Steelers rally for Senior Night win

OBSERVER Photo by Ron Szot Dunkirk Fredonia’s Jared Hayden (16) breaks in for a first period short-handed tally against Roy-Hart goalie Evan Birkemeir, with Roy Hart’s Michael Kuchey trailing the play, Sunday at Steele Hall.

Sophomore Jared Hayden stole the show on the Dunkirk-Fredonia Steelers’ Senior Night, scoring a hat trick in the team’s 4-2 comeback win against Royalton-Hartland on Sunday afternoon.

The visitors broke up the good vibes quickly after the pre-game ceremonies honoring the Steelers’ 11 seniors. With just 2:40 gone in the first period, Roy-Hart’s Michael Kuchey took the puck after a Steelers player fell down, skated in on Steelers goalie Gabe Persch and just trickled a shot over the goal line. The Dunkirk-Fredonia players and coaches couldn’t quite believe it was a goal, but the officials ruled it counted and Roy-Hart had an early 1-0 lead.

Hayden opened the Steelers’ scoring with 5:15 left in the period while Dunkirk-Fredonia (8-6-3-1, 7-2-2-1) was shorthanded. He stole the puck and sailed in across the slot on Roy-Hart goalie Evan Birkemeir, the Roy-Hart defense hanging back and letting him skate unchallenged. Hayden then snapped a shot top-shelf to beat Birkemeir.

With 3:24 left in the first period, Roy-Hart (7-10, 5-6) regained the lead. Dominic Perraciny had the puck behind Persch and made a quick pass to Drew Marsh, who was left alone to the goalie’s left to one-time a shot home for a 2-1 score.

The second period featured no scoring and little offense, though Roy-Hart had more scoring chances. In the third, it was a totally different story as the Steelers scored three times to win.

“The boys were really motivated in the third period and played really well,” Steelers coach Mark Taylor said. “I don’t think they lacked that desperation in the first two periods, they just weren’t executing as well.

“I stress winning third periods in our rink, and they did it today,” he added.

Hayden tied the game at 2 with 8:22 left on the clock. He broke in on Birkemeir while using some great stickwork, put a deke on him and roofed a backhand shot to the goalie’s glove side. Jackson Taylor picked up an assist on the play.

The Steelers scored the game-winner less than a minute later. It was the turn of Hayden’s line mates, Carter D’Agostino and Nolan Mages, to get on the scoreboard. D’Agostino tapped a perfect pass to Mages, standing next to Birkemeir, who knocked a low shot past the goalie’s right skate.

Hayden got his hat trick with 3:25 left on an unassisted goal. With lots of traffic in front of Birkemeir, he just whipped a shot at the net and it worked out well, as the goalie never appeared to see the puck as it went past him.

The Steelers have clinched second place in the seven-team White Division of the Western New York Club Hockey League. They will have a first-round bye in the playoffs as they seek to defend their state title, and are waiting to find out their opponent for a second-round best-of-three series, Taylor said.

“We get a week and a half rest for some guys to get the dings worked out and healed up,” the coach said. “I’m happy to have that rest.”

On Sunday, the white jerseys of the 11 seniors — Stephen Aldrich, D’Agostino, Mages, Jarrett Parks, Nick Pchelka, Brandon Prentiss, Zach Rybak, Tyler Sack, Jackson taylor, Alex Venn and Austin Venn — were hung next to the Steele Hall glass in their honor. Each senior was introduced to the crowd as a “state champion” to honor their contributions to the Steelers’ state championships the last two seasons.

Jay Bishop, who coached the state champion teams before retiring after last season and giving way to Taylor, then addressed the seniors.

“Thank you, seniors, for one of the best experiences of my life,” he said. “Thank you for letting me go along for the ride.”