BROCKPORT, N.Y. — It’s been a long time since Brockport played with playoff intensity, emotion, grit, and a bit if desperation. It’s no coincidence that Brockport has not made the playoffs for an equally long time. Tonight, Brockport played as if their entire season was on the line. It was. And they came through.
Brockport defeated second place Geneseo, 2-1, in the last game of the season to clinch the final playoff spot, their first since 2000. Greg Van’t Hof, once again getting the start over an injured Todd Sheridan, played his strongest game of the season, making 25 saves, and more importantly, the big saves when his team most needed it.
“We were so disappointed the way we finished against Fredonia,” Brockport coach Brian Dickinson said. “We had a hard, physical practice this week. We really beat ourselves up, because we knew the type of game Geneseo was going to play.”
“They probably worked as hard as any team who had their backs up against the wall,” Geneseo coach Chris Schultz said. “This year, I don’t think people gave Brockport credit for how hard of a working team they are. They proved that tonight.”
The true measure of Brockport’s entire season came in the third period with the team leading 2-0. Instead of sitting back on their heels waiting for Geneseo to perform a comeback or make the inevitable mistake they seemed prone to in the second half of the season or lack the confidence and self esteem to believe they could hang on for the win, Brockport took it right to Geneseo the entire final 16 minutes of the game.
In fact, Brockport outshot Geneseo in the final period, 14-7, following the old adage, the best defense is a good offense.
Brockport got the two-goal lead on one of the prettiest goals they scored all year. Sean O’Malley intercepted a pass, banked it off the boards to get around the defender, and skated into the zone alone.
He was caught, but instead of panicking, he cut back to his left letting the defender fly by. O’Malley then calmly went to the net, cut to the left sweeping the puck away from Derek Jokic, and backhanded it in.
“That was a great goal,” Dickinson said. “He wasn’t flustered when the kid tried to hook him. He’s got great hands.”
Geneseo was finally able to crack Van’t Hof with 5:11 left to go in the game. A slight breakdown in Brockport’s defense left Mike MacDonald open for a quick pass from Mathieu Cyr. MacDonald one timed a blast that blew by Van’t Hof.
However, once again, instead of falling apart, Brockport took it right to Geneseo, outhustling, outhitting, and outworking the Ice Knights with a relentless forecheck.
Schultz was impressed with his opponent: “I didn’t see a guy who was wearing the white jersey who was holding anything back.”
“I was impressed the way we handled the 4-5 minutes after they scored,” Dickinson said. “It was nice to play almost the whole last minute in their zone.”
Geneseo finally were able to pull their goalie with 17 seconds left, and though they did produce a close call, the Golden Eagles were not to be denied.
Like last week, Brockport had excellent chances in the first period, but came away empty. Minutes into the game, Ricky Gates received a cross crease pass and fired a strong one-timer, but Derek Jokic got across to get a piece of it. Gordon Pritchard missed on a shorthanded semi-breakaway.
Halfway through the period, Blake Reilly had an open net thanks to a fat rebound. His shot was good, but Jokic dove across the goalmouth, extended his stick, and just got a piece of it.
The Golden Eagles’ defense for the most part was able to shutdown the strong Geneseo offense, even when the Ice Knights had a two-man advantage. The period ended with goose eggs on both sides of the scoreboard.
The ice was finally broken when Brockport took advantage of a five-minute major against Steve Jordan for hitting from behind with another Geneseo player already in the box.
The Golden Eagles did a good job of moving the puck around, finding Steve Seedhouse down low off to the side. Seedhouse flipped it high off the crossbar just barely past Jokic at 2:10.
“It’s nice we cashed in finally on a five-on-three,” Dickinson said.
Brockport squandered the rest of the major powerplay by committing two successive penalties themselves, causing them to play shorthanded. However, Van’t Hof continued to stonewall the Ice Knights.
As the middle period continued, Geneseo started applying more and more pressure on Van’t Hof, forcing the netminder to make a great kick save followed shortly afterwards by a lightning quick glove save.
“He played extremely well,” Dickinson said. “Couple of flurries where he was square to the puck. He handled rebounds well all day.”
This set the scene for the third period which will long be remembered by the Brockport players. The Golden Eagles’ (7-11-7, 3-6-5) reward is to travel all the way to Plattsburgh Tuesday night for the play-in round of the SUNYAC playoffs.
“It’s been a roller coaster the last 2-3 weeks,” Dickinson said. “We’ve accomplished one huge goal. Now, we have to settle down and go into a hostile environment.”
Geneseo (16-9-0, 10-4-0) gets a bye for the first round and awaits their opponent at home next Saturday.