A few feet from where several Skaneateles girls ice hockey players stood crestfallen Saturday night at Buffalo’s HarborCenter, Williamsville players were celebrating its first-ever state championship.
It’s something the Lakers have experienced twice before, most recently in 2017, and after a semifinal defeat a year ago it was bent on going all the way this time.
Ultimately, it brought Skaneateles into overtime of the state title game, but Williamsville, playing right its its Western New York backyard, pulled it out, 5-4, when Jenna Cavalieri scored 3:12 into the extra period.
Of course, the mere fact that it was in OT was a tribute to the Lakers’ resolve.
Three different times in this championship battle, Skaneateles trailed, and it came back each time, including two goals late in the third period – a fact made more remarkable that, throughout this season, Skaneateles had rarely trailed and never once in its previous three post-season games.
That included the first part of the state “Frozen Four” Friday night at HarborCenter, a tense battle with Section VII champion Plattsburgh that took until the third period for the Lakers to put away the Hornets 3-0.
When these same two teams had met early this season, Skaneateles had routed Plattsburgh 8-0, but this game, with far higher stakes, also proved far tougher.
Through two periods, Plattsburgh kept it 0-0, effectively containing the normally potent Lakers attack, but having Evie Sheridan and the back line keep the Hornets from getting too many chances, either.
Then, 38 seconds into the third period, Lizzy Sachar broke through with the game’s first goal, assisted by Sophia Burns. Megan Teachout converted on a breakaway less than three minutes later, and Burns tacked on another insurance goal with less than two minutes left, Ioanna Christou also getting an assist.
Earlier that night, Williamsville, who hails from the Buffalo suburbs, had put away Potsdam 6-1 in the other semifinal, helped by a three-goal hat trick from Emma Roland and two goals from Cavalieri.
It set up a championship game with plenty of firepower on both sides, but it stayed quiet through a scoreless first period, though Skaneateles was much more active than in the early going against Plattsburgh.
Williamsville took 14 shots to the Lakers’ nine, and it got the game’s first goal 2:44 into the second period when Ella Huntley converted, only to have Teachout put in her own unassisted goal exactly one minute later.
Huntley put Williamsville back in front 2-1 midway through the period. Once more, Skaneateles pulled back even, Rebecca Cain taking a pass from Campbell Torrey and fluttering a shot past goalie Ellie Timby into the net.
Down two players due to penalties early in the third period, the Lakers saw Williamsville break the 2-2 tie early int he third period as Liz Sidorski scored. Far more damaging – or at least it appeared that way – was Huntley flying in, short-handed, to put in her third goal less than a minute later.
So Skaneateles trailed 4-2, but again it would not go away. Teachout, who had keyed a similar comeback to beat Ithaca in the 2018 sectional final, put in her 32nd goal of the season just past the midway point of the period, stealing the puck and then pouring home a wrist shot.
Before Williamsville could regroup, the Lakers attacked again, and created a mad scramble in front of the net that culminated in Torrey poking home the tying goal with 5:19 to play.
That’s where regulation ended, and now they would go through OT, a series of seven minute, 30-second periods that would decide a state title, and Sheridan appeared to give Sknaeateles a boost when she stopped Roland point-blank on a breakaway.
Moments later, on a delayed penalty, the Lakers were again in a defensive mode, and off the rebound of a Roland shot, Cavalieri sent the puck past a diving Sheridan into the net.
So ended a 14-3 season that, even without a state title, was special on many fronts. With a relatively young roster, Skaneateles claimed yet another Section III championship, and will be hungry again in 2019-20, even with the departure of stars like Teachout and Burns.