Sure, the Golden Eagles were down 4-3, but two of their three goals had come on power plays, and they had four more minutes of being a man up when the Brothers were assessed a major for boarding 4:51 into the final period.
Appearances, however, can be deceiving.
Sophomore right wing Jake Prunier had been injured on a hard check with just over five minutes gone in the second (not able to return until early in the third) and a couple of C-H players had lost the edges on their skates in that stanza. “For an extended period in the second, we played some guys too much to make up for those things,” Cortland-Homer coach Chad Totman said. “Because of that, we were fatigued a little in the third.”
After a couple of chances by the visitors, CBA/J-D senior left wing Lynch Raby took matters into his own hands scoring his second goal of the game unassisted with 7:26 left to account for the final 5-3 score in favor of the yellow-clad hosts. While the Golden Eagles’ season ended at 11-9-2, CBA/J-D improved to 12-9-1 and earned a spot in Saturday’s 1:30 p.m. championship game against Skaneateles, ranked third in the state in Division II and now 19-3 after a 4-0 win over Oswego in Wednesday’s other semifinal.
“I was going to just dump it in, but I decided to fire on net and it went in,” a smiling Raby said of his 11th, and most important, goal of the season. “It was a good goal. We struggled with penalties; coach (Mike) McKie told us to try to get the puck in deep and play our game. Cortland-Homer is a great team, a lot better than last year, and their goalie (sophomore Brandon Ludwig) is great. We knew we had to pepper him right from the start.”
“We knew Lynch had the potential to be a big scorer,” McKie said. “We made an adjustment with him late in the regular season, putting a different curve on his stick, and he’s been super hot.”
The Brothers had beaten C-H, a fellow Section 3 Division II American Conference squad, twice during the regular season, 4-2 at home on the road on Dec. 13 and 1-0 in overtime at home on Feb. 2. “They always say it’s tough to beat a team three times, and it is had to do,” McKie said. “But we knew we had to win or go home and liked the fact we were playing here. We also wore our third jerseys for a different look.
“Cortland-Homer came out hard, gave it an unbelievable effort and never quit. It was a great game, and we’re happy to come out with the win. We knew it wouldn’t be easy.”
“We knew their goalie (senior Peyton Bowler) is a good one,” Totman said. “I think he’s probably the best in the division. We knew we had to create a lot of traffic in front, get the defense to the sides and go for screens and rebounds. We also knew that he gives up rebounds if you play him low.”
The hosts opened the scoring with 2:43 left in the first as senior right wing Connor Kinahan found the back of the net from close range, assisted by junior defenseman Tanner Coleman and Raby. The Golden Eagles equalized with exactly a minute left in the period when junior defenseman Cooper Swartwout scored his first goal of the season on a power-play blast from the top of the right-wing circle, assisted by junior defensemen Jon Frederick and Prunier.
The Brothers went back ahead with 30.2 seconds left until the first intermission as senior right wing Ben McCreary sped down the right wing, cut in and beat Ludwig with a forehand shot.
Coleman made it 3-1, assisted by McCreary, with 7:48 left in the second before Golden Eagles senior right wing Ben Gravel scored twice in the span of a minute and a half to tie the score. He scored both goals from close range, the first off assists from junior center Mike Turck and Swartwout with 4:55 left in the middle period and the second at 3:25 as he deflected a shot from the top of the right-wing circle by senior defenseman Jared Berry.
The goal that ended up being the game-winner came 58 seconds later as Raby scored from close range after a long rush down the right side by Coleman, who left the puck on the doorstep.
C-H had a power play for the first 1:15 of the third period but was unable to convert before the boarding call that led to Raby’s short-handed goal.
Each goalie wound up making 33 saves as the Brothers had a 38-36 shot advantage on the night. The Golden Eagles owned the shots 16-9 in the first and 13-5 in the third while the second belonged to CBA/J-D, 24-7.
“This team doesn’t quit,” Totman said. “It goes back to buying into the system and believing in the team and coaches. They’ve seen it pay off in previous games throughout the season, and they kept pushing and looking for success. There’s a lot of desire there We’re losing three seniors (Gravel, Berry and forward Matt Pelowski) who were big, key role players and definitely leaders on this team, but we’ve been young the last two years and next season it will be nice to get back to being more even age- and experience-wise with the teams we play.”
Skaneateles 4, Oswego 0: The defending champion Lakers got 24 saves from sophomore goalie Chris Falso in the shutout victory. Senior forward Matt Benson led the way offensively with two goals while senior defenseman Dimitris Christou and senior forward Ray Falso each scored once.
Saturday’s Division I sectional title contest will match defending champion West Genesee (20-2) and Syracuse (21-1) in an 11 a.m. start at the War Memorial.
West Genesee, ranked sixth in the state, blanked Rome Free Acdemy 8-0 in one Wednesday semifinal while Syracuse edged Baldwinsville 3-2 in overtime in the other.