Feb 22, 2014 Phil Blackwell Uncategorized
In a span of less than six minutes, what looked like the Skaneateles boys ice hockey team’s first Section III Division II championship in six years was undone – and by its biggest rival, no less.
Auburn, who had never won a sectional title before, withstood the Lakers’ furious assault of the first two periods and, with a pair of third-period goals, rallied to prevail 2-1 in Saturday’s sectional final at Utica Memorial Auditiorium.
“The puck didn’t bounce our way today,” said Skaneateles head coach Mitch Major. “But I couldn’t be more proud of our guys.”
Skaneateles, whose last sectional championship was earned in 2008, at least had some history of finishing on top. By contrast, Auburn’s only sectional title game appearance came 25 years ago, in 1989, and it had lost that game 8-1 to Rome Free Academy.
It was up to the Lakers to not just prevent the Maroons from breaking through, but to play a lot better than it did when it lost to Auburn 4-0 earlier in the month at Casey Park.
And right from the outset, Skaneateles applied most of the pressure, knowing that in both of its regular-season encounters with Auburn it could not generate scoring opportunities. It was helped by Auburn surrendering the puck in its own end, increasing the Lakers’ puck possession.
Late in the first period, after killing off Auburn’s first power play, the Lakers got a man advantage of its own, peppering goalie Brandon Entenmann, who made two glove saves, part of an eight-save effort that kept it 0-0 going into the first intermission.
That scoreless tie only lasted 2:17 into the second period. Even after the Maroons killed off a second Laker power play, Skaneateles maintained the pressure and forced another turnover as Raymond Falso wrapped around the net and shot one high, over Entemann’s shoulder for a 1-0 lead.
Giving up a goal gave a brief jolt to Auburn, as it started to put together a consistent attack, something it lacked before Falso converted. But its physical approach led to two more Laker power plays that, while not leading to goals, maintained the pressure on the Maroons’ defense.
Just as the period ended, though, Auburn’s Tyler Ely made an end-to-end rush and forced the Lakers’ Kyle Oschner to make a point-blank stop. If nothing else, that play reminded the Lakers that, despite out-shooting the Maroons 21-8, it only had a one-goal lead, so it couldn’t afford to play it too safe.
Major said that Auburn was sticking to its game plan, relying on its defense and preventing Skaneateles from getting second and third chances, as Entenmann rarely let go of the puck once he had a glove on it.
Early in the third period, Skaneateles maintained its attack, keeping Auburn from establishing any sort of pressure in the early portion, though again it could not add to that 1-0 lead.
And that proved costly when, with 7:30 left in regulation, a long pass sprung Jake Orlando on a solo breakaway, and he beat Oschner with a high shot to pull Auburn even, 1-1. Major said that the goal jolted his team, given how much it had dominated for long stretches and, now, had only a tie to show for it.
Still, the Lakers had a fair share of chance to pull back in front, but again unable to put anything past Entemann, who finished with 25 saves. Meanwhile, the Maroons’ attack, energized by pulling even, put more heat on Oschner as regulation time wound down and the possibility of overtime loomed.
Then, with 2:04 to play, Auburn forward Kevin Franceschelli moved down the right side of the ice and fluttered a wrist shot that fit past Oschner inside the top left corner of the net.
Skaneateles could not answer it, unable to pull Oschner for an extra attacker until the final 40 seconds, and then seeing the Maroons win the last face-off as the clock ran out and Auburn celebrated its first-ever sectional championship.
If the Lakers could take any solace, it was that senior captains Josh Kuhns and Tyler Strods were the team’s only seniors. Everyone else could come back in 2014-15, knowing that it can play at a championship level, and doubly determined to finish the deal.
“They’re all winners in my eyes,” said Major. “A winner isn’t happy when a situation like this happens.”