To regain the top spot in Division I, the Liverpool ice hockey team knew that it had to subdue the leaders from Ithaca -- and do so within the friendly surroundings of State Fair Coliseum.
Yet when the Warriors got that opportunity last Tuesday night, it could not exploit it, as a late push by the Little Red produced a 5-3 defeat.
Going in, Liverpool was well-rested after nearly two weeks without a game. Ithaca, by contrast, had won its own tournament to back up the 3-0 shutout of West Genesee on Dec. 19 that put them in the league lead.
The Warriors, with its fast-paced attack, were fixated on solving Ithaca's tight defense and solving the Little Red's top-flight goaltender, Andy Iles, who carried a .955 save percentage into the game.
That didn't happen immediately. Much of the first period, in fact, was a defensive standoff, broken only when a Liverpool turnover turned into A.J. Fiore's goal late in the frame that gave Ithaca a 1-0 lead.
Just 13 seconds into the second period, though, Liverpool solved Iles as Justin Rowley scored off perfect feeds from Matt Wilson and Josh LaRose.
Less than a minute later (54 seconds, to be precise), Rowley struck again, off a feed from Dan Cibelli, and the Warriors suddenly owned a 2-1 lead.
Now it was Ithaca's turn to show some resolve, as Ben Lantz-Subtelny scored less than two minutes after Rowley's flurry to make it even again, 2-2.
Back and forth it went. In another exciting exchange, Sam Meyer found the net to put Ithaca in front 3-2, only to have Kevin Sattler score off Joey Wilson's feed just 28 seconds later to tie it again.
So it remained, 3-3, until the third period, and both defenses appeared to be settling down when, with 10:23 left, Ithaca's Alex Yale-Loehr struck the decisive blow.