Despite all of the defensive lapses, all of the struggles in goal, and all of the difficulty it had just to get into the post-season, the Liverpool ice hockey team now finds itself back in the state Division I tournament for the second year in a row.
To avoid the long path to the state final four in Utica on March 10 and 11, the Warriors would need to upset Ithaca in Wednesday night's Section III championship game at Allyn Arena inside the Skaneateles Community Center.
The Little Red beat Oswego 4-2 in Monday's semifinal after the Buccaneers survived a three-way tournament with Baldwinsville and West Genesee to join the fray.
Liverpool secured its pass forward the hard way, going to Auburn last Saturday night and riding Justin Rowley's offensive heroics, plus an improving defense, to a 3-1 victory over the Maroons in the Division I semifinals.
The team had not been able to practice much since the 5-5 tie with Oswego on Feb. 12 that clinched its playoff spot. Heavy winter snows had prevented much activity.
However, that also gave the Warriors a chance to rest and energize itself again, plus draw upon its run to the sectional Division I title a year ago to ready itself for Auburn, a team it beat on Feb. 1 at State Fair Coliseum in a crucial turning point.
Mainly, Liverpool established itself by making sure that Matt Chadderdon, the Maroons' main threat and Division I's top scorer, never got much space. Two defenders shadowed Chadderdon all game long, and it proved to be quite effective.
Meanwhile, the Maroons' defense inadvertently got Liverpool going. In the first period, with the game still 0-0, Eric Filapello's slap shot was blocked by an Auburn player, but the puck squirted free long enough for Rowley to fling it past goalie Tommy Trowell, putting the Warriors in front.