Lakers fall short in title game

Senior forward Chris Muise checks an opposing player into the boards during the Lakers’ 5-3 loss to Wisconsin-Eau Claire in the National Championship. (Taylor Clock | The Oswegonian)
Senior forward Chris Muise checks an opposing player into the boards during the Lakers’ 5-3 loss to Wisconsin-Eau Claire in the National Championship. (Taylor Clock | The Oswegonian)

The Oswego State men’s hockey team advanced to the Frozen Four for the fourth consecutive year, winning the semi-final against Norwich University, 6-3, and falling to University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire, 5-3, in the championship game.

The win against Norwich, which at the time was the top-ranked team in the country, was a back-and-forth victory which the Lakers blew open in the third period. Norwich has also reached the Frozen Four for the past four consecutive years, but had never played against Oswego State.

The Cadets scored their first goal against Oswego State at the 20-second mark of the first period, when Pier-Olivier Cotnoir managed to wrist a shot above senior goaltender Andrew Hare’s shoulder pad.

“Obviously you don’t want to let a goal in that early,” Hare said. “As a goalie you try to erase it and you look back at the scoreboard and in your mind it’s 0-0.”

But Oswego State senior forward Paul Rodrigues was able to even the score less than three minutes later with a tip-in off a rebound. Senior defender Zach Josepher earned an assist on the goal at the 3:18 mark of the first period.

Shooting remained roughly even during the first period as Oswego State outshot Norwich 12 to 10. The second period got off to a slower start than the first, but at the 8:06 mark, the Cadets managed to regain the lead with a goal from Kyle Thomas who notched the point with a breakout pass from Corey Hale.

However, Oswego State was able to answer the goal almost immediately with a goal at the 9:29 mark from senior defender Tim Carr. Carr recorded this goal, his third of the season, off a shot near the blue line after a pass from junior forward Kyle Badham left Norwich’s goalie Chris Czarnota out of position. Tim’s brother, sophomore forward Chris Carr, earned an assist on the play along with Badham.

The score would remain tied at two as the two teams entered the third period, despite Oswego State outshooting its opponent 15-7 on the period. The Lakers were actually outshot in the third period, only managing to put seven shots on goal, but they made those shots count. Senior forward Chris Muise gave Oswego State its first lead of the game at the 6:14 mark of the third period on a sharp angle shot from the right faceoff circle that went over Czarnota’s left shoulder.

“I didn’t see it go in until I was kind of behind the net, but it was a great feeling,” Muise said. “(Senior forward Chris Brown) gave me a great pass crossing the blue line. I wanted to get off a quick shot and realized how far out their goalie was.”

Brown earned an assist on the goal. Senior forward Tyler Leimbrock would extend the lead about six minutes later at the 12:04 mark with what ended up being the game-winning goal. Leimbrock made a shot on goal that Czarnota was able to stop, but the squad kept fighting for another shot and was rewarded with the goal on a beautiful pass from junior forward David Titanic that gave Leimbrock the puck behind Czarnota who was too far forward to have any chance of stopping the goal. Muise earned an assist along with Titanic.

“Unfortunately I didn’t score on the breakaway, but we stuck with the play and just the little cycle we had going,” Leimbrock said. “I went behind the net, I was just trying to open up, spread them out, and actually Muise found Titanic in front and Titanic made a great play and gave me a wide open net.”

Oswego State was not done yet, however, as senior forward Matt Singleton managed to notch one more goal for Oswego State on a turnover he intercepted right in front of the goalie at the 13:47 mark. With an excellent deke, Singleton managed to get Czarnota out of position and wristed the puck past the Norwich goaltender’s left glove. With a 5-2 lead, the game may have seemed all but over, but Norwich managed to come back within two goals with only 2:11 left in the game on a goal from Corey Hale, assisted by Colin Mulvey. Hale beat Andrew Hare stick-side on a wrist shot from the left faceoff circle.

Norwich elected to pull its goalie in favor of an extra attacker with about two minutes remaining in the game in the hopes of getting the two goals necessary to force overtime. The decision did not pay off for the Cadets, as Muise managed to post his second goal of the game on a wrist shot into the open net.

“The second [goal] was an empty netter that I put in with Paul Rodrigues’ stick after I lost mine during the play,” Muise said. “Who knows if I would have put that in without the Player of the Year’s stick.”

Assists went to Brown and senior forward Chris Ayotte on the empty net goal.

This would end the scoring for the game as Oswego State took the victory with a final score of 6-3. Hare recorded 24 saves on 27 shots, while Czarnota registered 28 saves on 33 shots. Norwich had never faced more than 27 shots in a game this season before facing 34 from Oswego State.

“Norwich is very good in transition and we created some turnovers and were opportunistic,” said Oswego State head coach Ed Gosek.

“That was probably one of the biggest wins I’ve been a part of here at Oswego,” Leimbrock said. “Norwich being the number one seed, we came in as the underdogs and showed really that we possessed all the skills and initiative to be considered one of the best teams in the country.”

With their win against Norwich, the Lakers advanced to the NCAA Championship game to face the Wisconsin-Eau Claire Blugolds, who had earned their spot in the game with a convincing 5-1 win over Utica College the previous night. This was the first time in Eau Claire history that its hockey team had reached the Frozen Four, while Oswego State was in its second consecutive championship game. Eau Claire earned its spot in the Frozen Four by beating NCHA rival St. Norbert, two-time reigning national champions.

