Strong defense and timely goals helped No. 1-seeded SUNY Plattsburgh defeat No. 2-seeded Oswego State, 2-1, win its first SUNYAC men’s ice hockey title since 2012, and punch its first ticket to the NCAA Div. III tournament since that same year.
The Cardinals, ranked seventh nationally, picked up two goals in the second period by tournament MVP Connor Toomey and all-tournament team member Connor Gorman to secure the win as the Lakers’ lone goal was also potted in the middle period by junior Morgan Bonner.
“They played well, but we, right from the opening draw, complicated things,” said Lakers head coach Ed Gosek. “We didn’t move our feet. We didn’t execute. I’m disappointed. Not in the loss, but in the way we played. I think, to an end, we had way too many guys who did not play well and some of that’s Plattsburgh. I don’t want to take anything away from them. We just could not make a stick to stick pass. We couldn’t skate. You get what you deserve. We didn’t deserve it.”
The Lakers, ranked third nationally, and Cardinals picked up right where they left off in this season’s White Out game during the first 20 minutes of play on Saturday. Both teams came out laying big hits, play moved quickly from one offensive zone to the other and each side had its fair share of chances early and throughout.
A lack of whistles kept the period moving quickly and both goalies on their toes. SUNY Plattsburgh outshot Oswego State in the period by a large margin. Laker sophomore Matt Zawadzki finished the frame with 12 saves, while Cardinal sophomore Brady Rouleau finished with four.
Oswego State was able to apply greater offensive pressure in the middle period and more than tripled its shot total. But, the teams continued to move back and forth early on.
At 4:09 of the frame, Laker sophomore Mitchell Herlihey laid a big hit from behind and was whistled for boarding, which opened the door for the Cardinals to strike first.
With 46 seconds remaining on the power play opportunity, Brandon Beadow sent a shot from atop the left circle on net that was finished off by Toomey as he redirected the puck past Zawadzki.
The Lakers had a few looks on net in the following minutes, but the defensive zone presence of the Cardinals’ made puck possession difficult to withstand. The Lakers also shifted up their forward lines for a second consecutive game, but Gosek did not see that as the reason for his team’s struggles.
“No, not working hard, it doesn’t matter who you’re with,” Gosek said. “You had some subtle changes from Saturday night. I didn’t see anybody not working last Saturday night, not executing. Passes were on the tape, we finished checks, we stuck with our systems and tonight we didn’t.”
Then, just past the midway point of the period, Bonner had Oswego State’s response on a rebound created by an initial shot by sophomore defenseman Stephen Johnson in the heart of the slot.
After a small time frame of Lakers’ pressure following Bonner’s tally, it was the Cardinals that regained the momentum behind another strong stretch by their defense.
“They played exactly the way we wanted them to play, keeping everybody outside, blocking shots, picking up guys out front, pushing guys out of my way, which is really nice,” Rouleau said. “Lots of times, it’s our guys who are in the way of me. But, they played unbelievable tonight. As frantic as it was at point, they were pretty bottled up and we did a really good job.”
As the period was winding down, Herlihey and sophomore Shawn Hulshof collided at their offensive zone blue line leaving the Lakers outnumbered as SUNY Plattsburgh broke the puck out and back the other way.
The eventual two-on-one chance featured Gorman and Toomey with the game’s first goal scorer picking up the assist on the second Cardinal goal this time around on the pass to the back door. The goal came with 2:33 remaining the second.
The third period saw little attack on net from either side as the two teams combined for just nine shots on goal. Both goalies made each save as the Cardinals continued to stymie the Lakers. Rouleau finished with 17 saves as Zawadzki finished with 22 saves of his own.
“He [Zawadki] probably out goaltended me a little bit because he had to,” Rouleau said. “He made a few huge saves and he makes them look really good too. It’s kind of fun to watch from my end trying to match his intensity and his saves. It pushes me to be that much more competitive.
The all-tournament included Oswego State’s Zawadzki, Brandon Adams and Stephen Johnson as well as SUNY Plattsburgh’s Beadow.
Without the conference’s Pool A automatic bid, the Lakers now await the upcoming selection show to see whether their season will continue into the NCAA tournament.
“I think our body of work justifies that we should be in. But, it’s left up to a committee and let’s hope that they feel we’re worthy,” Gosek said. “But, don’t make any mistake. If we don’t come with more urgency and passion than we did tonight, it ain’t going to make any difference. We weren’t hungry enough.”
Oswego State has been in six straight NCAA tournament fields and have reach the Frozen Four in each of those appearances. The NCAA Div. III men’s ice hockey selection show is at 10:30 a.m. on Monday.