GENESEO, N.Y. — A tie is all Fredonia needed in the second game of the SUNYAC Play-In Round, and a tie is exactly what the Blue Devils got. After clawing their way back from a 3-1 deficit, fifth seed Fredonia tied fourth seed Geneseo, 3-3, winning the series, 1-0-1, and advance to the semifinal round next weekend at Plattsburgh. It was Fredonia’s first playoff series win since 1997.
“Last night they did a good job setting the tone,” Geneseo coach Brian Hills said of Fredonia.
That tone didn’t change as Fredonia continued with the fundamentals — checking, goaltending, and successful power plays.
Fredonia immediately started throwing their bodies around which Geneseo was glad to return, resulting in a lot of contact in the first period.
Like the night before, Geneseo scored first. After a failed clear, the fourth line worked the puck down low. Frank Baumgardner was able to find the puck in the scramble and jam it in.
Also like the night before, Fredonia relied on their power play, going two for four. Their first attempt enabled them to tie it. After Geneseo applied some shorthanded pressure, Fredonia quickly turned it around and went in on a two-on-one. Matt Zeman, skating down the right side, kept the puck, and fired it into the near upper corner. It went in and out so fast, the refs hesitated a couple of seconds before calling it a goal.
Still in the first period, the Knights regained the lead when the puck slid out from behind the net onto the stick of Justin Corio. He shot a hard backhander that squeezed through the five-hole of Rob Stanley, who did not appear ready for the shot.
Less than a minute later, Geneseo apparently had a two-goal lead, but the whistle blew before it went in because the net was off.
The second period saw Geneseo swarm all over Fredonia with some excellent forechecking. For long stretches, it appeared the ice was heavily slanted towards the Fredonia net because they barely ever got the puck out of their zone.
The pressure finally paid off as the Knights took a 3-1 lead. Stanley dove out of his net to try to clear the puck away, but failed to do so. His defense wasn’t any help, so Jay Kuczmanski shoved it into the net.
“Geneseo was just bringing it,” Fredonia coach Jeff Meredith said of that point in the game. “I thought our guys did a good job of just kind of holding things and getting the momentum back and just start chipping away.”
The only time Fredonia had any breathing room in that period was when they were on the power play. And, you guessed it, it allowed them to get a goal back. This time it came quickly — six seconds into the man advantage. They moved the puck from a faceoff outside the zone to right in front of the net. After Kyle Bozoian’s shot was saved, Kraig Kuzma, standing at the doorstep, put the rebound past Brett Walker.
The third period was the exact opposite when Geneseo essentially went into a prevent defense mode. It was working for awhile. “We weren’t giving them anything,” Hills said.
But a defensive mistake did eventually give Fredonia something, and they capitalized. Dan Rohanna fired from the blueline, but it was blocked by a sliding defenseman. Rohanna picked the puck back up, and fired again this time a bit closer. Walker had trouble seeing it through the screen as it sailed by him. It was only the senior’s eighth career goal.
Now, the game was tied, which for Fredonia was as good as a victory since the first team to three points wins the series.
Geneseo had trouble changing their mode of play, and continued to sit back on their heels. However, they slowly started to create chances, but not enough before overtime. Desperately needing a goal, they were forced into the peculiar situation of pulling their goalie in the last minute of a sudden death period. They came close, but not close enough, and Fredonia, after just missing a last second empty netter, hung on for the tie which was like a win.
In their last three games, all against Fredonia, the Knights went 0-2-1. “We’ve got a lot of young guys in our lineup, and they have to learn that in the SUNYAC with 14 games, every game is a playoff game,” Hills said. “We probably shouldn’t even be playing tonight if we took care of business last Saturday.” Geneseo finishes the season at 14-7-5.
Meanwhile, Fredonia is flying high, partly thanks to a secret weapon the rest of the SUNYAC hasn’t caught onto yet — Rob Stanley. The freshman goaltender has just recently won the starting job, and hasn’t lost a game. He is now 6-0-1. Meredith repeated his statement from the night before, “He’s a calming influence back there.”
Beyond Stanley, who made 27 saves tonight, Fredonia is simply playing very good hockey. “The last couple of weeks we realized what kind of effort you have to put forth to compete successfully at this level,” Meredith said. “We told our team a few weeks ago that when we stop at the gas station to fill the tank up, sometimes we fill it with gas. Other times we put water in it. We just weren’t hitting on all cylinders.”
The Blue Devils are definitely hitting on all cylinders now.