Photo courtesy of Sandra Wong Geroux: “Tommy Spero ’17 and Chris Watroba ’18 embrace after the loss.”
For some, sports are meaningless; for others, they mean everything. For those who relate to the latter, there is no worse feeling than losing a playoff game in your senior year of high school. For the Mamaroneck Varsity Ice Hockey team, the emotions, much like the stage the game was played on, were amplified. So, when it was over, and Buffalo-based Williamsville North poured onto the ice to celebrate its 1-0 win over the defending state champions, it made sense that players laid motionless, face first on the ice. For many, it was the end of their hockey career.
The Williamsville North Spartans came raging out of the gates, peppering Tommy Spero ’17 with a slew of shots. Just when it appeared as though the Tigers had weathered the storm, slowing down the Spartans’ attack, a Mamaroneck defensive lapse led to the game’s lone goal – a deflected pass in front of the net – with 3:17 remaining in the first period.
A penalty-filled second period for both sides gave the Tigers a number of power play opportunities – along with a bunch of shorthanded sequences – but they could not find the back of the net.
Entering the third period, the Tigers had clearly been outplayed, generating fewer scoring opportunities. This was a team that always found a way to win, though. They’d only lost once all season, and had never been shut out coming into the game. Sure, time was evaporating off the scoreboard like sand in an hourglass, but optimism reigned supreme in the hearts and minds of Tigers fans for the entirety of the game’s final period. The team’s best scoring chance came with a minute and 45 seconds left in the third period. After breaking up a Williamsville North odd-man rush, the Tigers turned back down ice, giving themselves a 2-on-1 advantage. As Michael Carducci ’18 sent a pass past a Spartans defender and onto the stick of a streaking James Torre ’17, the HarborCenter collectively held its breath. “Ting!” Torre’s shot clanked off the crossbar, just inches away from bringing the Tigers level and forcing overtime. In the end, the Tigers couldn’t get the bounce they desperately needed. The Mamaroneck faithful, who had trekked an outlandish 383 miles to hopefully witness a second consecutive state title, were left dumbfounded.
“With about five second to go and the puck behind our goal line, I knew it was over,” Spero said. “I fell back onto the bench and the emotions came out; I looked at the scoreboard one last time to see if it was really over, and it was. […] We worked so hard all year to defend the title and to fall one, two bounces short of a repeat was heartbreaking. […] The hardest thing I’ve ever had to do was take off the jersey [after the game].”
Spero, who owns the state record for career shutouts, was named the state player of the year. Michael Carducci and Will Payne ’17 joined him on the first-team all state. James Torre received second-team all state honors.
By Stephen Rothman