To get a real shot at a Division II East top-four finish and a playoff berth, the Hamilton ice hockey team would have to, at some point, surprise a more established opponent.
Just in time, that result arrived in Tuesday's game at Clinton. And with the duo of forward Alex Brink and goaltender Brendon Rusch leading the way, the Emerald Knights ignored the hostile setting of Clinton Arena and blanked the Warriors 3-0.
With that win, Hamilton moved to nine points, one ahead of Clinton for that fourth and final playoff berth, and also gave itself confidence that could manifest itself the rest of the season.
Each period followed the same pattern. Once per frame, Brink would flash open and fire a shot past Clinton goalie Devin Grabski.
This added up to a three-goal hat trick for Brink, with some help from Derrick Rogers, Blaine Holcomb, Nick Heintz and Kam Mikulka, each of whom got one assist.
Meanwhile, Rusch proved brilliant in the net, as he turned away every Clinton chance on the night and eventually finishing with 27 saves for his biggest shutout so far.
A day earlier, the Emerald Knights faced reigning state champion New Hartford at Starr Rink. There would be strong moments for Hamilton -- but not enough of them, as New Hartford attacked early, found the net a lot and beat the Emerald Knights 6-2.
Already in front 2-0 going into the second period, the Spartans added four more goals in that frame to put it away, as Clayton Whittemore (two goals, two assists) and Alex Fukes (two goals, one assist) led the way.
Hamilton would get both of its goals in the second period, too, as Rogers and Brink converted. Brandon Thomas and Charlie Campbell-Decock got assists. Combined, Rusch and Brady Carroll had 39 saves.