GENESEO, N.Y. — In dramatic fashion, the Geneseo Ice Knights won the 2005 SUNYAC championship with a 5-4 overtime victory over Plattsburgh in the second game of the first to three point series.
The most dramatic moment came at 1:35 of overtime. The referee blew the whistle to call a penalty, but nobody seemed to know why. The capacity crowd was silent, and everyone could hear the ref count the players in red.
“One, two, three, four, five — six.” And Craig Neilson was still in the net for Plattsburgh.
“I thought maybe there was an interference call against us,” Geneseo coach Brian Hills said. “As soon as he called it, I saw there were a lot of guys out there.”
With seven seconds left in the penalty, Michel Bond jumped on a rebound at the left faceoff circle and fired the puck into the net as Neilson was unable to recover from the save he just made on a Mitch Stephens shot. The capacity crowd erupted as blue streamers poured onto the ice and sticks flew in the air.
“We didn’t tie. We flat-out won it,” Hills said.
It was a long, hard road just to get to overtime for Geneseo who never led until that final goal. Once again, the outstanding goaltending by Brett Walker, with some saves that were superhuman, and a strong power play unit (two for four on the night) enabled Geneseo to fight back for the win.
The series appeared to be heading to a third game on Sunday when Plattsburgh took a 3-1 lead late in the second period. With the score tied 1-1 heading into the middle stanza, Paul Kelly, playing this weekend after missing the Oswego series with an injury, scored at 3:33 to give the Cardinals the lead.
Plattsburgh applied constant pressure keeping the puck in the zone. It eventually ended up on Kelly’s stick in front of the net. He walked it in and fired it low beating Walker.
After Matt English took an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty late in the second, Plattsburgh scored on the power play at 18:28. Extreme pressure during the power play resulted in rapid fire shots. First from Justin Joy which Walker stopped. The rebound was fired back on net by Ryan Busby, and that too was stopped.
By now, Walker was way out of position to deal with the next shot, and all Bryan North had to do was settle the puck and shoot it into the open net.
With the 3-1 lead and Plattsburgh playing very well in the second period, it appeared the series would be tied.
“In the first period we didn’t play well,” Plattsburgh coach Bob Emery said. “I thought we turned the tide in the second period.”
However, before the period was out, another dramatic moment occurred.
North was called for interference. With just three seconds left in the period, Geneseo capitalized. Outside of the eventual game winner, this goal was perhaps the most important in the game.
“The difference in the game was the power play goal at the end of the second period with three seconds left,” Emery said. “It gave them all the momentum going into the third.”
The goal itself was anything but pretty. Neilson thought he had the puck underneath him while laying on his back. However, the puck was still loose, and it ever so slowly inched its way across the goal line. Mike MacDonald got the goal having taken the shot that started it all.
That momentum Emery talked about quickly paid dividends 1:36 into the third period. Geneseo maintained pressure throughout the shift. Trent Cassan skated the puck around the net and fed English in front who easily beat Neilson.
Despite blowing the two goal lead, Plattsburgh wasn’t giving up. At 5:13, North threw the puck towards the net from the right faceoff circle. It deflected off Jordan Smith standing in front of the net, and it wound up in the goal.
Geneseo wasn’t giving up either, and needing just a tie to win the series, they kept working hard. It paid off at 8:54 as they took advantage of a terrible giveaway by the Plattsburgh defense.
“We coughed up the puck too much in our own zone, and you are not going to win many games like that,” Emery said.
The Plattsburgh defender was checked behind the net leaving the puck for Brett Bestwick. He fed Chris Tarr who’s shot was stopped by Neilson. Jay Kuczmanski scooped up the rebound and beat Neilson who was now out of position.
“Always believed. Always believed,” Hills said of his team’s effort. “Just can’t say enough about these guys. We fell behind in the second period but we found a way to dig our heels in in the third and in overtime, and got the job done.”
“Credit Geneseo, they didn’t let up when we took the lead,” Emery said.
Now Plattsburgh was throwing everything and the kitchen sink at Geneseo. But time and time again, Walker came up with the save. The most dramatic one occurred with just under six minutes left in regulation.
T.J. Cooper went in on a breakaway and fired a perfect shot heading for the upper corner. It appeared too fast and too good of a shot for Walker to stop it. However, out of nowhere at the very last moment, Walker’s glove hand flew up and snatched the puck before it went it. It was Walker’s best save of the game, and perhaps of his career. It certainly was the most important save of his Geneseo career.
“Brett Walker was outstanding, no question,” Hills said. “The best thing that may have happened to our team was Walker not getting awarded first team all star. I think he’s been on a personal mission. He certainly proved how damn good he really is. I firmly believe he is the very best in the league.”
Walker ended up with 33 saves.
The game started out with a bang. After just 1:47 of play, the score was already 1-1. Justin Rafferty gave Plattsburgh the lead 23 seconds into the game. That was followed slightly more than a minute later by a Dan Schofield goal.
The most controversial moment of the game came at 7:56 of the first period when it appeared a Plattsburgh shot grazed the post going into the goal and then coming back out. The red light never went on, and though Plattsburgh started to celebrate and Geneseo appeared to stop for a second, Walker covered the puck in the crease. The referees met and ruled no goal.
This no goal was virtually forgotten when the dramatic moment in overtime occurred. So, just what did Emery think of the too many men penalty?
“We lack leadership,” he said. “We’ve lacked leadership all year. It’s ironic our season ended that way. Maybe we deserved to lose.”
Plattsburgh ends their season at 18-13-0. An uncharacteristic season for Plattsburgh, but Emery felt it was a tough conference this year.
“It’s a great league,” he said of the SUNYAC. “It’s full of teams that want to win. Good luck to Geneseo in the NCAAs.”
First Geneseo is going to do a little celebrating.
“It’s fun to go out with a win, not a tie,” Hills said. “[We're going to] enjoy the moment, enjoy the night. Then, it’s back to work on Monday. We’re going to give it a shot and see how far we can go. It’s a can’t lose situation because at the beginning of the year, nobody expected us to be in this spot.”
That spot is an NCAA playoff berth. Where they take their 18-6-4 record and who they play will be decided Sunday night.