For the first time in 19 years, the Cortland-Homer Golden Eagles hockey team is headed to the Section 3 championship game.
Cortland-Homer broke a scoreless tie with four goals in the second period and rode the 36- save effort of senior goalkeeper Brandon Ludwig to a 6-1 victory over fourth seed Whitesboro at the J.M. McDonald Sports Complex Tuesday night.
The second-seeded Golden Eagles (14-4-2 overall), ranked third in the state in Division II, will face top seed Skaneateles Monday at the Onondaga County War Memorial in Syracuse starting at 5 p.m. The Lakers (18-1-2), the state’s top-ranked Division II squad, defeated sixth seed Auburn (9-13) 4-3 Tuesday. Whitesboro finished its season at 10-8-4.
“We had the upper hand in the first period, but couldn’t finish our chances,” Ludwig said. “We knew we would keep getting shots, we just needed to finish. Going into the third period, we knew we blew a 4-0 lead up there, so we just had to keep going strong. We didn’t give up tonight because we wanted to go to the finals.”
Whitesboro, which rallied for a 5-5 tie with C-H back on Dec. 14, had an 11-8 edge in shots in the first period, but neither team could find the back of the net.
Cortland-Homer started quickly in the second period as Trevor Jubran took a pass from Jed Brazo and scored after Cameron Manley (25 saves) stopped a shot by Jake Prunier just 33 second into the period. The Golden Eagles made it 2-0 with 8:44 left in the period as Dominick Tutino tipped the puck past Manley off a shot by Jubran, who had taken a pass from his brother Adam Jubran.
The hosts made it 3-0 when Nicholas Djafari scored a power-play goal with 3:50 on the clock as Adam Jubran and Nick Gravel assisted. With one minute left in the period, Brazo fired a shot into the upper right corner off a Prunier assist for the 4-0 cushion.
“We knew we had to come out and play,” Josh Cargen, who scored the winners’ fifth goal, said of the fast start in the second period. “We played our game against them earlier this year, but tied. We don’t always come out strong in the first period. We play better in the second and third periods, but we need all three periods come Monday if we want to win against Skaneateles.”
“We knew we could take their defense,” Golden Eagles coach Chad Totman said. “Our speed with our forwards has been a key this season. We can really attack and we utilized that in the second period. We focused on getting a third guy high and set up our forechecking. We just played with some nerves in the first period and then we settled down. We made some better passes and starting finishing at the goal. That was the big difference.”
In the third period, Whitesboro started with a power play and applied some pressure, but it took until 12:50 remained before the Warriors finally beat Ludwig, who made five saves in the period before surrendering the goal by Bryce Gnatek with an assist from Troy Chamberlain. Despite three penalties in the period and a 15-6 deficit in shots, the Golden Eagles got a short-handed, empty net goal from Cargen with 2:14 remaining before Brazo got his second goal of the game with three seconds to go for the 6-1 final.
“Brandon was a rock back there tonight,” Totman said. “He didn’t really give them opportunities to finish off things. He’s been good for us all year. We did have to kill some penalties and lost a little momentum in the third period, but we got back on our feet, got back to our system and played good defense from there on. Losing that 4-0 lead earlier this year was a tough lesson that may have helped us tonight.”
“We got into some penalty trouble in that second period,” Whitesboro coach Todd Manley said. “Cortland-Homer has a lethal power play. That took the wind out of our sails a bit. I thought we had a good game plan going into the game. We outshot them in the first and third periods, but their goalie played really well. Ludwig is a first team all-star for a reason. He saw the puck well and he controls the rebounds really well. They have good team speed. That was tough to compete with.”
“It’s been one heck of a ride this season,” Ludwig said of reaching the sectional finals. “We deserve this. I’m glad we’ve kept working hard all season.”
“It’s good we can get another chance against them in the finals,” Cargen said of meeting Skaneateles. “In my high school career we have never beaten them, we have tied them. We would feel nice to beat them in the sectional final.”
“It will be a good game,” Totman predicted. “A lot of skill on both teams. It will come down to who wins the 50-50 battles in the corners and sideboards to decide who will come out the winner.”
The host Golden Eagles and Lakers played to a 4-4 tie on Dec. 4 and Skaneateles won 4-2 at home on Feb. 8 to claim first place in Section 3 Division II over runner-up C-H.