NORTH TONAWANDA — Robert Wegrzyn’s eyes lit up when he talked about how he first got into hockey.
Baseball was, and still is, is his first love, as evidenced by his commitment to Division I Le Moyne in September. But working with the puck soon became his second passion, all starting with a game of street hockey with his neighbors at age five.
He was the youngest of the group by at least five years and Wegrzyn admitted it was sometimes tough to keep up with the others. But overall, the experience made Wegrzyn a tougher player and one determined to play at anyone’s level with no fear.
Over a decade later, Wegrzyn has transformed into one of Niagara Wheatfield’s most reliable goal scorers on the ice, even finding himself in the program’s record books.
Needing just four points heading into his senior season, Wegrzyn recorded his 100th career point with a first period goal against Section V’s Churchville-Chili Dec. 1 at Scottsville Arena in Rochester as part of the two-day WNY High School Hockey Showcase event.
“It was probably one of the cooler ones,” said Wegrzyn, who, as of Thursday, has recorded 55 goals and 104 points in 55 career games. “I mean, the puck just squirted out. I just took a slapshot, popped the (goalie’s water) bottle. That was pretty cool for the 100th point to be a goal.”
Standing at 6-foot and playing on the wing, Wegrzyn looks for his shot first and takes advantage of his shooting abilities. And, with Wegrzyn in the lineup, the Falcons have continued to grow each season.
After recording nine and 10 wins with Niagara Wheatfield the first two seasons, Wegrzyn took an even larger step with a team-high 28 goals along with 56 points, trailing only his long-time teammate, Anthony Lagreca, who graduated in June. The Falcons then advanced through the sectional postseason but lost to Starpoint in the Division II finals Feb. 27 at KeyBank Center with a 17-6 finish.
With his height and size, Wegrzyn likes to use those to his advantage, with his objective to help work the puck towards the net and create shots for himself and others.
“I think going into the corners, using my bigger body, if I see a guy coming down at me, (with) my size, I’m probably gonna cough up the puck,” Wegrzyn said. “I can use that to my advantage, to use my body (and) my weight to really keep the puck away from guys and use my strength to take pucks away.”
Wegrzyn admitted he needed a few games during his freshman year to settle down and get used to the varsity level, even to the point of doing too much with the puck and not sticking with the program’s system. But head coach Rick Wrazin saw potential in the young Wegrzyn through the seasons, due to his skill and maturity.
One year ago, Wegrzyn played alongside Lagreca and Roman Adamshick on the Falcons’ top line, combining for 79 goals and 145 points, which came when Wrazin said the forward began to “come around” as a player and as a veteran in the locker room. Wrazin refers to his senior co-captain as a “power forward” and has only strengthened the Falcons’ lineup, noting his ability to gain control of pucks on the forecheck and his heavy involvement in puck possession.
“He can put the puck to the outside and protect it,” said Wrazin, now in his 16th season with the Falcons. “… He’s got a quick shot, better than a high school level shot. … I think there was a long time where he wanted to (use) slip moves and he wanted to be pretty. And he’s learned that by being gritty, it gives him the opportunity to do those other things. So it’s really turned them into a complete player.”
Like his teammates, Wegrzyn wants to rewrite the script and move past the “heartbreaking” feelings associated with the 8-3 loss to Starpoint in the sectional championship. Coming up short, Wegrzyn said, is what’s been behind the team’s motivation to its 4-0 start, including a 9-2 win against Kenmore West Wednesday.
But for Wegrzyn, he’s still determined to keep working to the end, no matter what it takes.
“It sucks nowadays (that) you can work as hard as you can and maybe not go somewhere,” Wegrzyn said. “But, if you keep working, keep that head down (and) be humble. That’s the whole thing is just being humble and keeping it going throughout your whole life and just being consistent.”
Niagara Wheatfield returns to the ice to face Lewiston-Porter at 6:15 p.m. Dec. 11 at Dwyer Arena.