In a clean, but tightly-called, penalty-filled game, Oswego prevailed over Utica, 5-2. With 28 penalties for 86 minutes producing 21 power-play opportunities (12 for Oswego), special teams was the key. The Lakers produced two power-play goals and two short-handed goals.
“It was certainly interesting,” Oswego coach Ed Gosek said. “I think in the past our guys would not have handled the adversity of penalty after penalty after penalty well. I think after we had some undisciplined play and behavior against Neumann, we’ve been talking and preaching all week long about accountability and being mentally tougher. You could become frustrated. Special teams was obviously the difference in the game. In games like that, you have to have your special teams perform well, and I thought our special teams was better than theirs.”
“Oswego deserved to win the game,” Utica coach Gary Heenan said. “We didn’t want a special teams game. We wanted five-on-five hockey. That certainly wasn’t the case tonight. It was a whole special teams game.”
In the first period, neither team was able to take advantage of numerous power plays, four for Utica and three for Oswego. There were opportunities, however. Posts were hit, Utica missed wide on a rebound shot with an open net, and during a scramble Oswego got the puck on the line, but not over.
“First period we had our chance to score and get some momentum,” Heenan said. “We had 63 attempted shots and like 20 on net [for the game].”
A four-on-four, short-handed, and power-play goal in the second period gave Oswego a 3-0 lead.
It all started at 4:45 with Tyler Leimbrock skating down the right side, letting go of a quick wrister and beating Nick Therrien stickside. Utica was prepared to go on the power play beforehand on a delayed call, but after the whistle blew, a Utica player got involved in a scrum and was called for hitting after the whistle, resulting in the man down for each team situation.
It was not the only time Utica negated a power play with after the whistle activity.
“Way too many offensive zone penalties,” Heenan said. “That’s inexcusable. It negates three power plays by taking penalties during power plays. That’s embarrassing.”
The Lakers scored twice more in the final two minutes with special teams. Leimbrock got his second due to Therrien completely misplaying the puck. Leimbrock shot it toward the front of the goal from the corner, striking the goalie’s skates. Therrien seemed to get handcuffed trying to clear the puck and left it right in the middle of the crease. Leimbrock skated in for an easy goal with his team down a man at 18:35.
“Huge as far as momentum and get a little breathing room,” Gosek said. “And then Whitelaw gets one right at the end of the second to get their guys back on their heels.”
That Jon Whitelaw goal came with 1.3 seconds left in the period. Whitelaw fired one from the blue line that bounced off the post and back out, hit the backside of the goalie, and then went into the net. The teams were skating four aside, but since Zach Josepher just stepped onto the ice from the penalty box, it was technically a power-play tally.
“Short-handed goal is a killer,” Heenan said. “You’re down one and we’re still in the game and you give up a shorty like that. And the power-play goal with a second left. It can’t happen and there’s the game.”
Utica finally got on the scoreboard at 8:21 of the final period. Mike Slowikowski shot it through a screen as Andrew Hare never saw the puck coming.
It only took 31 seconds for Oswego to get it back, as they immediately found themselves on another power play. Hank Van Boxmeer blasted a shot from the center blue line that blew past Therrien stickside. Utica then replaced Therrien with Evan Smith.
Utica tried to get back into the game by pulling its goalie while on a power play with about three minutes to go. It didn’t work, as Luke Moodie took a center ice shot into the empty net with 2:38 left.
Utica finished out the scoring on a great individual effort by Rob Morton. He skated through the entire Oswego team, and then flipped it by Hare at 18:53.
Hare made 17 saves for the win.
“I thought he was very good,” Gosek said. “Tracked the puck well, no rebounds. I thought he played extremely well.”
Oswego (12-2-2) returns to conference play hosting Cortland on Friday.
Utica (11-5-0) also returns to conference play on Friday, hosting Elmira.