A rush near the end of the game and a blistering shot added up to an Oswego championship, and the end of a Plattsburgh dynasty of six consecutive titles.
Oswego’s Don Patrick streaked into the Plattsburgh zone down the left side. At the faceoff circle, he wound and fired. The puck was earmarked for the opposite post; Craig Neilson had given the shooter room on that side, and could not reach the puck.
It snuck just inside the post for the winning goal with 1:57 left to propel Oswego to its first SUNYAC championship since 1991 and send the Romney Field House faithful into a frenzy.
A semi-empty net goal sealed the 5-3 victory for Oswego in a classic three-game final. The win also gave Oswego an automatic berth in the NCAA playoffs.
“It’s just so exciting in this building,” Oswego coach George Roll said. “It was great to build to a crescendo today.”
That crescendo started when Oswego got on the board first thanks to a shorthanded goal by Joe Carrabs. It started in Oswego’s zone when the defense blocked a shot, and the Great Lakers quickly transitioned the other way.
A nifty pass off the boards sent Carrabs in with a two-on-one. The defenseman sat back, giving Carrabs all the room he needed. He wristed it past Neilson who got a piece of it, but not enough.
“We gave up too many easy goals,” Plattsburgh coach Bob Emery said of his defense sitting back and giving Oswego lots of room.
Plattsburgh got it back late in the period to send the teams into the locker room tied at one apiece. David Young made a nice move to get himself open in front of the net and beat Tyson Gajda.
Despite that goal, Gajda was sharp in the first period and throughout the game, in perhaps his best effort of the playoff season.
Plattsburgh took the lead early in the second period for the first time since the first game. After Plattsburgh successfully killed off a power play, the Cardinals went in on a two-on-one. The Oswego defense seemed to sit back on the play, and Young wristed it over Gajda’s glove.
With Oswego having poor second periods throughout the playoffs, the home crowd turned quiet after Plattsburgh took the lead. However, Sunday Oswego played its best second period of the second season, scoring twice to retake the lead, partly thanks to better movement out of the defensive zone.
“We brought our forwards back into our defensive zone,” Roll explained. “When you have that support, it makes it easier to carry the puck out.”
Also, Oswego kept the opposition shots out on the perimeter.
“We certainly established ourselves in the second period,” Roll said.
Oswego’s tying goal was similar to the Plattsburgh goal — it came right after killing off a penalty on a two-on-one. Rob Smith skated the puck in down the right side after a bad pinch by the Plattsburgh defender, and waited to see what Neilson would do. When Neilson played the pass, Smith took the shot and beat him.
“You give up a lot of two-on-ones, you’re not going to win games,” said Emery.
Oswego took the lead on the prettiest goal of the weekend. Mike Lukajic skated across the middle, redirecting a pass into the net to complete a nice sequence of passing and skate work. It was Lukajic’s 30th goal of the season, the most for a Laker since John Stringfellow scored 35 in the 1989-90 season.
Lukajic also continued his streak of scoring a goal in every playoff game, and was rewarded with the SUNYAC tournament MVP award.
The intensity rose even further in the third period as both goaltenders made spectacular saves to keep the game at 3-2. In the last quarter of the period, Plattsburgh found itself on the power play when Lukajic was called for holding.
Plattsburgh kept the puck in the zone, wearing down the Oswego penalty killers. The effort paid off when Young, standing in front of the net, redirected the feed past Gajda.
As the clock wound down, it appeared the game was destined for overtime. That was until Patrick found himself racing down the left side, and letting go the shot of his life.
“I thought the last two periods were the best two periods you were going to see in college hockey,” Roll said.
Plattsburgh tried to pull Neilson at the end of the game, but as he began skating away, Chad Kemp lost the puck in the high slot in his own zone. Neilson desperately attempted to get back to the net, but had no hope on John Hirliman’s shot.
After the celebrations, Gajda was ecstatic. “Unbelievable effort by the boys out there. Offense. Defense. Everyone,” he said.
Plattsburgh finishes the season at 20-9-3, with a very slim hope of gaining an at-large bid into the NCAA playoffs.
Oswego is now 23-6-1, the most wins the Lakers have had since 25 in 1986-87. They await word on who and where they play on Saturday in the NCAA quarterfinal round.