“We’ve been thinking about them since last year at this time,” Oswego’s Brendan McLaughlin said. “We knew exactly what it felt like last year, and we like this feeling a lot more.”
McLaughlin was referring to Fredonia’s upset win a year ago in the SUNYAC semifinals in Oswego. The Lakers didn’t want any part of that this time around.
In fact, Oswego had not won a SUNYAC playoff game since 2004. This meant that the senior class, or anyone else on the current team, never experienced a postseason conference victory. Amazing considering the success Oswego has had, including winning the national championship last year.
“There’s not a guy in the room that’s ever won a SUNYAC playoff game,” Oswego captain Tony DiNunzio said. “It was our mission to do that.”
Mission accomplished. Despite what appeared like dÃ©jÃ vu all over again, Oswego finally solved Fredonia’s goaltender, Kevin Amborski, and defeated the Blue Devils, 4-1.
Amborski, somewhat of a surprise starter after Pat Street played so well down the stretch, once again kept Oswego at bay with his strength being an amazing glove hand.
“This is a building that Kevin’s played well in, the last two times he’s played there,” Fredonia coach Jeff Meredith said. “I thought Kevin played well enough for us to be successful.”
However, two quick goals within 1:13 at the end of the first period essentially sealed the deal for Oswego.
It started at 18:19 when Peter Magagna burst to the net and redirected a backhand centering pass from Ryan Ellis. That line combined again when McLaughlin charged the net to put in a rebound.
“We were fortunate that McLaughlin’s line got one at the end of the first there and got some momentum,” Oswego coach Ed Gosek said. “Then, we were able to throw them out again and get another one.”
Oswego out shot Fredonia in the second period, 17-4, but Amborski was on top of his game. The Lakers finally broke through at 6:51 of the third on a delayed penalty when DiNunzio scooped in a loose puck on the side of the net.
The Blue Devils broke the shutout shortly afterwards at 8:17 on the power play. Bryan Goudy knocked in a rebound after a hard shot by Colin Sarfeh.
C.J. Thompson scored the final goal at 9:58, also on the power play, redirecting a pass from DiNunzio.
All the goaltending attention might have been on Amborski, but the reason Oswego prevailed was because Ryan Scott made some key saves when his team needed it the most.
“We’re down there peppering their kid, and he’s making saves and they come down, and that’s when you need your goalie to make the big save,” Gosek said. “This time of year, your goalie needs to be your best player, and once again he was our best player.”
Scott ended up with 19 saves as Amborski stopped 40.
Despite not repeating as SUNYAC champions, in some ways Fredonia ended a more successful season finishing at 15-9-3.
“I think we had a great year,” Meredith said. “We graduated six seniors that won a championship last year. And I think we quietly put together a great year. We went from fifth place last year to third place this year. We beat Plattsburgh in Plattsburgh. We tied Oswego in Oswego. We won at home in the playoffs. I think we had a great year.
â€œThe whole credit goes to the guys. This is the easiest team I’ve ever had to coach. I couldn’t be happier how this year went. The fact remains our seniors will leave campus as champions in their career. And there aren’t a lot of teams around the league that can lay claim to that.”
For Oswego, their seniors finally have a chance to grab a SUNYAC title.
“Definitely feels like we got the monkey off our back,” McLaughlin said.
Now, for mission number two — overcome the Plattsburgh jinx, a team they have not beaten in the playoffs since 2003, the last time Oswego won the SUNYAC championship.
Back In The Finals
Last year, despite finishing in third place, Plattsburgh hosted the SUNYAC championship thanks to the top two teams getting knocked off in the semifinals. This season, Plattsburgh earned home ice advantage before the playoffs started, as long as they were not a victim of an upset.
The Cardinals made sure that did not happen as they shutout their North Country rivals, Potsdam, 6-0.
“I don’t think the score was any indication of the game,” Plattsburgh coach Bob Emery said. “We definitely controlled the game, but it was not a 6-0 game. Our goalie played very well.”
Potsdam started out slow, and Plattsburgh wasted no time, scoring twice in the opening 5:11. First, it was Dylan Clarke on the power play tipping it past Rob Barnhardt. That was followed by Clarke feeding Andrew Willock who converted in front of the net. Phil Farrow got another power play goal with 1:31 left in the first to make it 3-0.
“The power play,” Potsdam coach Aaron Saul said about the difference in the game. “They were four for seven and we were zero for eight. Plattsburgh’s power play was very good.”
That power play scored the last two goals of the game. But first, Kyle VanDermale scored a breakaway goal at 8:01 of the second. Nick Rolls made it 5-0 on the man advantage at 13:42.
