BUFFALO — Despite season-ending heartbreakers the last two years, the standards haven’t changed from Clayton Wilson’s view.
Competing for a state championship is still the ultimate goal once again for Starpoint, but Wilson said, at this moment, the team is playing “50% of where I want them to be.”
The last two years have been part of a strong run for the Spartans, now entering only their seventh season in the Federation. In 2022, Starpoint advanced to the Division II state championship but a tripping penalty in overtime led to a 7-6 loss to Section I’s Pelham.
Starpoint then responded in February and clinched its third Section VI championship in four years with an 8-3 rout against Niagara Wheatfield. But after allowing four third-period goals, the red-and-gray came up short in a 4-3 loss to Section X’s Salmon River in the regional final, ending the careers of the top scoring line of Alec Kirk, William Mainstone and Justin Bull and goaltender Richie Gareau, all part of a nine-man senior class.
So far, in the new season, Starpoint has continued its winning way with a 5-1 starting, including a 3-1 victory against Iroquois/Alden Monday at LECOM HarborCenter. Even with the strong start, Wilson said there’s more for the Spartans to do, even with 10 returning players.
“We still have a long ways to go,” Wilson said. “A lot of kids still have to buy into what’s expected. We got a lot of new guys (and) we lost a lot of guys. But there’s a lot of talent (in) that locker room (and) a lot of speed that (if) they buy into what we expect and what we want, I think we’re going to make a deep run.”
Wilson said the speed is what Starpoint is “going to live or die with” this season in the offensive zone but also added the effort has to remain in the defensive and neutral zones, specifically in the back-checking, to play fast overall. To lead the way, Starpoint returns its fourth and fifth-leading scorers from last season in junior Frankie Cardarella and senior Jacob Cyrek.
After recording 16 goals and 30 points one year ago, Cardarella, as of Tuesday, leads the Spartans in both categories (five goals, 16 points) through the first six games. Cyrek was third in assists (17) and fifth in points (24) as a junior and is now second with four goals and 12 points.
While Starpoint isn’t fully playing to where he believes it should be yet, Wilson believes it’s more of a mental adjustment for the players than skill.
“At this point, it’s more mental,” Wilson said. “Preparing yourself, being ready for a game (and) taking care of yourself. Physically, they just got done playing travel and (Starpoint) is on the ice five times a week. We should be fine condition wise, so it’s more mental.”
One of six seniors on the Spartans this season, Cyrek also has the experience of chasing postseason hardware. Cyrek was on the Spartans’ state runner-up team two years ago but saw limited time on the ice. As he’s grown older, Cyrek’s role has expanded, including scoring two goals in the sectional championship win against Niagara Wheatfield.
Now in his senior season, Cyrek said the flow on the ice has worked thus far, especially when paired with Cardarella, to keep up with the team’s speed mentality.
“I know every time we hit up the ice, we want to score,” Cyrek said. “I know we’re able to score every single time we’re out there. And, waiting for the defense to give us nice breakout passes working from the D-zone out, and then me and Frankie are just flying out of the zone every time making good passes and trying to score. And that’s been working.”
While Wilson didn’t get into specifics of what Starpoint learned from ending in the regional final in downtown Buffalo. But the success from each season, he said, has provided a motivator for the current group.
“They see all that,” Wilson said. “Having the opportunity to play in sectionals and make a run and then have a sectional game and have their kids come and cheer them on from school. But you have to get there for them games and when you get a little taste of it, what do you want? You want to go back.”
Starpoint continues its season at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday against Williamsville East and 12:40 p.m. versus Orchard Park, both at Hockey Outlet in North Tonawanda.