The Oswego State men’s ice hockey team’s second consecutive trip to the Frozen Four ended in identical fashion, losing to fifth-ranked Adrian College, 5-3, on Friday afternoon in the NCAA Semifinal at Ridder Arena in Minneapolis.
Adrian’s leading scorer Shawn Skelly scored twice, including the eventual game-winner at 2:23 of the third period to lift the Bulldogs to their first ever NCAA National Championship appearance.
"We got down early and it just seemed like we were playing catch up all game long," Oswego State head coach Ed Gosek said.
The third-ranked Lakers never led during the contest and fell behind by two goals twice, including a 2-0 deficit heading into the first intermission. Despite outshooting the Bulldogs 42-31 for the game, the Lakers couldn’t solve Adrian goalie Brad Fogal, who finished the game with 39 saves to earn his 25th win in net.
"[Oswego State is] a very highly skilled offensive team and they came in waves and sustained some good pressure," Fogal said. "We have such a smart and experienced defensive corps that you could tell as the game wound down we started to do more of the little things right and not chase around like we were doing maybe the first two periods."
Both teams had limited opportunities on the power play, but they made them count. Oswego State finished 2-for-4 with the extra man, while Adrian (25-3-1 overall) finished 2-for-3 on the power play. Adrian’s Zach Graham netted the game’s first goal on the power play at 14:19 of the first period. Joel Workman assisted on Graham’s 15th goal of the season with a pass from behind the net that found the six-foot sophomore in the slot. Graham fired a one-timer that beat Oswego State junior forward Paul Beckwith.
"There were just too many guys that did not play to their ability level," Gosek said. "In big games you cannot have key guys be off and bottom line is too many key guys were not on top of their game. [Adrian’s] a good team, but we’ve played teams that are as good as or better than them this season. It really wasn’t the opponent as much as it was us."
Oswego State junior forward Andrew Mather scored both of the Lakers’ two power-play goals to bring his team back from two-goal deficits on two separate occasions. Trailing 2-0 after the first period and 3-1 about halfway through the second period, Mather delivered with key goals to keep Oswego State’s hopes of reaching the title game alive. Mather’s seventh goal of the season came off Oswego State’s first power play opportunity of the game. Following an interference penalty to Graham, Mather was finally able to put a shot past Fogal to cut Adrian’s lead to one. Senior defenseman Stephan Mallaro and sophomore forward Jon Whitelaw were credited with assists.
"I was pleased for him," Gosek said of Mather. "He competed hard."
After Skelly’s power-play goal increased the Bulldog’s lead back to two, Mather again cut the lead to one at 14:45 of the second period after Adrian’s Quinn Waller was called for interference. Whitelaw and senior forward Chris Laganiere earned the assists on Mather’s eighth goal of the season. Oswego State outshot Adrian 20-8 in the second period. Mather’s two-goal performance on Friday earned him a spot on the All-Tournament Team.
"They’re a very good team and we managed to escape the second period still up a goal and that was a big boost for our team," said Ron Fogarty, Adrian head coach.
Oswego State junior forward Ian Boots tied the game at three 1:18 into the third period. Mather found Boots at the far side faceoff circle, who wristed a shot past Fogal. Freshman forward David Titanic also earned an assist on Boots’ goal.
It took just over a minute later for the Bulldogs to take the lead for good. Skelly tallied his second goal of the game at 2:23 of the third period to seize the momentum from the Lakers. Skelly’s goal was his 21st of the season and his fifth game-winning goal. Skelly finished fourth in Division III in scoring with 48 points (21 goals, 27 assists). Adrian’s second leading scorer, Eric Miller, who finished fifth in scoring in Division III with 47 points (19 goals, 28 assists), assisted on both of Skelly’s goals.
"Obviously, coming out in the third period we wanted to keep the lead," said Skelly. "Once we gave up that early goal I think my goal was just a huge boost to theteam."
Trailing by a goal with 1:12 remaining in regulation, Oswego State pulled Beckwith in favor of an extra attacker. The last ditch effort was unsuccessful, as Adrian added the empty-net goal with 43 seconds remaining to send Adrian to the title game and sent Oswego State back to New York.
"Last year I was more disappointed, this year I’m more angry," Gosek said. "That’s the way to describe it because of our inability to motivate, inability to get guys to settle down, inability to get guys to have the right focus, but for whatever reason, whether it’s leadership or guys too tight. They worked hard and tried but it certainly far from our best game."
Beckwith finished the game with 26 saves in a losing effort to drop to 19-3-0 in net this season. Oswego State finishes the season 23-5-0 overall and advanced to its 12th NCAA Tournament and fifth Frozen Four.
"I’m ready to go," Gosek said. "I wish it was October 15. It was a good year and you don’t want to lose sight of that, but when you play the way that we have two years in a row when you get to the final four, it’s a bitter pill to swallow. It ranks right up there with one of the most disappointing losses because of the way that we lost. That’s why it lingers, that’s why it stings."
Adrian advanced to the NCAA National Championship, where it lost 4-3 to top-ranked St. Norbert College on Saturday night.