GENESEO, N.Y. — If hockey games were scored using time of possession, this game would have been awarded to Plattsburgh in the first period on a TKO.
However, hockey is decided by putting the puck in the net. Geneseo’s Brett Walker withstood a number of Plattsburgh’s onslaughts while the Ice Knights scored three power-play goals to take the first game of the SUNYAC finals, 5-2. Walker finished with 34 saves.
“That’s pretty standard Brett Walker play,” Geneseo coach Brian Hills said. “He gives us a chance to win almost every night.”
“Geneseo did a good job, defensively,” Plattsburgh coach Bob Emery said. “Walker played well.”
Plattsburgh came out of the gates so strong, that it took nearly five minutes before Geneseo ever touched the puck in Plattsburgh’s zone. However, Walker stopped shot after shot. Plattsburgh also had the first power play thanks to a hook by Dan Schofield, but it was short lived as Brett Kemp took a roughing call during it.
Shortly after that, Plattsburgh took two successive penalties, Brett Gilmour for hooking and Bryan North for obstruction interference, giving Geneseo a five-on-three power play, and their first real offensive opportunity.
It wasn’t wasted. Using perfect puck control while waiting for the open man, Nick Onody passed it from the right point down to Chris Tarr off the side on the goal line. Tarr quickly fed Brett Bestwick across the crease, and Bestwick had an easy shot before Craig Neilson could get across the net.
Once the penalties were over, Plattsburgh went back to controlling the puck in Geneseo’s zone. It finally paid off at the 12:57 mark. Off a faceoff deep in Geneseo’s zone, the puck went into the corner. Anthony Leccese quickly passed it back in front where Conor McDonough stood in the slot. He one timed it up high as Walker went down to play it.
Whenever Geneseo did enter Plattsburgh’s zone, they usually created a decent scoring opportunity. So, when the period ended knotted at one, Hills was not too concerned.
“They came out pretty good in the first seven minutes,” he said. “We kept our poise, and we hung in there. As the period grew we seemed to get a little stronger. They had a lot of possession, but we had some good scoring opportunities.”
Plattsburgh quickly took the lead early in the second when Kemp deflected a pass from the corner by Bryant Wilson over Walker’s glove. At this point, it appeared it would repeat their formula from the Oswego series — go down a goal, come back to take the lead, and then clamp down defensively.
However, this time, Plattsburgh continued to take penalties, and Walker continued to thwart the Cardinals’ offense. Kemp’s goal would be Plattsburgh’s last of the night.
Geneseo tied it on the power just over four minutes after falling behind. After a couple of shots were saved by Neilson, the last one through a crowd, he was unable to find the rebound and was out of position. Trent Cassan pounced on it first, and easily put it into the unguarded net.
“Anytime you get to the league finals, you got to have good special teams,” Hills said. “Your power play has to be good. Your PK has to be good. Your goaltending has to be good. We had the opportunities, got good movement, and came up with big goals.”
“Special teams are a big part of the game,” Emery said. “We know our game is five on five, getting the puck in deep. When we did do that, I thought we did a good job.”
Late in the period while Geneseo skated shorthanded, Mitch Stephens went in on a semi-breakaway down the left side. His shot smashed off the far post so loudly, it could probably be heard all the way up in Plattsburgh, and sent the crowd murmuring in disappointment.
Special teams continued to play a role early in the third period. With Gilmour sitting in the box for tripping, Jay Kuczmanski skated the puck to the upper left faceoff circle and let rip a wrist shot that beat Neilson, who appeared to be expecting a pass, in the far upper corner. Geneseo had the lead thanks to their third power play goal.
“I thought we got off our game plan at times and bad penalties cost us,” Emery said. “Our penalty kill wasn’t that good.”
In all, Geneseo went 3-for-6 on the power play. Last week against Fredonia, the Ice Knights scored five power-play goals in that series in 12 attempts.
Geneseo took advantage of a Plattsburgh defensive mistake midway through the third period to put the game away with a rare even-strength goal. After a giveaway deep in the Cardinals’ zone, Stephens fed MacDonald in the high slot area. MacDonald walked in and fired a wrist shot that Neilson had no chance at.
Plattsburgh really started to pour the pressure on, and Walker had to come up with some of this biggest saves all night, as the minutes ticked off the clock.
The Cardinals had one more good opportunity when they pulled their goalie, but eventually made a terrible back pass to the point man that was stolen by MacDonald. He fed a streaking Cassan for the breakaway and the easy put in for the empty netter.
After the game, Emery was succinct.
“No excuses,” he said. “Geneseo did a good job.”
Plattsburgh has to win to force a third game while Geneseo only needs a tie to take the championship. However, don’t expect the Ice Knights to change the way they play.
“I’m a big believer you don’t change your routine just because it’s the playoffs,” Hills said. “Don’t be getting dye jobs in your hair or getting special hair cuts or anything like that. It’s the same thing when you play the game. You continue to play your style of game. I don’t want to play for a tie. That’s a dangerous thing to do. You have to go out and play for the win and try to get the job done.”
Game 2 is Saturday night at Geneseo at 7 p.m.