For the first time since 2003, the Oswego State men’s ice hockey team is SUNYAC champions after defeating arch-rival SUNY Plattsburgh, 6-3, in the SUNYAC final at a sold-out Campus Center Ice Arena on Saturday night.
The Lakers received goals from six different players as Oswego State earned an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament and denied the Cardinals the opportunity to three-peat as SUNYAC champions. Oswego State will make its first trip back to the NCAA tournament since winning the programs first championship in 2007.
"It feels amazing right now," senior forward and captain Tyler Lyon said. "The emotions haven’t quite sunk in yet, but we have the whole night to live on it. It’s just an amazing feeling, especially in front of our home fans and our home crowd."
Freshman forward Paul Rodrigues struck first for the Lakers at 9:32 of the first period, beating Cardinal starting goal Ryan Williams. Rodrigues received a pass from freshman forward Luke Moodie and wristed a shot from just outside the far side faceoff circle over Williams’ glove side shoulder. The goal was Rodriques’ seventh of the season.
The Lakers received offensive contributions from players who aren’t noted for their goal scoring abilities. The third, fourth and defense lines for Oswego State scored five of the team’s six goals and registered four of the team’s seven assists. Junior forward Owen Kelly tallied the Lakers’ second goal of the game at 13:26 of the first period for the two-goal lead. Sophomore forward Andrew Mather found Kelly with a cross-crease pass and Kelly buried the puck past Williams’ stick side.
"Everybody is chipping in, which at this time of year is a great thing," head coach Ed Gosek said. "We’re not relying on one line to get it done."
The Cardinals came out fighting in the second period, outshooting the Lakers 16-6 and having multiple scoring opportunities in front of the net. Plattsburgh capitalized on their chances when senior forward and captain Andrew Willock beat Laker goalie Kyle Gunn-Taylor with 10:43 remaining in the second period. After a mad scramble in front of the Laker goal, Willock collected a rebound from junior forward Eric Satim and put the puck into the back of the net on Gunn-Taylor’s glove side.
Leading by only a goal midway through the second period, the Lakers netted three consecutive goals in a two minute span. Junior forward and SUNYAC tournament MVP Kevin Huinink, Mather and freshman defenseman Taylor Farris each scored a goal to stretch the Laker lead to four after two periods. Coming into the game, Huinink, Mather and Farris combined for seven goals this season. Farris’ goal was his first collegiate goal and led to the benching of Williams in favor of freshman goaltender Josh Leis during the intermission. Williams finished with nine saves on 14 shots.
"It doesn’t really surprise me," Huinink said of the third and fourth lines. "We can roll all four lines. That’s our biggest strength."
Junior forward Justin Fox sealed the conference title for the Lakers 51 seconds into the third period. From just inside the blue line, Fox’s slap shot ricocheted off the crossbar and off the back of Leis before crossing the goal line.
As the final buzzer sounded, the Lakers poured out on the ice, shedding their gloves, helmets and sticks as they mobbed Gunn-Taylor in the Lakers’ defensive zone. The 3,000 fans in attendance applauded loudly and many captured the moment with their cameras and cell phones. The team was all smiles as they accepted the SUNYAC first place trophy and skated toward the student section to salute their boisterous fans.
"Unreal," Kelly said of winning the SUNYAC title. "We knew we had a lot of new guys coming in and our goal from day one was to win the regular season, win the SUNYAC championship, qualify for the [NCAA] tournament. Right now we have all three of those and now it’s time to chase the big one."
"We had a jump back in our step, we played disciplined, played physical," Gosek said. "I can’t say that there was one player who had an off night."
Gunn-Taylor rebounded from a poor outing against SUNY Morrisville in the SUNYAC semifinals, shutting down the eighth-ranked offense (4.50 goals per game) by stopping 35 of 38 shots for his 17th win of the season.
"I prepared like I was going to be the starter," Gunn-Taylor said. "I wouldn’t have been disappointed either way but that’s the mind set you have to have when you’re a goalie. You have to think that you’re going to be the guy, and even when the puck bounces the other way you just got to roll with it and keep your head up."
"I thought he responded really well," Gosek said. "He reminded me tonight back when it was his first weekend against Potsdam and Plattsburgh. He was out there with something to prove, he was hungry."
With the victory the Lakers receive one of seven Pool A (automatic) bids awarded by the NCAA. Plattsburgh will have to wait until Sunday night to find out whether or not they will receive one of the three Pool C (at large) bids. The at large bids are determined by the highest remaining teams according to the NCAA rankings. Including one Pool B (independent team) bid, 11 teams are invited to compete in the NCAA Division III National Championship. The first round of the NCAA tournament begins on Wednesday, March 10 at the higher ranked team’s university. The second round of the NCAA tournament starts Saturday, March 10 and is also hosted by the university with the higher ranking. The final four teams remaining will head to Lake Placid for the Frozen Four on March 19 and 20.