UTICA – An overwhelming finish eclipsed an impressive start for the St. Lawrence Central hockey team on Saturday.
After netting three unanswered goals in the first period en route to building a 4-1 lead, the Larries surrendered five goals over the final 7:38 of regulation in dropping a 6-4 decision to Section 1 champion John Jay in the semi-finals of the New York State Division II hockey playoffs at the Utica Aud.
We had a great start and it really didnt feel like we were running out of gas. I think it was more of a case where they started to get their momentum and once they got going, we werent able to get back on track, said SLC coach Mickey Locke after his team fell short of its bid to end a 31-year state championship drought.
We cant help but be disappointed at this point but our kids showed they have hearts the size of Secretariats all season and they showed it again today, he said. We loss to a very talented, very skilled team.
The Larries entered the second semi-final of the day at the Aud as the top-ranked Division II team in the state and appeared to set the tone for a convincing win in the opening period where they surged their way to a 3-0 lead. They broke through for the first goal at the 6:23 mark when a hard wristshot from the left point by Jarek Crump found its way through a scramble into the back of the net for a power play goal. Kody Kocsis drew the first of his three assists on the opening goal.
The Larries doubled their lead just over a minute later when sophomore Lukas Arquiett skated into a loose puck at the top of the slot and pumped a shot into the top left of the goal. Ian Lynch and Kocsis drew the assists. Arquiett made it 3-0 with 28 seconds left in the first period, taking a lead pass from Kocsis at the John Jay blueline then skated in alone and beat netminder Matt Stanza with a quick wristshot from the top of the slot. Crump also logged an assist.
John Jay broke through for its first goal at 11:08 of the middle frame when Jack Grimm managed to stuff home a rebound from the left side of the crease but the Larries quickly regained the momentum after Blake Baldwin converted on a short centering pass from linemate Devon Euto just 25 seconds later and the Larries went into the second intermission leading 4-1.
They held their three-goal lead until Shawn Smith finished off a play set up by Mark Leprine and Stanza for a power play goal at the 7:22 mark of the third. Eleven seconds later, a defensive zone turnover led to a goal by John Tobin that cut the deficit to 4-3.
Even after we gave up the second goal, I thought we were still in pretty good shape. If we could have gotten a couple of more shifts, we would have been alright but they came right back and got that third goal. I think thats where the game really turned in their favor, noted Locke.
John Jay continued to keep the momentum going in its favor and pulled even with 1:48 left in regulation when Lucas Prestamo knocked home the rebound of a shot from the left point by Anthony Scaperotti. Grimm completed the comeback when he finished off a play set up by Connor Moore and Leprine with 59 seconds remaining. Smith then sealed the win with an unassisted empty-net goal 54 seconds later.
Wow, sighed John Jay coach Alex Smith after his squad earned its first-ever chance to play for a state hockey title in stunning fashion. Ive been around hockey for some 35 years and Ive never seen a third period like that in my life. It was like someone picked up the rink and tipped it our way for the last seven minutes of the game.
We came out kind of flat-footed in the first period but I thought we started to find our legs in the second. We were down three goals but one thing this team has done all year is, we never give up, he added. This was just an amazing win.
Lanza, who faced only five shots in the third period, finished with 24 saves backstopping the win as John Jay improved to 23-1-1 on the season while senior Nate McLaughlin turned aside 27 shots for the Larries, who closed out the year at 17-6-1.
Were going to lose some key players but thats the nature of high school hockey, noted Locke after his team advanced to the state semi-finals for the first time since 2009 and for only the third time since the tournament began in 1980. We have a lot coming back next year and hopefully this will be a learning experience.
John Jay will now get set to face Section 3 champion CBA-JD in a Division II state final that features two teams that staged furious third-period comebacks. CBA-JD trailed Section 7 champion Beekmantown 3-1 with less than five minutes left in regulation before staging its rally, tying the game with six seconds remaining before pulling out the 4-3 win with a goal in the final minute of the first seven and a-half minute overtime session.