For the first half of the opening period, the Blugolds seemed to control momentum before Oswego State wrestled it away. At the tail end of a power play, a shot from senior forward Luke Moodie at the point generated a rebound that sophomore defender Bobby Gertsakis put away into the open net just after the power play ended. Senior defender Jesse McConney earned an assist on the play along with Moodie. Oswego State took its 1-0 lead at the 10:44 mark of the period.

Oswego State fans only had to wait another 31 seconds before the Lakers registered their next goal. Muise and Brown worked a 2-on-2 opportunity into the Blugolds’ zone, and Brown tossed a difficult pass to Muise in front of the goal as the two defenders attacked Brown. Muise one-timed the puck past Eau Claire goaltender Brandon Stephenson, and hesitated only a moment before he realized that he scored and began to celebrate.

Eau Claire diehards that trekked out 1,500 miles to see the game would not leave disappointed though, as the Blugolds managed t0 tie up the game before the first period ended. Team scoring leader Jordan Singer beat Hare at the 14:25 mark on the power play with a slap shot that Hare never saw through a screen.

“I blame myself for the first goal, as I took the penalty on the play which kick started their momentum and comeback,” Muise said.

With less than a minute left in the period, a fight for the puck in the right corner of Oswego State’s defensive zone resulted in the puck flying up in the air and landing right in front of Hare. Eau Claire’s Andrew Wilcox was there waiting; he flicked the puck at the net with a shot that beat Hare through the five-hole.

Oswego State was outshot 13-11 in the first period, but this would prove to be the last period that the Lakers were outshot. Unfortunately for Oswego State, its shot advantage did not translate into a lead. In the second period, the Blugolds notched the only goal of the period at the 6:29 mark. The puck again flew up into the air near center ice, prompting the Blugolds to stage a rush into Oswego State’s defensive zone in hopes the puck would bounce favorably. Wilcox got to the puck first, generating a 2-on-1 opportunity, giving the puck to linemate Singer after being pressured by the Oswego State defense. By this time, a second Oswego defenseman joined the play along with Eau Claire’s Daniel Olszewski. While the second defenseman attacked Singer, the Blugold forward managed to get a powerful shot off anyway that rebounded straight to Olszewski. Olszewski needed only to throw the puck at the wide open net to give Eau Claire its first lead of the game.

In the third period, the Blugolds extended their run of unanswered goals to four at the 7:20 mark with a breakout pass from Jared Williams that reached Devin Mantha as he split the defenders and beat Hare through the five-hole. Oswego State would score its last goal of the game at exactly the 10:00 mark of the third period. Gertsakis posted his second goal of the game on a slapshot from the point that found its way to the back of the net. Muise earned an assist on the goal.

Gertsakis had started a goal streak near the end of the regular season, scoring five goals in the last four games, but hadn’t managed to get any points at all in the playoffs until this game.

“I think it was just a matter of getting one,” Gertsakis said. “My dad always used to tell me when goals come, they come in bunches. Confidence helps a lot, but you still need guys to get you the puck and I was lucky enough to click with the right guys at the right times.”

With Oswego State at a one-goal deficit, the Lakers elected to pull their goalie in favor of the extra attacker with about a minute left to play. Eau Claire managed to win its defensive zone faceoff, however, and David Donnellan launched the puck into the opposite side of the rink. Eau Claire’s Kurt Weston won the foot battle to the puck, which had bounced off the end boards, and wristed the puck into the empty net as it rolled within inches of the front of the net.

The game ended with the final score of 5-3 and Wisconsin-Eau Claire earned its first national championship. Hare posted 20 saves on 25 shots in the losing effort, while Brandon Stephenson posted 27 saves in the win off of 30 shots.

“What we were able to do against Norwich last night, they were able to do against us,” Gosek said.

Muise and Gertsakis were named to the All-Tournament team after the game.

“Getting named to the All-Tournament team was an honor, I thought any guy could have received it from our defense,” Gertsakis said. “Tim Carr had a great weekend and an unbelievable goal on Friday. McConney and Farris had great weekends along with Josepher and Rivait.”

“Obviously it is a great accomplishment to be named to the All-Tournament team,” Muise said. “But I would trade that away in a second for our overall goal of a national championship. It was easy to forget about after seeing Eau Claire celebrate.”

Oswego State fans were well represented in the audience that weekend, as the semi-final game gathered attendance of over 1,500 while more than 2,000 were in attendance at the championship game.

“Oswego has the best fans in all of college hockey,” Gertsakis said. “It felt like a home game to us because of all their support. The fans always give us motivation and we wanted to win for them just as much as we wanted for ourselves.”

“To hear the ‘O-S-U’ chants throughout the arena; it definitely motivates you to try and make a big play or make something positive happen,” Leimbrock said. “I don’t think we’d have been as successful as we have been without the support of our fans, they definitely do not go unnoticed in our eyes and we thank them for that.”

The Lakers will be losing 14 seniors this year to graduation. Some may pursue careers completely unrelated to hockey and never play in any professional capacity again.

“As for me, I have always wanted to pursue my career once Oswego was done,” Muise said. “Now that it is over, the thought process needs to be reevaluated in a more serious manner; however I would love to go play in Europe to make some money and see the world.”

“If I was given the right opportunity to keep playing I would definitely consider it,” Leimbrock said. “However, I also would like to continue my education back home in Canada after I graduate from Oswego. Hockey isn’t something I could just give up on.”

Senior forward and captain Chris Brown moves up the ice with the puck during the Lakers’ 5-3 loss to the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire in the NCAA National Championship Game on March 16. (Taylor Clock | The Oswegonian)
Senior forward and captain Chris Brown moves up the ice with the puck during the Lakers’ 5-3 loss to the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire in the NCAA National Championship Game on March 16. (Taylor Clock | The Oswegonian)