OSWEGO, N.Y. — Note to all pastors in the Oswego area — do not plan on delivering a long sermon Sunday morning. If you do, your churches may empty out around noon, whether the service is done or not.
That’s because Oswego made sure that the SUNYAC championship will go to a third and deciding game, to be played Sunday afternoon at 2 p.m. ET.
In a game of extreme momentum swings, Oswego beat Plattsburgh, 7-4. The Great Lakers jumped out to a 6-0 lead before seeing it whittled down to two heading into the third period. An empty-net goal at the end sealed off the win, denying the improbable comeback.
“You’re not going to win many games being down 6-0,” Plattsburgh coach Bob Emery said. “But we gave it a good shot when it was 6-4.”
Oswego found space in the first period, allowing their shooters to have time to line up the shots. The first goal was a perfect example when Joe Carrabs pulled up high and let go a bullet on the ice that beat Curtis Cribbie on the far side.
John Hirliman, whose status was questionable coming into the game, scored the second goal. Oswego caught the Cardinals on a change, quickly turning it around at center ice. This allowed Hirliman to go in on a semi-breakaway with a slight angle. As soon as Cribbie started to go down, Hirliman quickly shot it over the near shoulder into the upper corner of the net.
“Just a gutsy effort by him,” Oswego coach George Roll said of his captain. “He led us tonight. If it wasn’t for him, we wouldn’t have won.”
That goal came at 15:10, and in those last five minutes, Oswego scored four times. It was the goal that made it 3-0 that may have been the turning point in the game because of what Plattsburgh did not do.
After another giveaway, Mike Lukajic picked it up on the high side of the faceoff circle and fired it through Cribbie on the power play. Lukajic has scored a goal in every playoff game this year.
With the score 3-0 and Cribbie not at all having the kind of game he’s had the five previous playoff appearances, it seemed time for a goalie change.
“I kick myself for not pulling him after the third goal,” Emery said. “I didn’t want to set Neilson up to fail. I thought we could get out of the period without any more damage.”
Emery discovered very quickly how wrong that thought process was — just thirteen seconds. Oswego came right into the zone after the center ice faceoff, and Brady Crooks simply let it fly beating Cribbie once again.
To add insult to injury, Oswego scored yet again with 25 seconds left in the period when they went in on a two-on-one during a power play. Matt Vashaw passed it over to Rob Smith, who originally had trouble handling the puck. He finally got it settled, and shot it between Cribbie and the pipe, as Cribbie was slow getting back over to his right.
“We just buried our chances tonight, unlike last night,” Hirliman said of his team’s start.
Craig Neilson did start in net for the second period, but initially he did not fare much better. He lost site of the puck after stopping a shot by Gary Bowman. Andy Rozak found it and knocked in the loose puck. It was another power play goal for Oswego, as they once again went .500 going two for four.
With the score 6-0 and past the halfway mark in the game, it would be understandable if most in the crowd already started making their Sunday plans. Then, Plattsburgh ripped off four consecutive goals.
“We just relaxed a little bit in the second period,” Hirliman said. “Which you can’t do in a championship game.”
The first goal came right off a faceoff won cleanly by Bryant Wilson to Joe Carpinone. Tyson Gajda overplayed the quick shot, and the puck went between his legs.
Less than a minute later, Doug Carr fired it past Gajda from the high slot area.
Less than two minutes later, David Friel finished off a two-on-one after the initial shot was saved by tipping in the rebound.
Shortly afterwards, Brendon Hodge, while on the power play, took a shot from the middle of the blueline that appeared to change direction and fool Gajda.
Suddenly, it was 6-4, and Plattsburgh did not need to win this game. A tie would be enough to give them the championship.
“We didn’t want to get them on a roll, because they are a momentum team,” Roll said, so he called timeout. What did Roll tell his troops? “Let’s get out of the period 6-4. We’re still up two goals.”
They almost didn’t as Plattsburgh continued to put pressure on the net. Despite letting up the four goals, Gajda made many great saves that prevented it from getting worse as Plattsburgh peppered him with 18 shots in that middle period.
“Tyson [Gajda] was there all night for us,” Roll said. “I never blamed him. Those were all quality goals.”
The third period saw Oswego tighten their defense. “Our defense was not good in the second,” Roll said. “I thought we did a better job checking in the third.”
That, and Gajda making the saves when necessary, allowed Oswego to hold on and not be victims of an unprecedented comeback. Don Patrick finished the game off with a rink length shot into the empty net.
Roll summarized the game appropriately: “Just one of those college hockey games — a lot of goals and a lot of momentum shifts.”
This is the third year in a row that the SUNYAC championship has gone three games, and Plattsburgh has been involved in them all. Oswego was the opponent last year, so it is a repeat but in a different location.
“We got to do a better job of not giving up odd man rushes,” Emery said looking ahead to the final game. “Tomorrow, the team that works the hardest and creates the breaks is going to win.”
Tonight’s game was played in front of another packed Romney Field House crowd of 2100. A few more may try to squeeze in on Sunday. Just remember, no long sermons.