Rodrigues sends Lakers to title game with overtime winner

Junior forward Paul Rodrigues tallied the most important goal of his career to date, netting the game-winner 7:20 into overtime to give the Oswego State men’s ice hockey team a 2-1 victory over Amherst College in the NCAA Semifinals on Friday night at Herb Brooks Arena in Lake Placid, N.Y., earning them a spot in Saturday’s championship game against St. Norbert College.

After being controlled for most of the overtime session, the Lakers capitalized on their best scoring chance of the night. Junior forward Luke Moodie fed a pass from the defensive blue line to Rodrigues, who had snuck just behind the last line of defense for the Lord Jeffs. Rodrigues handled the pass cleanly and skated in front of the net looking for an angle before finally backhanding a shot that deflected off of Amherst goaltender Jonathan LaRose’s stick and hopped over LaRose for the game-winning goal.

Rodrigues’ goal snaps a two-game losing streak for the Lakers in the NCAA Semifinals over the past two years. Oswego State last played in Lake Placid in 2010, when it lost to St. Norbert in the final minute of the game. The Lakers lost last season in the NCAA Semifinals to Adrian College in Minneapolis, Minn.

The Lakers and Lord Jeffs played to a scoreless first two periods despite 19 shots on goal for Oswego State and 26 for Amherst. Both teams had their first power play opportunities of the game in the second period, but neither squad could find the back of the net. Amherst fired three shots on junior goaltender Andrew Hare during its power play opportunity, while Oswego State could only must a single shot on LaRose when up a man.

Oswego State finally broke the scoreless tie at 10:26 of the third period on senior forward and assistant captain Ian Boots’ wrist shot from the left faceoff circle. Without a shot on net through the first 40 minutes, Boots took control of the puck near center ice and carried it into the offensive zone, where he lifted a wrist shot over the glove of LaRose and into the top shelf of the net.

Trailing by a goal with elimination breathing down their necks, the Lord Jeffs tied the game at one with 22 seconds remaining in regulation on a rebound by Eddie Effinger. Amherst called timeout with 37 seconds left and pulled La Rose in favor of an extra skater. The strategy paid off, as Effinger was alone in front to knock in a rebound from Aaron Deutsch’s shot from the slot.

Oswego State was outshot heavily by the Lord Jeffs, 44-27, including a 15-7 margin in the third period. The Lakers had only been outshot five times all season entering Friday’s game, losing two and tying one. But Hare responded with a career-high 43 saves to keep the Lakers’ goal of capturing their second national title alive. LaRose finished with 25 saves, suffering just his second loss of the season.

The Lakers return to the national championship game for the first time since winning it all in 2007. No one on the 2006-07 roster remains with the team. The same cannot be said for the defending national champions, St. Norbert, who advanced to their third straight national championship game after defeating Norwich University, 4-1, in the other NCAA Semifinal. The Green Knights have 17 members from last year’s team and nine who have the experience of playing on two national championship games. St. Norbert’s defense has allowed three combined goals in its last five games.

Oswego State and St. Norbert meet on Saturday, March 17, at Herb Brooks Arena in Lake Placid, N.Y., for the NCAA Championship. The puck is scheduled to drop at 7 p.m.

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