PLATTSBURGH, N.Y. — Elation.
That was what Fredonia coach Jeff Meredith was feeling when Kraig Kuzma’s empty-net goal with 37.4 seconds remaining locked up Fredonia’s first SUNYAC championship since 1995.
The Blue Devils, led by tournament Most Valuable Player Kevin Amborski, went into the Stafford Ice Arena and skated away with a 6-4 victory over a Plattsburgh team that has made every SUNYAC final since 1991.
Amborski, who joined Fredonia midway through the season, made 38 saves, including a championship-winning stop with just over a minute to play. Plattsburgh forward Andrew Willock found himself all alone in front of Amborski and was denied by the MVP’s highlight-reel save.
“He’s huge. That save with a minute and a half left, that was huge. That was the championship,” said Meredith when asked what Amborski means to this Blue Devils squad.
As it turns out, “huge” is an understatement. He stopped 122 of 129 shots in the SUNYAC playoffs and in the process defeating the No. 4, No. 1, and No. 3-ranked teams, all on the road.
It was in those prior playoff games that Meredith said his players’ belief in themselves began to grow.
“We’ve got a lot of leadership and belief in our group and every period we played that belief got stronger and stronger,” Meredith said.
That belief continued to grow in the first period when Bryan Goudy’s shorthanded goal gave Fredonia a 1-0 lead just 2:54 into the game. Goudy crossed into the Cardinal zone and fired a laser from the top of the right circle which soared over Plattsburgh goaltender Chris Molinaro’s shoulder and into the top right corner of the net.
The Cardinals fought back, peppering Amborski furiously for several minutes, but were denied every time.
At the 11:38 mark, it was Goudy again, this time carrying the puck into the zone and finding teammate Neal Sheehan, who buried it past Molinaro to give the Blue Devils a surprising 2-0 lead.
Plattsburgh did answer before the first intermission when Ryan Busby roofed home a rebound off of a Nick Rolls slapshot past Amborski. Rolls’ slapper bounced back to a wide open Busby, who was sitting in the right faceoff circle as he put the Cardinals on the board with his power-play goal. The first period ended with a 2-1 Fredonia lead.
The second period was more of the same from Fredonia, which went up 4-1 just over four minutes in after a couple of power-play goals. Will Barlow made it 3-1 just 2:37 into the period when he sent a wrist shot on net from the blueline which found its way past a screened Molinaro.
Plattsburgh coach Bob Emery used his lone timeout to rally the troops, but would not get was he was hoping for.
It became 4-1 Blue Devils when last week’s hero, Matt McKeown, found the puck sitting in a wide-open left side of the crease after Molinaro initially saved a Neal Sheehan shot. McKeown poked in the rebound at 4:08 of the second period, sending Fredonia’s 150 or so traveling family, friends, and pep band into jubilation.
It was not smooth sailing after that, however, as Busby tallied his second goal of the night at 11:32 off a nice feed from Rolls. Rolls carried the puck down the sideboards, into the Blue Devil zone to the corner and found an open Busby between the circles to cut the score to 4-2.
Fredonia answered, however, when Joe Muli got what proved to be the game-winning goal as he beat Molinaro glove-side to increase the lead to 5-2 with just 7:04 to play in the second stanza.
The Blue Devils’ hopes of entering the third period with a 5-2 lead were dashed with one minute to play in the second. Plattsburgh defenseman Tom Breslin drove to the net, but lost control of the puck, which was picked up by C.J. Tozzo trailing the play. Tozzo sent the puck through several bodies before it came to rest in the back of the net behind Amborski.
With a two-goal lead entering the third period, the last thing the Blue Devils wanted to do was give up a goal in the first five minutes — especially against a resilient Plattsburgh team that had only lost one game in 2007. But of course, that is exactly what they did.
Just 3:28 into the final period, Plattsburgh sophomore Kevin Galan carried the puck out from behind the net to the right faceoff circle before beating Amborski five-hole to cut the lead to one.
It would remain that way, despite intense pressure by Plattsburgh, until Kuzma eventually sent the Blue Devils dancing with his empty-net goal.
The shots in the game were 42-25 in favor of Plattsburgh, many of which were quality saves by Amborski.
After the game, the players gathered on their respective bluelines for the tournament’s award ceremony. Joining MVP Amborski on the all-tournment team were Fredonia’s Barlow, Sheehan, and Goudy, along with Plattsburgh’s Busby and Pier-Luc Belanger.
Once the individual awards had been handed out, Fredonia was given what it has longed for since the days of Jeff Lupu, Gary Masocco, and Jason Sirota, a SUNYAC championship trophy.
The team then joined its fans in celebration which led to cheers of “F-S-U” and “We’re No. 1″ that echoed throughout the arena.
“They’re excited,” said Meredith. “It’s been a long time between championships at Fredonia.”