The Oswego State men’s ice hockey team was determined not to have SUNY Fredonia celebrate on its home ice for a second consecutive postseason. After being eliminated at the hands of the Blue Devils last year, the Lakers returned the favor, defeating Fredonia, 8-3, in the SUNYAC Semifinals on Saturday night at the Campus Center Ice Arena.
Senior forward and assistant captain Ian Boots and junior forward Paul Rodrigues each netted two goals and junior defenseman Zack Josepher added a goal and two assists, as the Lakers advanced to the SUNYAC Final for the second time in three years. The win all but assures the top-ranked Lakers a bye into the NCAA Quarterfinals.
It looked like it could have been déjà vu all over again for the Lakers, as Fredonia scored first in an unusual fashion to take the wind out of the Campus Center Ice Arena. The Blue Devils capitalized on a rare penalty shot opportunity at 7:09 of the first period after Bryan Ross was tripped up from behind by senior defenseman Jared Anderson while on a breakaway. Ross took advantage and beat junior goaltender Andrew Hare five hole to take the early lead.
“We stayed the course and didn’t get frustrated,” head coach Ed Gosek said. “There was positive talk on the bench even though we were down 1-0.”
The momentum was on the side of the Blue Devils for the majority of the first period before the Laker offense woke up and netted the game’s next six goals, including two at the tail end of the opening period. Junior forward Jon Whitelaw extended his scoring streak to 12 games, which began on Jan. 13 against Curry College, with a power-play goal at 18:01 of the first period. Following a tripping penalty by Declan Gunovski, Whitelaw received a cross-ice pass by junior forward Chris Ayotte to the left faceoff circle and beat Fredonia goaltender Mark Friesen with a wrist shot to tie the game.
“I think [Fredonia] was the 2-1 team [that beat us last year] tonight,” Gosek said. “They did all the little things well. We were opportunistic and got some breaks. In the first period [Fredonia] won a majority of the battles. As the game went on we got back to our good habits.”
The Lakers took the lead just 12 seconds later on Josepher’s third goal of the season. Off a clean faceoff win in the Lakers’ offensive end by Ayotte, the puck went to Josepher, who skated to his right before wristing a shot through traffic that got behind Friesen to give the Lakers the lead with 1:47 remaining in the first period.
“Those two goals were huge for our momentum,” Gosek said. “We were getting a lot of good opportunities but had nothing to show for it. I don’t know what it did for Fredonia, but for us it was like a huge weight off our chest with the way it’s gone with Fredonia.”
“Anytime you go down a goal, especially on a penalty shot, you feel like you need to do something for your team and everyone stepped up,” Boots said. “The momentum definitely shifted in our favor.”
Oswego State would not surrender the lead, scoring the first four goals of the second period to jump out to a 6-1 lead with 4:59 to play in the period. Rodrigues scored his first of two goals in the period on the power play at 1:02, before scoring the team’s sixth goal of the game at 15:01. Sandwiched between Rodrigues’ two goals was a breakaway goal by junior forward Chris Brown and Boots’ first goal of the game on a 5-on-3 power play.
“We’ve been on a roll lately and guys put everything from last playoffs behind them,” Boots said. “We don’t want to go in the backdoor this year if we get to the regionals and hopefully the final four.”
Fredonia’s Brett Mueller halted the bleeding with a power-play goal with 42 seconds remaining in the second period to cut the Laker lead to four heading into the intermission.
The Blue Devils trimmed the lead to three with 6:57 remaining in the third period with Stephen Castriota’s power-play goal, the team’s second power-play goal of the game.
Any hope of a comeback for Fredonia was thwarted by two late goals by the Lakers to propel them to the SUNYAC Final and ended the Blue Devils’ season. Boots scored his second goal of the game at 15:05 of the third period before senior defenseman Hank van Boxmeer put an exclamation point on the victory with a power-play goal at 16:48.
Van Boxmeer’s goal ended Friesen’s night in net for Fredonia, as Jeff Holloway replaced him for the game’s final 3:12. Friesen lasted just 7:57 when the two teams last met on Feb. 10. Friesen finished Saturday’s game with 42 saves on 50 shots faced.
Hare finished with 17 saves on 20 shots faced to earn the win in net for the Lakers. Hare improved to 19-2-2 this season for Oswego State.
The Lakers finished 4-for-7 on the power play, while the Blue Devils went 2-for-5 on the power play.
With the victory, the Lakers advance to the SUNYAC Final with a chance to earn an automatic bid into the NCAA tournament, as well as their ninth SUNYAC Championship in program history. Oswego State will host archrival Plattsburgh for the second time in three weeks in a matchup of the past two SUNYAC Champions. The Cardinals survived a triple-overtime marathon against Buffalo State to advance to the finals. The two teams will meet on Saturday, March 3 at 7 p.m. at the Campus Center Ice Arena.
“We want to take care of our business,” Gosek said. “We respect Plattsburgh.”