those things. It’s a great championship team.”
North was coming off a tough 1-0 win over Section I Mamaroneck in the state semifinals Saturday and it showed, as they came out flat and went down 1-0 when Pittsford senior Connor Haims redirected a shot past Zurat at 12:08 into the first period. Haims’ goal was assisted by junior John Avery and senior Ryan Walpole.
The goal seemed to wake up the Spartans as they started to dominate possession. North outshot Pittsford, 8-4, in the first period and 31-15 overall.
Sardina tied the game on a perfect shot from the point at 9:11 that beat Pittsford senior goalie William Hernes high and to the glove side. Junior Matt Bielinski recorded an assist.
“We talked about getting pucks to the net,” Rosen said. “That was a big goal and got us going.”
Walpole was then called for an interference penalty and North scored again in the first when Bruno took a pass from junior Anthony Trigilio on the backdoor and buried it into the open net at 11:31. Junior Griffin Green also assisted on the play.
Batz, who had just missed a potential goal on a North power play earlier in the second period, redeemed himself with a goal that went between Hernes’ legs with 37.1 seconds left, scoring what turned out to be the game-winning goal.
Batz scored twice in the Spartans’ 3-2 overtime win over Lancaster in the Section VI Large Schools final.
“It felt great,” Batz said. “Lucky goals are always nice to score. It wasn’t a great goal but I’ll take it.”
“It’s something we have worked on for a long time – shooting on the move and in stride,” Rosen said. “All of the things at summer clinics come out in games like this.”
Pittsford senior John Mozrall, assisted by senior Mitchell Haight, cut the Panthers’ deficit to 3-2 with a power play goal at 7:43 of the third period, but the Panthers could not get the equalizer past Zurat.
The senior netminder battled through mononucleosis all week and made 13 saves.
“Jake made some great saves,” Rosen said. “It was an unbelievably gutsy effort.”
Zurat was named to the All-Tournament Team as did Batz and senior defenseman Matt Jeffries.
Rosen said the team could not have won without the help of varsity assistant coaches Brian Willison, John Burns and Greg Brown; JV coaches Joe Spano, Jason DePrima, Joey Jacobi and Dylan Moscato; and Gary Joseph, president of the team’s booster club.
Rosen said playing the game in Buffalo also allowed between 450 to 500 former North players, parents and coaches watch North make history in person.
“It was unbelievable,” Rosen said. “There were players who played for us 25 years ago at the game. After warm-ups, I looked up at the stands and I was going to cry because it was so emotional to see that support. That meant more than winning.”
To reach the state finals, the Spartans beat a team it had never faced before, Mamaroneck, in the state semifinals Saturday afternoon.
Mamaroneck was the defending Division I state champions and came in with a 22-1-1 record and tied with St. Joe’s as the top large school in the state.
North, ranked third, was coming off an overtime win in the state quarterfinals against fifth-ranked West Genesee of Section III, last year’s state runner-up.
“Looking at the path that we had to take, if everything fell into place, we knew we had the hardest schedule,” Rosen said. “We had no gimme games.”
Junior Trevor Cavalier picked a great time to score the first goal of his Federation career, tipping in a low shot from the right faceoff circle by senior Joe Oliver under the blocker of Mamaroneck goalie Tommy Spero at the 11:43 mark of the first period.
It stood up as the only goal as both teams played scoreless hockey for the rest of the game.
“It was amazing,” Cavalier said. “Everyone was excited. It was a big moment, especially for the team. It seemed like once I scored the goal, it set the mood for how the rest of the game was going to go.”
“We told the boys that games like this anybody can step up,” Rosen said. “It was Trevor’s first goal of the season and what a time to pick it.”
Rosen said scoring the first goal against Mamaroneck was huge because Spero was very good. Spero was last year’s state tournament MVP and set the all-time state record for career shutouts with 20.
“They have a good goalie, so to get that first goal was huge,” Rosen said. “We wanted that first goal. We have had the first goal a couple of times over these last few intense games, and we held on and did not have to go to overtime.”
North recorded 24 shots, including 10 in the first period, eight in the second period and six in the third period.
Spero made many spectacular saves, including a diving stop on Batz with a little under five minutes left in the second period.
Zurat was equally impressive, finishing with 14 saves. One of his biggest saves came against Mamaroneck’s James Torre on a two-on-one break with a little over a minute remaining in regulation.
Rosen called Zurat’s performance as one of the gutsiest efforts he has seen since he has been coaching.
“I tried to block it out as best as I can,” Zurat said. “Once I got into the game, it was a normal game. You just have to relax and play your game.”
Rosen and Zurat lauded the play of his defense, including Jeffries, Trigilio, Green and seniors Robbie Moyer and Josh Surowiec.
“I think our defense did a good job of keeping them to the outside, blocking shots and keeping my job simple,” Zurat said. “It was a good team win.”
“Championships are won by doing little things, like chipping pucks, sticks on sticks, stopping on pucks, those are all things that are not on the stat sheet but are huge in a game,” Rosen said. “Throughout the year, we emphasize how important they are and it pays off.”
North finished 22-4 and graduates 10 seniors: Jeffries, Moyer, Surowiec, Oliver, Zurat, Batz, Alex Jones, Salvatore DiNatale, Daniel Mosher and Matthew Shiring.
“Being a senior, it was the last time I will wear this jersey,” Batz said. “It was a great way to end it. I’ll remember this for the rest of my life.”