By the time it ventured out to Skaneateles on Wednesday night to deal with the state's no. 1-ranked Division II team, the Solvay ice hockey team was riding a four-game win streak and had climbed to the .500 mark.
Yet the Bearcats had not done anything to place itself among the short list of possible Division II West championship contenders -- until now.
Everything went exactly to plan for Solvay at Allyn Arena, as it jumped out in front, then rode the flashy skills of goaltender Joey Poppe to a 3-1 win over the Lakers -- the first time this season that Skaneateles had lost in league play.
All season long, Poppe had been doing first-rate work -- but he had to, since the defense in front of him was still undergoing plenty of growing pains as Solvay struggled to a 3-7 start.
But the defense got better, and the attack took some pressure off Poppe as Solvay built that four-game surge going into Skaneateles.
Nick DeSteffan, Dan Gosson and Nick Downs serve as the anchors of the back line, with Joe Rathbun, Nick Manobianco, Sam Schneider and Alex Tripp offering depth. Together, they have gradually taken pressure off Poppe, leading to the Bearcats' increased success.
Here, all the hard work and improvement of the past month would manifest itself in the biggest Solvay hockey victory in years.
Neil Purcell gave the Bearcats a 1-0 lead in the first period, scoring off a feed from Tim Burgess. The two paired up again late in the period, as Purcell and Burgess sent perfectly-timed passes to Mike Smith, whose shot eluded Alex Richichi to make it 2-0.
Here, and in the second period, Skaneateles owned most of the scoring opportunities, putting heavy pressure on Poppe.
Despite this, Poppe stood up well, piling up 32 saves, and got even more of a cushion when, in the second period, Burgess scored off a well-timed feed from Purcell.