Lakers hold on against SUNY Cortland; head on to ECAC West Semis

With the playoff atmosphere present in the Marano Campus Center Ice Arena, Oswego State defeated SUNY Cortland 2-1 in the quarterfinals of the ECAC West playoff tournament. Being that the playoff format is single-elimination, The Red Dragon’s season is now over, as the Lakers move on to play no.2 Plattsburgh State next weekend.

“Our playoff format is scary at best,” Head Coach Diane Dillon said. “With one game and done, anything can happen, and Cortland was fighting for their life.”

Physicality was the name of the game today, and despite many questionable plays that were not called for penalties, the two teams combined for a total of fourteen penalties. All three goals scored were on power plays.

“We didn’t get that last time from Cortland,” Dillon said on the physicality of the game. “You have to expect it. I was a little surprised myself, as were my players, at some of the things that were not called. The refs are working for both teams, I think they were fine. We made some poor decisions, and at the wrong times in the game.”

The game started off fast and physical, and the Lakers nearly capitalized very early into the first period. Erika Truschke took a shot on a deflection on the right side of the net, but Cortland goalie Deanna Meunier made a brilliant diving save to deflect the puck and rob Truschke of a goal.

The Lakers would get their chance however a couple of minutes later. On their second power play of the game, Alli Ulrich took a shot from deep that touched Andrea Noss and would eventually be put in by Olivia Ellis. The goal would be Ulrich’s and Noss’ 10th and 13th assists on the season, respectively. Ellis’ 11th goal of the year was also her 24th point on the season up to that point. She would finish this game with 25 points on the season, good enough for the team lead.

The second period didn’t bring any goals, but a heavy dose of physical play from both teams. Six penalties were committed in the second period alone, including many that overlapped, giving both teams a fair share of opportunities either down or up a player. However, both goalies, Bridget Smith of Oswego and Deanne Meunier of Cortland made their share of brilliant saves to keep the game a defensive battle.

The Lakers continued their season-long trend of starting the third period off strong, as Rachel Lenard scored 31 seconds in, creating a 2-0 cushion. The Lakers went 2-7 on power play.

The Red Dragons cut the lead in half with just under ten minutes remaining in the game, as Abbie Adams sent a wrist shot deep past the glove of Bridget Smith on a power play. Smith made great saves all day in tough situations, but allowed one to slip past her.

With 1:37 remaining in the game, Andrea Noss was called for tripping and was sent to penalty box. The Lakers would have to play the rest of the time a man down, and the Red Dragons pulled their goalie to make it a 6-4 advantage. That’s the second time this season that exact situation has occurred, as the Lakers found themselves in the same situation last month against Buffalo State. The Lakers have shown, however, that they can prevail in the toughest of situations.

“We’ve been working on penalty kill all year, and it’s one of our strong suits,” Dillon commented on how the game finished. We have confidence with it and we have confidence in (Bridget) Smith.”

The Lakers continue their success on penalty kill, and still hold the nation’s best penalty kill percentage with 93.2% (82-88).

One area where the Lakers struggled mightily today was on odd-man breakaways, and could have created a much larger gap in the score had they capitalized. Rachel Lenard found herself in a pair of these situations.

The first one was in the first period where she had a 1-0 opportunity but couldn’t put it past Deanna Meunier. The next one was in the third with a chance to increase the lead to three, and Ellis and Lenard had a moment of mis-communication. Ellis and Lenard were at a 2-0 advantage and were in great position, after she received the puck from Ellis, Lenard tapped it back to Ellis on the left side of the net, but Ellis wasn’t expecting it and it slide past her stick and Cortland escapes again.

Dillon believes Lenard should have taken the shot instead of passing it to Ellis.

“We always talk about being unselfish… Sometimes you need to shoot the puck. When we get to the semi-finals against Plattsburgh, we have to take advantage of that opportunity. We’ll be talking about that this week, when you get that opportunity, you shoot that puck.”

Dillon said that her team needs to be more opportunistic, as a few other players had advantageous openings but couldn’t follow through.

“The pressure was on us, we were the higher seed. Next week, the pressure is on Plattsburgh,” Dillon said.

Despite a poor conference record, the Red Dragons gave the Lakers all they could handle in this game. A big reason for that was behind the efforts of Deanna Meunier.

“She’s tough,” Dillon said, “and she’s going to give Cortland a chance to win. She’s one of the reasons Cortland has got back into the playoffs.”

Now going on the road to take on the second-best team in the nation, Plattsburgh State, the Lakers look to upset their rival in Elmira.

“This young club is making it to the semifinals and that next level. Is it a challenge? Yes. But this is a huge opportunity. I told the players in the locker room, we’re only two games away from the NCAA tournament.”

The Lakers have struggled against the Cardinals, but the gap is closing. With the team being the best it has been in program history, the time is nearing for when Oswego finally defeats their rival.

“They’ve beaten us in the past, hopefully we catch them off guard. For us to beat a team of that quality, everybody has to be firing on all cylinders, we have to bring it all together, and then they are beatable.”

The Lakers travel on the road to Elmira College, the site of their semi-final matchup against Plattsburgh State. Winning next week would be a pair of firsts: winning against Plattsburgh State and winning at Elmira’s home ice.

The game will be next Saturday, and the winner will go on to the ECAC West final against the winner of Elmira versus Buffalo State/Utica.