Through two long battles in the span of a month, the West Genesee and Ithaca ice hockey teams had done absolutely nothing to separate from each other.
Then, in overtime of last Saturday's Division I showdown in Ithaca, the Wildcats' Conor Thompson changed that deadlock with a single shot that produced a 3-2 overtime victory and all but sealed the Wildcats' hold on first place in the league.
Due to its strong play all season, WG had risen to the top of the state Division I rankings and had vanquished every other league foe -- except the Little Red, the defending state champions.
When they had first met Dec. 18 at Shove Park, the game ended in a 0-0 stalemate, neither side able to put anything in the net. Since then, the pair had separated from the rest of the local Division I ranks, eagerly working toward this rematch.
Sure enough, in the first period neither side was able to score again, the Wildcats having Ryan Michel and Tim Bubnack anchor a defense that had spent much of the season clamping down on whatever foe it was facing.
WG made its move in the second period. Michel stepped up to assist on goals by Tim Besio and Erich Haney, and the team took a 2-1 edge.
However, Ithaca would tie it in the third period, as Alex Yale-Loehr earned one goal and assisted on the other, by Sean Callinan.
Each side attacked hard and tried to break the tie. John Schlegel finished with 32 saves, while Ithaca counterpart Zach Wilder faced the same kind of pressure and fared just as well, earning 34 saves to force the game into overtime.
Unlike the first meeting, this OT would be settled quickly. A minute into that extra frame, Thompson took a pass from Michel and, just inside the blue line, ripped a slap shot that found its way past Wilder into the net, giving the Wildcats the victory.
But WG would not have that much time to savor it, since on Tuesday it had to meet red-hot Fayetteville-Manlius at Cicero Twin Rinks, trying to both shut down Nick Zappia and figure out goalie Mike Poppleton before it returns to Shove Park Friday night to face Oswego.