It took going undefeated in its first 11 games for the Cazenovia ice hockey team to rise to the top of the state Division II rankings.
But it took just 45 minutes for no. 2-ranked New Hartford to pull the Lakers off of that summit.
In a highly-anticipated clash last Wednesday night at New Hartford Recreation Center, the Spartans took full advantage of an early Cazenovia error, then maintained the pressure until it handed the Lakers a 6-3 defeat.
New Hartford came into the game 10-2, but was unbeaten (5-0) in Division II East, just like Cazenovia, and it had home-ice advantage, with a large and loud crowd on its side. As much as the Lakers had done so far, it would have to prove itself all over again.
For most of the first period, the two sides traded chances, but did not convert, leaving the game 0-0 before a single mistake shifted the game in New Hartford's favor.
While pursuing the puck, Sean Cannizzaro checked Spartan defensive captain Patrick Ryan into the boards head-first. Not only did the Lakers get a four-minute major penalty, but Cannizzaro was out of the game.
Just 19 seconds later, New Hartford led 1-0 as Alex Fukes scored on the power play, and while the Lakers killed the rest of the penalty, it would never catch up.
After Tom Fiorentino scored early in the second period to make it 2-0, Cazenovia finally got on the board with Sam Lewis scoring on a power play. Less than two minutes later, though, Clayton Whittemore put in a rebound, making it 3-1.
So began a trend -- three different times, the Lakers would pull within one on power plays, and every time New Hartford would answer.
Carter Franz scored on a man advantage, only to have Mike Zalewski convert for the Spartans to make it 4-2. And after Brian Gara's tally made it 4-3, Fukes and Fiorentino got two goals in a span of 33 seconds to put the game away.
Gara, Franz and Sam Lewis all earned assists to go with their goals, as Ben Lewis earned an assist, too. In goal, J.R. Vecciarelli finished with 26 saves as New Hartford counterpart Dylan Smith earned 24 saves.
While it waits for a Feb. 10 rematch at the Morrisville State IcePlex, the Lakers step out of league play Saturday to host Sweet Home, from the Buffalo suburbs.