The third period saw Potsdam play their best thanks mainly to a succession of Plattsburgh penalties including a full two minutes of 5-on-3. However, Bryan Hince was equal to the task.
Hince wound up with 26 saves. The last time Plattsburgh got a playoff shutout, it too was 6-0 against Potsdam in 2005, during the SUNYAC quarterfinals.
“I thought we had a poor first period, played better in the second, did great in the third,” Saul said. “Their goalie made some very good saves.”
“I give a lot of credit to Potsdam,” Emery said. “They never quit. They played hard the whole game.”
Plattsburgh also appeared to be resting on their 5-0 lead, coasting through the third, much to the consternation of their coach:
“As a coach, if I could solve the problem of players playing to the scoreboard, I’ll be a genius.”
The Cardinals did wrap the game up with a late goal. Rolls got his second of the night to wind up the power play scoring with seven seconds left in the game.
“Plattsburgh was a team that was definitely better than us on Saturday, and they took it to us,” Saul said.
The Bears may have finished on a disappointing note at 10-13-4, but this program is undoubtedly heading in the right direction.
“Definitely positive,” Saul said. “Step in the right direction. Also, playing in a game with that magnitude with that crowd and the way they manhandled us taught us how much harder we have to work. But, we know we need to get better. We need to bring in some new players along with the core we have now, and we should get better.”
Conference Championship Game Preview
For a SUNYAC marquee attraction, you can’t beat an Oswego-Plattsburgh final. These teams fought in some epic series for the title between 2002-2004, and then in the semifinals the next two years. They missed each other last year in the playoffs.
And now, they just have one game to decide who hoists the trophy. If the game is tied, they will go to 20-minute periods until someone scores.
If there are still tickets remaining, they can be purchased prior to the game at Angell College Center Information Desk on the Plattsburgh campus, or at the door before the game. The cost is $5 for adults, $3 for children under 18, and $2 for SUNYAC students.
“We’re looking forward to going up there,” Gosek said. Who isn’t looking forward to this game?
Oswego (13-2-1, 18-5-2) at Plattsburgh (14-2-0, 22-4-0)
Oswego hasn’t had much success recently beating Plattsburgh at home in the playoffs. Perhaps, then, going up to Stafford Arena may be the way to go for the Lakers.
“They’re a quality team,” Gosek said of his rival. “They won the league. They are second in the country. It’s nice going up there. The pressure is on them. They are favored. They’re the team to beat.”
However, it’s not like Plattsburgh are slackers at home. With the exception of last year’s surprise home lose to Fredonia in the finals, the Cardinals haven’t been eliminated at home (they have lost some home playoff games, but they didn’t lose the series) in the SUNYAC second season since 1996, and that was in the mini-game against Potsdam after two ties. If you want to count when Plattsburgh was eliminated at home in a full SUNYAC playoff game, you have to go back to … to … to … well, forever.
Needless to say, when you get the two elite teams in the conference facing off, you are going to have the top two teams in most of the conference statistical categories. What’s impressive is Oswego and Plattsburgh are near the top nationally in many categories, too.
They are the only two teams in the nation to rank in the top ten in team offense (Plattsburgh third with 4.81 goals per game and Oswego eighth at 4.40) and team defense (Plattsburgh fourth allowing 2.00 goals per game with Oswego sixth allowing 2.12). No wonder these two teams are ranked in the top five in the USCHO.com Division III poll with Plattsburgh moving up to second and Oswego jumping to fifth.
“This is a championship game, so it comes down to defense,” Emery said. “The best team defense is going to win.”
One stat displays a potential force meets force scenario. Oswego has the nation’s third best penalty kill at 88.1% while Plattsburgh has the fourth best power play at 29.0%. On the flip side, Oswego’s power play is a dismal 18.2%, and the Lakers won’t get many opportunities. Plattsburgh is the second least penalized team in the country at 10.3 minutes per game.
Poor power play or not, the Lakers can score at will.
“Oswego is going to be the most talented group of forwards we’re going to play all year,” Emery said. “Otherwise, overall, our teams match up very evenly.”
Individually, too, they excel â€” especially in net. In the position that matters most in the playoffs, their starting goalies are six and seven in the nation in GAA with Ryan Scott at 1.95 and Bryan Hince at 1.98.
“Whoever plays best in net will be the game winner, no doubt about that,” Emery said.
Gosek also thinks it will come down to goaltending. He has a certain perspective on who might have the edge.
“We think we match up well,” he said. “They have very skilled forwards. We have skilled forwards. They have good team speed. We have good team speed. Their D are solid. Our D are solid. Their goaltender is very good. Our goaltender is very good. And, he’s a senior.”