With little margin for error, Division III’s best penalty kill stood firm. In come-from-behind fashion, the Plattsburgh State men’s hockey team won its fifth straight game and defeated the College at Brockport Wednesday to advance to the SUNYAC semifinals at SUNY Oswego.
After the 3-1 victory on home ice, the Cardinals (13-11-2) will take on the No. 4 Lakers (18-5-2) at the Marano Campus Center Ice Arena Saturday at 7 p.m.
Wednesday’s first-round game saw PSUC playing from behind early, as Brockport (15-9-2) took the lead after two minutes. A series of three penalties for the Cards gave the Golden Eagles more momentum, with shots on goal at the first intermission favoring the visitors 14-8.
PSUC head coach Bob Emery said he wasn’t happy with how the team initially responded to the adversity.
“They came out and got the first goal early, a mistake on our part,” Emery said. “We sort of got frustrated, and we stopped shooting pucks.”
Still down by a goal, the Cards made their intent clear early in the third period, taking a hard shot on net within five seconds. Senior forward Cole Stallard said the team came out of the locker room knowing they only had 20 minutes left to save their season.
PSUC tied the game just before the seven-minute mark after senior forward Ryan Kuhn fought to win the puck in the corner behind the Brockport goal and fed the puck across to freshman defenseman Matt Araujo for the goal.
A little less than 90 seconds later, Stallard collected a rebound in the slot and saw an opening to the top left. He smashed it behind goaltender Matt Schneider to give the Cards the lead.
“The message in the third period was to take them wide and shoot pucks,” Emery said. “The first goal, we take them wide and score a goal. The second and third goal, we’re shooting pucks, and we get the second shot. Bingo.”
With seven and a half minutes left to hold onto their advantage on the scoreboard, PSUC saw that task become more difficult when freshman forward Christian DiFelice, a goalscorer in the Cards’ upset victory over Oswego Saturday, was assessed a major penalty and game misconduct for boarding.
In total, PSUC spent eight minutes and 45 seconds out of the final 10 minutes on the penalty kill. At 91.7 percent, the Cards’s penalty kill unit continues to be the best mark in Division III. That continued Wednesday, as PSUC held on for the win.
“It’s a big difference between urgency and panic,” Emery said. “I thought they didn’t have much chance there at the end.”
While Emery credited goaltender Jimmy Poreda, who made 30 saves on the night, for his role in killing the penalties, Poreda deferred to the players blocking shots in front of him.
One notable block came with approximately four minutes remaining, when Stallard launched himself in front of a goal-bound shot on a wide open net.
“I took a quick [look] to my right and recognized Jimmy was way out,” Stallard said. “I was like, ‘I have to get over there some way.’ Luckily, I got there in time.”
A Ross Sloan short-handed goal on an empty net sealed the victory with 66 seconds remaining.
The win advanced the Cards to Saturday’s SUNYAC semifinal game at Oswego, which will be played one week after PSUC knocked off the Lakers 2-1 at home.
Speaking after that game, Oswego head coach Ed Gosek said his team would be looking hard at the loss during the week to learn from it and not repeat the result at home.
“We’ve got to be better than we were,” Gosek said. “We’ve got to play a complete 60-minute game. I thought we tried to overcomplicate things.”
While the Cards lost 4-0 in their Dec. 8 trip to Oswego, that was their first defeat in that rink in six years. Emery credited the ice size as playing a role in that statistic, as the small ice surface of PSUC’s rink actually hinders the fast-skating style the team prefers to play.
The players were looking forward to facing the adversity of a rivalry playoff game on the road.
“We like going in and having the entire crowd not like us,” Stallard said. “To quiet that place, it gets us up off the bench pretty well.”
Riding a five-game winning streak into Oswego, with the Lakers licking their wounds from a week ago, the Cards will take to the ice with confidence.
“We have the momentum now, and they’re kind of on their heels, and the game hasn’t even started yet,” Poreda said. “That’s big.”