The Oswego State men’s ice hockey team compiled a 15-1-0 SUNYAC record last season en route to its first conference title since 2003. If last weekend’s games against Buffalo State and SUNY Fredonia were any indication of the parity in this year’s SUNYAC, the Lakers are going to have their hands full every weekend.
On Friday, the Lakers opened up their SUNYAC schedule by defeating Buffalo State, 5-2, in front of 2,300 fans at the Campus Center Ice Arena. The game featured a Laker team picked to finish first in the preseason conference predictions and a Bengals team picked to finish last in the SUNYAC coaches preseason poll.
The game was much closer than the final score showed with the Lakers scoring twice in the game’s final six minutes to seal the victory.
The Lakers jumped on the Bengals early with three goals in the first period. Oswego State capitalized on a holding penalty charged to Buffalo State’s Justin Knee with its first of two power-play goals in the game. Less than a minute into the penalty, sophomore forward Paul Rodrigues snuck the puck past Bengal goalie Kevin Carr after a flurry of shots in front of the net. Sophomore forwards Luke Moodie and Jon Whitelaw each fired a shot on net that was blocked away by Carr. Rodrigues corralled the rebound from Whitelaw’s shot and beat Carr on his stick side for the early lead.
Rodrigues struck again at 13:01 of the first period for his second goal of the period and third of the season. Senior defenseman and captain Kevin Huinink initiated the scoring play with a slap shot from the blue line that was deflected by sophomore forward Chris Muise in the slot and again by Rodrigues before slipping past Carr’s stick side.
The Bengals proved tougher than last year’s 2-14-0 SUNYAC record would suggest, cutting the Laker lead in half with a power-play goal at 17:56 of the first period. Laker goalie Paul Beckwith blocked away Buffalo State’s Kyle Granville’s slap shot from just outside the right faceoff circle, but gave up a rebound attempt to James Durham on the opposite side of the net. Beckwith was out of position and Durham placed a wrist shot into a wide open area of the net on Beckwith’s glove side.
"That was a team that was picked to finish last," head coach Ed Gosek said. "That’s a last-place team and it wasn’t a 5-2 game; it was much closer than that. I think that speaks volumes of the depth and credibility of our league."
Oswego State reclaimed its two-goal lead with 27 seconds remaining in the first period with what would be the game-winning goal by senior forward Justin Fox. Senior forward and assistant captain Chris Laganiere placed a perfect cross-crease pass to Fox, who fired a one-timer past Carr on his glove side.
After a scoreless second period, Buffalo State again cut the lead to one again with its second power-play goal of the game. Just 16 seconds after Laker senior forward Joe Hall was called for hooking, Buffalo State’s Zach Hale wristed a shot from the left faceoff circle past Beckwith’s stick side.
The Lakers put the game away when junior forward Ian Boots tallied the team’s fourth goal of the game with 5:55 remaining in the third period.
"I think we took them a little too lightly," Boots said. "They’re a young team and they’re out there looking to prove themselves and one way to do that is to beat us. We got out of our systems a bit."
Beckwith earned his third win of the season, stopping 29 of 31 shots. Carr, making his SUNYAC debut in net, finished with 32 saves. Both Beckwith and Carr made 13 saves in a scoreless second period.
Saturday’s afternoon game featured amuch different Laker roster from the previous night. Four players who played in Friday night’s game were scratched due to poor performance on the ice or for resting purposes in Oswego State’s 3-0 victory over SUNY Fredonia on Saturday.
Moodie, sophomore forward Tyler Leimbrock and senior forwards Joe Hall and Owen Kelly did not dress for the game against the Blue Devils. Freshmen forwards David Titanic and Kyle Badham, and sophomore forwards Chris Brown and Chris Ayotte filled the roster spots in their absence.
"The guys that came out weren’t in a one-game struggle," Gosek said. "They’ve been struggling for two or three games so we thought it was important to try to get them going by having them watch from up above. I thought the guys we put in played well and that makes our decisions that much more difficult."
After more than 12 scoreless minutes of hockey, Muise ended the scoring drought when he scored off a rebound from his previous shot at 12:05 of the first period. Muise’s original shot from the slot was blocked away by Fredonia goalie Mark Friesen, but the rebound came right back to Muise, who wristed a shot from the left faceoff circle past Friesen’s glove side.
"I took the pass off my skate, got a shot off and followed the rebound to put it in," Muise said. "It was a bit fluky but at the same time I’ll take it."
Facing a freshman goalie for the second time in as many days, the Lakers offense struggled to find the back of the net. Friesen made several key saves throughout the game, including breakaway attempts from Muise and senior forward Andrew Mather. However, Friesen could only do so much, as Beckwith was every bit as good as Friesen.
"[Beckwith] steps up day in and day out, works hard in practice and is an all-around great goaltender," Muise said. "He’s always in position and he is the reason we won this game tonight."
Beckwith made 17 saves to earn his fourth win of the season and first shutout of his career. Friesen finished the game with 33 saves in a losing effort, making 16 saves during the second period that saw the Lakers outshoot the Blue Devils 17-4.
"(Friesen) was better than average; he was very good," Gosek said.
The Lakers (4-0-0 overall, 2-0-0 SUNYAC) capitalized on a turnover by the Blue Devils in their defensive zone for the team’s second goal. Boots stole the puck from a Fredonia defenseman behind the net and wristed a shot toward Friesen. The puck deflected off two Fredonia defensemen’s skates and just crossed over the goal line, giving Oswego State a two-goal lead.
"These are the games that prepare you for the playoffs," Gosek said. "It helps build the character and the chemistry of the team and the ability to hold the lead, which is easier said than done."
An empty net goal with less than a second remaining in the third period put the exclamation mark on the win. The weekend sweep of conference opponents has the Lakers sitting atop the SUNYAC standings with SUNY Geneseo, who routed SUNY Plattsburgh, 7-3, Friday night at the Ira S. Wilson Ice Arena.
The Lakers return home on Friday, Nov. 5 to face SUNY Potsdam. Oswego State hosts archrival Plattsburgh on Saturday, Nov. 6, in the annual "Whiteout" game.