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February, 2016:

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Monday, February 8, 2016

Despite the fact that it was my wife’s birthday, she ended up being a hockey widow for four days. And I don’t even play hockey. (Don’t worry -- I made it up with a great birthday gift.) Hosted by Cornerstone CFCU Arena and the Lockport Express, the NA3EHL held their 2015-16 Winter Showcase. I made it to nearly all the games being held at the arena, with the exception coming in the early games on Friday.

Thursday, January 28:
Craig Bacon, right, mans the East Niagara Radio broadcast booth with ENR
play-by-play man Howie Balaban during the NA3EHL Showcase on Jan. 28.

  • Roc City 5, East Coast3
  • Skylands 4, Lockport 2
Opening night at the arena featured two games. At 6:30 p.m., the East Coast Minutemen would take on the Roc City Royals. Meanwhile, at 9:30, our own Lockport Express would face off against Skylands Kings of New Jersey. The highlight of the day, however, had nothing to do with either of the games being played that evening.

George Root, our broadcast partner on East Niagara Radio and fellow hockey enthusiast, shrugged off the weight of illness and graced us with his presence at the arena. Many of the players, coaches, and other friends stopped into the box to say hello. He didn’t stay long, but it was a huge step in the right direction of getting him back with us full-time.

Meanwhile, there was some great hockey taking place on the main rink. Roc City and East Coast were battling on the ice. After a tough fought battle, Roc City emerged victorious, 5-3. It was the first of three wins on the weekend for Lockport’s closest rivals.

Hosts, Lockport Express, had the late game against New Jersey’s Skylands Kings. A new team to the league, it was the first visit to Cornerstone Arena for the Kings. Despite a short bench, Alex Shindelman’s team came with all barrels firing. They jumped out to a quick lead that the Express were unable to overcome. Skylands notched a 4-2 win to cap off the first day of showcase action.

Friday, January 29:

  • Jersey Shore 6, Maine 1
  • New York 11, Northeast 0
  • New England 5, Wilkes-Barre 
  • Syracuse 4, East Coast 1
  • Cape Cod 5, Lockport 3
  • L/A Spirit 6, Skylands 1

Due to the unfortunate scheduling of a half-day of school, I was unable to catch the early games on Day Two. In both games, the “home” teams were able to win by a combined 17-1. Perennial powerhouse, Jersey Shore Wildcats defeated the Maine Wild, 6-1. The next game was the most lopsided of the weekend with the New York Aviators delivering a complete drubbing of Northeast Generals 11-0.

By the time Wendy got home and I finally got around to leaving the house (the kids and I were watching a Harry Potter movie), I got to the arena at the beginning of the second period of the Wilkes-Barre vs. New England game, and halfway through the first period of the Syracuse vs. East Coast contest.

In the Scouts/Coaches room, Wilkes-Barre owner, Ray Welsh, was on crutches and watching the game from the comfort of a padded chair. Sitting with him while watching the action below Ray, I was able to break down the game in such a way that I got a new understanding of the game. It was also interesting to see the interaction between the coaches and the owners. Despite the differences during the games, there is a genuine respect and friendship between the men and women coaching and owning teams in the NA3EHL.

Lockport was the late game for the day, taking on the Cape Cod Islanders. The Islanders were on a 16-game winning streak coming into the contest with the Express. This was one of the most exciting games of the weekend. Five on five, the two teams skated toe to toe. As has been the norm this season with the Express, penalties were the difference in the game. Cape Cod would win its 17th consecutive game, 5-3.

 Saturday, January 30:

  • Wilkes-Barre 7, East Coast 5
  • Jersey Shore 5, New England 1
  • Syracuse 4, Northeast 0
  • Roc City 5, L/A Spirit 2
  • Cape Cod 5, Wilkes-Barre 4 
  • New York 11, Maine 3
  • Lockport 6, East Coast 1

Saturday was a long day at the Cornerstone Arena for me. The first game dropped the puck at 10 a.m., and I was there by 10:30. During the game between New England and Jersey Shore, I had the privilege of watching the action unfold with Dan Hodge, owner of the Cape Cape team, commenting. Dan is the son of Ken Hodge, who won two Stanley Cups while playing for the Boston Bruins. Dan’s brother, Ken, Jr., was drafted by the Minnesota North Stars. Dan was drafted by the Bruins in 1991, and won the 2000 Kelly Cup Championship in the East Coast Hockey League with the Peoria Rivermen. This guy’s family is hockey.

