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Saturday, February 21, 2015
Players from the WNY Challenger Sports League line up before tonight's game, waiting on a ceremonial puck drop by Justin. (PHOTOS BY SCOTT LEFFLER / ENP STAFF)

BY +Scott Leffler

Justin poses for a photo with Nick Siracuse of the Lockport Express moments
before he drops the puck to begin tonight's game.
Down by a goal with just over five minutes to play in regulation, the Lockport Express had a two-man advantage for 49 seconds and a chance to tie the game against the league leading Jersey Shore Wildcats.

The Express had battled back from a 4-1 deficit in the second period and came close to tying it on a number of occasions in front of a crowd of well over 200 spectators at Cornerstone CFCU Arena. But with opportunity on their side, the home team just couldn't get the puck past Wildcat's goaltender Tyger Howat.

Back at even strength, Jersey Shore took a 5-3 advantage when the Express collapsed in their own end. An empty netter with just 35 seconds to play gave the game a final score of 6-3.

While the hometown crowd would have preferred a win, what they got was a solidly enjoyable hockey game with two nearly evenly matched teams.

Following a 3-1 loss Friday night, Express fans may have been worried when Adam Skutchan scored for Jersey Shore at 1:10 of the first period, assisted by Alexandre Racicot. But the Express settled down and tied the game at 8:19 on an odd bounce from a Jordan Pocobello shot.

Jersey Shore took the commanding 4-1 lead in the second period with goals by Arthur Raevsky, Travis Valvo and Austin Crane at 2:52, 4:32 and 6:51 respectively But the Express didn't quit. Mark Friol made it 4-2, assisted by Christian Whitcomb and Justin Blake at 12:13. Then Dillon Hayes scored on the power play at 17:47, assisted by Christopher Gasiewicz and Daniel Golba. Going into the third down by only a goal, the game seemed winnable again.

The Lockport Express starting lineup. 
But Jersey Shore just wouldn't let it happen. Even with the two-man advantage. Alexandre Racicot's goal on the giveaway at 17:45 and Ilya Spektor's empty netter at 19:25 sealed the deal.

Win, lose or draw, the game was a special experience for a number of fans who were there by personal invitation of Lockport Express owner Steve Bueme, who donated 50 tickets to the WNY Challenger Sports League, an organization of athletes of all ages with physical or mental disabilities.

Not only were WNY Challenger Sports League players at the game, one of their own was asked to perform a ceremonial puck drop. Arena officials literally laid out a red carpet for players to stand on while Justin dropped the puck for Jersey Shore's Austin Crane and Lockport's Nick Siracuse.

During the game, the WNY Challenger Sports League were also treated to pizza by Sub Delicious.

The Express and Wildcats do battle again at 1 p.m. Sunday with Lockport still looking to hand Jersey Shore its second loss of the season. The Express then close out the regular season next weekend in Pennsylvania against the Wilkes-Barre Miners, who they're likely to also face in the first round of the playoffs, which will be held at Cornerstone CFCU Arena March 6-8.

There's more photos from tonight's game and pre-game ceremonies here: (link)

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