The Skaneateles boys ice hockey team earned the state Division II championship Sunday at Buffalo's HarborCenter, defeating Queensbury 6-1. It's the Lakers' fourth state title in program history.
From the moment the first state rankings were released back in December, the Skaneateles boys ice hockey team stood on top, piling up victories and waiting for someone to knock them off.
No one did – and in fact, when it mattered the most, no one really got close.
When the Lakers finished off Queensbury 6-1 Sunday at Buffalo’s HarborCenter, it gained possession of the state Division II championship, the program’s fourth state title overall and first since 2015.
“It’s awesome to bring a state championship back to Skaneateles,” said head coach Mitch Major. “It (hockey) is so important to our community.”
It was a dominant run through most of the post-season for Skaneateles, Counting the Section III final and its three state playoff games, the Lakers outscored its opponents a combined 19-4 with a deep, explosive attack and tremendous consistency from its defensive unit.
“We’re all so close and love each other, through thick and thin,” said junior defenseman Bauer Morrissey, named state tournament MVP. “It’s been a really special season and it (a state championship) feels amazing.”
One thing the Lakers could not get against Queensbury was a quick lead. Despite taking 10 shots to Queensbury’s six in the first period, it stayed 0-0,
Still, the Skaneateles defense established its winning tone early as, in one sequence, Jack Henry broke a stick on a slap shot, only to block a Queensbury shot with his body seconds later.
Then 2:16 into the second period on its second power-play opportunity, Skaneateles went in front, a series of passes setting up Ryan Gick for the goal as Jimmy Liberatore and Garrett Krieger assisted.
But it wasn’t until late in the period that the patented “Skaneateles surge” put the game out of Queensbury’s reach.
Morrissey fed Cole Heintz for the Lakers’ second goal at the 11:28 mark, and just 40 seconds later it was 3-0, courtesy of Luke Lynn firing home a wrist shot from the left circle.
If there were any concerns left, Skaneateles erased them by killing off a five-on-three Spartans power play late in the period, followed by power-play goals from Krieger, Lynn and Henry in the third period, the last two of them just 19 seconds apart.
On the way to this title game, the Lakers had perfected this particular art of stringing together a group of goals in a short amount of time.
“We feel like If we score, our next shift will be our best,” said Mitch Major. “That’s devastating to an opponent.”
The state semifinal against Section V champion Webster Thomas provided another example of this devastation as Lynn’s natural hat trick – three consecutive goals, all in a game span of less than three minutes – made the ultimate difference in a 5-2 win over the Titans.
Even if it didn’t show on the scoreboard, Skaneateles controlled the early flow of play against Webster Thomas, possessing the puck and probing the Titans’ defenses.
At the tail end of a power play 11:14 into the first period, the Lakers broke through, Liberatore converting from point-blank range off feeds from Charlie Major and Cam Lowe.
That only proved a prelude to Lynn’s big moment, though.
With 1:45 left in the first period, Lynn took a beautiful pass from Bauer Morrissey, broke in up the middle and scored, making it 2-0 going into the intermission.
Then, just 28 seconds into the second period, Lynn returned and, found the net again, forcing Webster Thomas to switch goaltenders, Connelly Springer replacing Cody Rougeux.
But only 12 seconds after Springer entered, Lynn charged toward the net and put the puck past him, his hat trick complete and the Lakers suddenly possessing a 4-0 cushion.
Despite all of the Titans’ efforts to catch up, it got nothing past Adam Casper until Kyle Vent and Spencer Nuccitelli scored seven seconds apart late in the third period, but Gick’s breakaway goal with 1:33 left clinched it.
One more win would follow, and typical of the Lakers’ unselfish approach, once the game against Queensbury was settled Casper exited in favor of senior Chris Falso, who had started the season as the no. 1 netminder, yet gladly gave way in order to help achieve the ultimate prize.
Liberatore, in particular, achieved something special with a state title in two different sports, having helped the Skaneateles football team go all the way to the top in 2017. He said that, in each instance, the closeness of the players had a lot to do with the team’s ultimate result.
The hugs, cheers and happy tears exchanged on the ice at the conclusion on Sunday proved Liberatore’s point. These Lakers were always skilled and talented. Now it had the hardware to prove just how great it was, start to finish.