For three consecutive years, Oswego won the SUNYAC regular-season title. For three consecutive years, it lost in the conference semifinals. This year, Oswego finally got an at-large bid into the NCAA playoffs and made the best of it, beating Norwich, 3-0, in the quarterfinals in front of a relieved partisan crowd.
“I can relax tonight for one night,” Oswego coach Ed Gosek said. “Then, tomorrow begin to prepare for our next game.”
Both Gosek and goaltender Ryan Scott have come under pressure in those three years for not being able to win in the playoffs. Scott redeemed himself not just by blocking 20 shots, but by getting a shutout.
“Feels great to get the monkey off my back,” Scott said. “The shutout is just icing on the cake. But, it wasn’t just me, it was all the guys blocking shots and clearing rebounds.”
Gosek took a different approach getting Scott ready for this game: He challenged Scott.
“For us to be successful tonight, Ryan Scott had to play better then the other goaltender, and he did,” Gosek said.
He did because Scott was ready to play. “I told Eddie I was going to have a great game,” he said. “I went out just to win, and not be afraid of losing. There was no fear tonight.”
The game was decided in a penalty-filled first period which saw Oswego shock Norwich with three goals.
Oswego came flying out of the gate, buzzing around the Norwich net. Seconds into the game Garren Reisweber was in deep, but couldn’t convert. Shortly afterwards at 1:50, Oswego did.
“I thought they started out well,” Norwich coach Mike McShane said.
With a delayed interference call behind the net, Darrell Levy was still able to get the puck to the front. Neil Musselwhite, from in close to the left of David Thompson, lifted it towards the far corner, beating the goalie over his right shoulder.
“I was actually quite tired,” Musselwhite said. “I saw my linemate Brad Dormiedy curl back towards the center of the ice and throw it behind the net, and Darrell Levy just fed it out to me at the doorstep.”
Oswego beat Thompson again over the right shoulder, but this time from far outside with a blast from the right point. Brendan McLaughlin did the honors while the Lakers were on a two-man advantage at 10:58.
“I was screened,” Thompson said. “I didn’t see it till it hit the post and went in.”
After that goal, Norwich started to take the play back, and nearly scored twice after Scott made the initial save. However, unlucky bounces prevented what appeared to be sure goals.
Tight game-calling by the referees cost the Cadets again as Oswego netted its second power-play goal at 15:25. McLaughlin had an open shot from the top of the right faceoff circle, but decided to pass it to Peter Magagna, who was skating down the left side. Thompson slid over while going to his knees, allowing Magagna to find the five-hole on a relatively soft shot.
“What surprised me is they were stick penalties,” Gosek said of the number of calls against Norwich. “That usually means they can’t keep up.”
After the red light and the penalty-box doors got a workout in the first period, things quieted down in the second period as the teams adjusted to the way the game was being called and each other. Each team only got five shots on goal, with a couple of those coming somewhat close. Neither team held a distinct advantage.
“Some of the penalties were justified,” McShane said. “Then, we recovered, and I thought we had some great chances. I told the guys to just settle down and play your game.”
Norwich’s comeback attempt was slowed in the third period with three successive penalties, two of which were for too many men on the ice. In fact, the normally well-disciplined Cadets got called for too many skaters three times in the game.
“I think what happened is the game became dysfunctional,” McShane said. “We had a couple of kids hurt, and our lines got mixed up.”
Oswego played a smart defensive game for the last ten minutes, including killing off two late penalties.
“We went over a few little things in practice for our penalty kill,” Scott said. “And it definitely showed. I was able to see the puck all the time. My hats off to the guys.”
Norwich, who also won its conference but lost in the ECAC East semifinals, ends its season at 20-8-0.
The Lakers, meanwhile, finally moved past a key playoff round with their second NCAA playoff shutout since the 2003 semifinals, when they beat Middlebury, 2-0.
“We’ll continue to work hard to make the most out of our playoff experience,” Gosek said.
Oswego improves to 21-3-3 and returns to the Frozen Four after losing in the finals in 2003 to Norwich. The Lakers will play the winner of the Bethel-St. Norbert game next Saturday at 12:30 p.m. CT in Superior.