SUNY Fredonia’s Ben Waldman scored the game-winning goal 11:34 into overtime, giving the Blue Devils a 2-1 overtime victory over the top-seeded Oswego State men’s ice hockey team in the SUNYAC Semifinals Saturday night at the Campus Center Ice Arena.
Mat Hehr found Waldman in front of the net, where he one-timed a shot past junior goalie Paul Beckwith to send the Blue Devils to the SUNYAC Championship and the Lakers home. Hehr carried the puck behind the net before assisting on Waldman’s game-winning goal. Waldman has continued his hot streak during the SUNYAC playoffs, totaling four goals in two games, including all three goals for the Blue Devils in their SUNYAC Quarterfinal victory at third-seeded Buffalo State Wednesday night.
"I can’t say we overlooked them," head coach Ed Gosek said. "I can’t say that we didn’t know it was going to be a battle. Do I think we can play better? Yeah we could play better, but it wasn’t a game where you were outworked. It wasn’t a game where you were outplayed."
Waldman’s overtime goal sent the Fredonia bench pouring out on the ice, mobbing Waldman at the blue line while silencing the 2,416 Oswego State fans inside the Campus Center Ice Arena. The crowd watched in disbelief as the Oswego State players dropped to the ice, stunned at the final result. The most vivid image from the postgame festivities was Beckwith sprawled out on the ice with his head buried under his arms. Beckwith finished the game with 35 saves, but Waldman’s goal cast a shadow on his performance. The loss drops Beckwith’s record to 18-2-0 in net.
"It’s difficult to beat a team three times," Gosek said. "Clearly they’re the underdog and the pressure is on us. We thought we would be able to wear them down because they played on Wednesday, but I didn’t see much tire in them. They worked extremely hard and I can’t say that we wore them down."
The Blue Devils (14-12-1 overall) took the early lead on Alex Morton’s 10th goal of the season at 6:08 of the first period on the power play. For the third time in four games, the Lakers found themselves giving up the game’s first goal. Following an interference penalty to sophomore defenseman Jesse McConney, Hehr earned his first of two assists on the night when he passed to Morton in the slot. Morton wristed a shot that was deflected in front by a couple Laker defenders, but found its way past Beckwith.
Oswego State (22-4-0 overall) finally got on the scoreboard at 8:50 of the second period with a goal by sophomore forward Luke Moodie. Moodie corralled a pass from sophomore forward Paul Rodrigues in front of the net. Moodie finessed his way toward the far side faceoff circle looking to draw Fredonia goalie Mark Friesen out of position. With the angle dwindling, Moodie wristed a shot that found its way past Friesen to tie the game and bring the Laker crowd to life for the first time all game.
Despite the limited number of penalties, the game’s physicality was evident from the opening faceoff. Both teams traded bone-rattling hits in open ice and near the sideboards. Senior forward Dan Bremner and senior defenseman and captain Kevin Huinink each had their share of hard hits on Fredonia players. But Fredonia was not deterred from Oswego State’s physical nature and handed out a few hard hits of their own. Along with the hard hits were pushing and shoving after the whistle and the occasional player being knocked into the opponent’s net.
The final minute of regulation proved to be both the most exciting and nerve-racking 60 seconds of the game. Both teams fired a few shots on goal, but Beckwith and Friesen rose to the challenge and helped to force overtime.
"I thought they both played very well," Gosek said. "I can’t say Paul was off tonight. I thought he made some very good saves and tracked the puck well. [Friesen] made some outstanding saves too. I thought we had some better looks in the first two periods. But, unfortunately we didn’t take advantage of the opportunities we had."
The Lakers struggled all night long trying to solve Friesen. What looked like a shot at a wide open net would end up with the puck in Friesen’s glove or knocked aside by his blocker. Friesen, a freshman playing in just his second postseason game, was stellar in net, finishing with 43 saves including 25 in the third period and overtime. The win improves Friesen’s record to 9-8-1 in net this season. Fredonia’s first period power-play goal was the only special team’s goal of the game. The Lakers were unable to capitalize on their chances with the extra man, finishing 0-for-3 on the power play. The Blue Devils finished 1-for-3 on the power play.
The Blue Devils will look to capture the automatic bid associated with winning the SUNYAC Championship when they travel to SUNY Plattsburgh on Saturday, March 5, to battle the Cardinals. The Cardinals defeated SUNY Geneseo, 3-2, in overtime to clinch a spot in the SUNYAC Championship. The Lakers will have to wait until Sunday, March 6, to determine whether the NCAA committee has deemed Oswego State worthy of an at-large bid in the NCAA Tournament.
"Do I think we’re worthy of a bid? Yes," Gosek said. "But it’s a long, humbling wait until next Sunday. Hopefully next Sunday the committee feels we’re deserving and we’ll make the most of it if we’re given the chance."