The Final Stanza
Even with six days to digest the SUNYAC Championship Final defeat, it is still a tough one to swallow for most. Oswego State owned the shot attempt differential battle, 60.8 percent of five-on-five attempts from my total, but again failed to beat its North Country rival. SUNY Plattsburgh won for the second time in the Marano Campus Center by being opportunistic and, quite frankly, outworking the Lakers.
Despite all of this, Oswego State was just a few inches or bounces away from being crowned SUNYAC champions.
It was a 1-0 contest heading into the third period with the game still there for the taking for either team, much like the first meeting in Oswego this season. Then a Cardinals’ power play goal slowly started to change the landscape.
Mitch Emerson took a penalty at the 2:25 mark of the third period. Just 12 seconds into that man advantage, SUNY Plattsburgh made it 2-0. Evan Lindquist’s shot bounced off the end boards and right onto the stick of Joe Drabin, who barely whacked it past the left pad of Matt Zawadzki.
Emerson got just one shift after this.
Oswego State was not out the game by any stretch of the imagination. Cole Stallard was sent off for tripping and the Lakers’ previously 0-4 power play followed that up with one of the best looking man-up chances in the game.
They did not allow SUNY Plattsburgh to clear the zone off the faceoff, got set up and had no trouble connecting passes through or around any part of the diamond. Kenny Neil was a big factor in this and was great down low as usual.
This sequence from the Real Deal was beautiful. Charles Barber took a terrible route to Neil to allow him to go to work. Neil’s quick change of direction behind the net led to Shawn Hulshof getting some extra room in the low slot to get off this really good look.
Then Neil won this race to the puck, while evading the net, to keep the play alive and eventually set up their first goal. If he does not get to this puck, the Cardinals most likely clear and the power play may have had a totally different outcome.
Never stop moving your feet, ladies and gentlemen.
Finally, Neil shoveled the puck to Hulshof and it was a 2-1 game with 16:13 to go. That is more than enough time for an offense, one that has been inside the top five in the nation in scoring all season, to get a few more.
The next power play was not as kind to the Lakers as the one prior. SUNY Plattsburgh was all over the ice and did not allow the Lakers to get comfortable at all. A total flip of the script from less than two minutes earlier.
The Cardinals won this puck battle and cleared the zone. They were successful with this on more than one occasion.
Stephen Johnson failed to connect with Alex Botten on this pass that led to a dreaded power play icing call.
However, the Lakers nearly capitalized on the very next sequence. Botten won the draw to the right of Zawadzki, beginning the breakout. Botten then got the puck along the wall, skated to center ice and sent a perfect pass to Hulshof between two skaters, springing a two-on-one.
The pass across to Chris Waterstreet was not completed though. Who broke it up? Ross Sloan, the center who lost the draw that started all of this.
Watch his path on this play, keeping his head on a swivel to keep on a tab on where each Laker is.
Shades of Lebron?
Playing on the road against the Lakers this year, the Cardinals were successful, in part, because they were efficient.
SUNY Plattsburgh did not have numbers on the rush here, but took advantage of some puck watching from Jody Sullivan. He failed to cover Antoine Desnoyers slipping backdoor, and Stallard showed off his hands by knocking this puck down and putting a no-look, backhand pass to the slot.
This goal was the difference. Sullivan did not see any ice after this, and the bench began to shorten. Botten slid up to play with Waterstreet, and David Ferreira or Cam Berry played on the wing with those two for any remaining shifts they had together.
“Off the rush, where they like to get most of their offense, they just got one more than we needed to keep out,” Chris Raguseo said. “I put a lot of responsibility on myself for that, allowing their guys to come over the blue line, give them an extra split second than they need.”
That is the one extra goal they needed to keep out.
The Final Ticks
The Lakers needed a goal, at the latest, by around the three minute mark to have a chance to tie it. Head coach Ed Gosek was handcuffed toward the end of the game because they failed to do so. He took the timeout with 1:18 left in regulation.
After the game, Gosek said he would probably have handled the end of the game the same way if they played again tomorrow. You cannot argue with his school of thought either. The Cardinals had four successful zone entires, which included a partial breakaway from Kyle Hall, two dump-ins and one shot on goal from the 4:00 minute mark until the timeout.
“I’m a big believer [in] taking a timeout, either a, to stop their momentum or to try to get us organized,” Gosek said. “The timeout that we had, I’m not a big believer in doing things that we don’t work on, that they don’t know what’s expected. They’ll tell you that. We want to be prepared for every scenario. And when Plattsburgh was controlling the play, and I don’t know, but if I look at the last four minutes, which is when I would consider taking the goalie out being down by two goals, it wasn’t like we had them hemmed in, they’re gasping, struggling to get out of their own end. They’re walking out of their own end fairly unscathed and getting grade-a chances at an empty net.”
The Lakers were eventually able to score to make it a 3-2 game, but the clock ran out on them. Scoring twice in the final minute really was a long shot.
It is not all bad though. They earned a Pool C bid and play Hamilton College Saturday night, a second chance at glory.