Everything pointed toward a close encounter when the CBA/J-D ice hockey team faced Auburn in Thursday night's opening round of the Section III Division II playoffs at Onondaga Nation Arena.
Not only were the Brothers the no. 4 seed and the Maroons a no. 5 seed, their two regular-season meetings both got decided by a single goal – CBA/J-D prevailing 2-1 on Dec. 13 in Nedrow, Auburn retaliating with a 4-3 win at Casey Park a month later.
Sure enough, it was close once more. But a combination of home-ice comfort and clutch play in both phases of the game helped the Brothers rally past the Maroons 4-3.
CBA/J-D is seeking its first sectional title since 1981, and to get it, it first had to withstand Auburn’s early surge. The Maroons grabbed a 2-0 lead in the first period as Kevin Franceschelli converted off Mike Foltz’s pass and Mike Darby’s slap shot eluded goalie Tim Decker.
From there, though, Decker settled down, the freshman stopping everything else through the end of the second period, giving his teammates a chance to regroup.
Nick Papayanakos and Braeden Doust responded with goals that tied the game, 2-2, by the time they reached the second intermission. Otherwise, the Brothers saw Auburn’s defenders constantly block shots in front of goalie Jeff Gardner.
A crucial sequence came early in the third period. Barely a minute into the frame, the Maroons rushed the net, and off a rebound, Nick Netti swatted the puck past Decker.
Instead of crumbling, CBA/J-D countered quickly as, a minute later, Brendan Flanagan, taking a pass from Lavin, put home the goal that tied it again, 3-3.
With 9:57 left, Lavin proved heroic again, positioning himself in front of the net as the puck bounced off the boards toward him. In one motion, Lavin slid a shot past Gardner, just as an Auburn player upended him.
Leading for the first time, CBA/J-D braced for Auburn’s all-out assault. The defense held up, though, and Decker ran his total to 36 saves, nine more than Gardner, to help the Brothers hang on. Scott Firman, John Phillips and Ryan Durkin each were credited with assists.
This gives CBA/J-D a chance to go to Crisafulli Rink, known as “The Fort” for its proximity to Fort Ontario, to meet top seed Oswego in Tuesday’s Division II semifinal. The winner there will advance to face Skaneateles or Cazenovia in Saturday’s title game at Utica Memorial Auditorium.