It was the highlight of my weekend to have Dan break down that Saturday morning game. He pointed out the weaknesses and strengths of both teams playing, and saw the play unfold before it even left the defensive zone. Dan is an easy, likable guy. It was quite enjoyable to learn more about the game of hockey from someone who has been so entwined with the sport. The fact that he was gracious enough to not only speak with me, but also educate me on some of the intricacies of the game just makes him that much more likable.

I spent most of the day interacting with the coaches and owners of the various teams around the league. Additionally, I met the commissioner of the league, Denny Scanlon. Before he agreed to an interview later that evening on East Niagara Radio, he did assist with the possibility of a trade in a sixth grade girls basketball league. Again, everyone was very personable, even from teams who are bitter rivals. I ended up speaking at great length with Jack Slade from the Roc City Royals. It was marvelous to speak with this group of people. It can only enhance the game day coverage that East Niagara Post can provide to its readers and listeners.

The Lockport Express scored a win with a 6-1 match against East Coast Minutemen. Would the great game from Friday night combined with this victory give the Express the momentum needed to take on the New York Aviators on Sunday afternoon? East Coast head coach, Neil Liston, still agreed to an interview on East Niagara Radio despite the loss.

Sunday, January 31:

  • L/A Spirit 9, Wilkes-Barre 0
  • Jersey Shore 5, Cape Cod 3
  • Skylands 3, Maine 2
  • Roc City 8, Northeast 1
  • New York 5, Lockport 4 (OT)
  • Syracuse 2, New England 1 (OT)

The final day of the Showcase dawned bright and cold. There were some great games as the whole ordeal closed out. The Jersey Shore/Cape Cod game in particular was very entertaining. On the line for Cape Cod was continuing their 17-game winning streak. For Jersey Shore, it was a matter of continuing their dominance in the NA3EHL. The contest was a back and forth struggle that showcased some of the best hockey the league had to offer. In the end, the Wildcats snapped the winning streak for Cape Cod.

The Lockport Express were to close out the whole showcase. Because of the standings, the Syracuse game had significant meaning, and they were playing at the same time as the Lockport game. In any break in action, one of us would run across the hallway to check on the score. Syracuse topped the New England Stars 2-1 in overtime, giving the Stampede a 1-point lead in the standings over Lockport, contingent on the outcome of the Express game.

Meanwhile, the last game in Lockport versus the Aviators wasn’t finished on the greatest of terms. Would this game echo that previous contest, or would we see a much better contest? What we ended up with was one of the best games of the weekend. Considering all the games I saw this weekend, this one definitely ranked among the top three.

It was a back and forth battle between the teams that fired up the large crowd in attendance. Lockport opened the scoring with a goal by Ryan Logar. New York netted the next three. Seemingly out of it with the momentum swung over to the Aviators, Lockport answered back with two quick goals by Chris Gasiewicz. The second period ended knotted 3-3, with the hometown crowd buzzing.

Just three minutes into the third period, the Aviators regained the lead after a goal by Dominick Sacco. It was a lead they head for another seven minutes until Ryan Logar gave Lockport a spark at 11:13. The crowd roared with the goal, shaking the stands with their approval. And then we were headed to overtime. The point from the tie earned the Express a tie in the standings with Syracuse. A win would pull them a single point ahead. The Aviators had their own ideas as sniper, Daniel Backstrom, drilled home the winning goal a minute into the extra period.

The whole weekend was a great weekend of spectacular hockey. All the teams in the league visited Lockport and the Cornerstone Ice Arena, and they each showed us the best of the game of hockey. With scouts in the house looking to find the next great player for their college team, the players did not disappoint. The players gave everything they had and let the entire community know just how much they love the game.

I had a great time. Everyone I spoke with was gracious and kind. I must thank Frank Vecchio and Steve Bueme for allowing me nearly unfettered access to all the happenings at the arena. I made many new acquaintances and spent hours learning more and more about the game of hockey. I have to thank Jack Slade, Mike Beavis, Ray Welsh,  Alex Shidelman, Mike Stanaway, Neil Liston, Eric Brule, Dan Hodge, Jay Punsky, and Denny Scanlon. Thanks to everyone who made the showcase another resounding success.

If any of you happened to miss all the hockey last weekend, you really missed something special. Hopefully, Lockport will be able to host another showcase in the near future so you can see some fabulous hockey. These are kids who dream of playing the big game, and this could be their gateway to terrific opportunities at the collegiate level. You could be some of those who cheer them on.

+Craig Bacon lives for his family and hockey. You can hear him co-host the Lockport Express games with +Howard Balaban and +George N Root III on East Niagara Radio.

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