UTICA - Judging by the ovations the players received as they exited the locker room about half an hour after Saturday's state semifinal game at the Utica Memorial Auditorium, it was a little hard to tell that Saranac Lake's hockey team wound up on the short end of the scoreboard against Oswego.
The lingering tears in some of the Red Storm players eyes, however, showed that Saranac Lake's season had come to a painful end.
After getting off to a slow start, Saranac Lake was unable to climb back from a three-goal deficit in a 6-4 loss to Oswego in the second of two Division II semifinal games played on Saturday. During the season, Saranac Lake found ways to rally for victories, but this time, another thrilling comeback wasn't in the cards.
Saranac Lake’s Devin Darrah applies pressure in front of Oswego goalie Chase Izyk during the second period of Saturday’s game in Utica. Darrah netted a hat trick in his last game for the Red Storm.
(Enterprise photo — Lou Reuter)
The Buccaneers, the third-ranked team in New York state, moved on to Sunday's championship final, where they fell 6-3 to the Kenmore East Bulldogs.
Trailing 5-2, Saranac Lake put its many fans in an uproar by scoring two quick goals near the end of the second period to make it a one-goal game heading into the final stanza. But with a chance to advance to the final for the first time in school history on the line, the Red Storm couldn't break through with a tying goal, and an empty-net tally by Oswego with 42 seconds remaining sealed Saranac Lake's fate.
"In the end, we just weren't able to sustain the pressure," Saranac Lake head coach Will Ellsworth said. "Obviously, we came here to win, but a big goal of ours was to compete. We did compete. There was no doubt about that. We just came up short."
Oswego 6, Saranac Lake 4
1. O, Yule, 1:44
2. SL, D. Darrah, 6:19
3. O, Maniccia (Mathes, Purce), 7:24
4. O, Sova (Kearns), :51
5. O, Sova (Mariano), 3:26
6. SL, Phelan (Cluckey), 6:18
7. O, Sova (Mariano), 6:41
8. SL, D. Darrah, 12:01
9. D. Darrah (Shumway), 14:55
10. O, Sova, 14:18, empty net
Shots on goal: Oswego 26, Saranac Lake 20.
Saves: O, Iyzk 16; SL, B. Darrah 16.
Playing his final game in a Red Storm uniform, senior co-captain Devin Darrah turned in another sparkling effort by notching a hat trick. Meanwhile, Oswego's star player, senior Josh Sova, also came up big by scoring his team's final four goals, including the empty-netter that secured the victory for the Buccaneers.
Early on, it looked like the game could turn into a rout in favor of Oswego when it charged out to 4-1 and 5-2 leads, but Saranac Lake battled back to within one shot of tying the score.
Oswego got on the board quickly when Trent Yule scored just 1:44 into the game, but Darrah pulled Saranac Lake even with his first goal, which came at the 6:19 mark of the opening period. The Buccaneers regained the edge a little more than a minute later when Dan Maniccia scored to give his team a 2-1 lead heading into the first intermission.
The Buccaneers then caught fire early in the second period, as Sova found the back of the net twice. He beat Red Storm sophomore goalie Blake Darrah 51 seconds into the stanza to lift Oswego to a 3-1 lead, and added his second goal at the 3:26 mark to make it a three-goal game. Sova's second tally prompted Ellsworth to call a time out, which seemed to refocus his team. Appearing to play more composed hockey, Saranac Lake got its second goal of the game at the 6:18 mark when Matt Phelan scored to cut Oswego's edge to 4-2. But the fast-skating Buccaneers answered quickly when Sova capped off a two-on-one rush with his third goal just 23 seconds later.
The game then turned into the Devin Darrah show, as Section VII's most valuable player singlehandedly got his team back into the contest. He scored at the 12:01 mark to make it a 5-3 game, and then with 5.5 ticks on the clock remaining in the second period, he beat Oswego goalie Chase Izyk on a breakaway to cut the Buccaneers lead to a single goal and send the hundreds of Red Storm fans into a frenzy.
A week ago, Saranac Lake found itself in a similar situation when it trailed Queensbury in a nail-biting regional playoff game on home ice. In that game, the Red Storm rallied to win in overtime, but on Saturday, their third-period pressure didn't pay off. For much of the third period, Saranac Lake was on the offensive but couldn't come up with the equalizer. With the clock winding down and facing a must-score scenario, Saranac Lake pulled Blake Darrah from the net with just under a minute remaining, and Sova promptly sent a puck into the open net to push the Buccaneers into the championship game.
It was a long day of action at Utica's War Memorial Auditorium Saturday, with the first three games stretching into overtime, which forced the Saranac Lake-Oswego matchup to start nearly two hours later than scheduled. Unfortunately for the Red Storm, the last game of the day never extended into an extra period.
"I'm so glad we didn't have another overtime today," said Oswego head coach Andy Rozak. "When you get to that point, it only takes one shot to win it. This game was back-and-forth, back-and-forth, and both teams battled for every inch of ice all game long. We were ecstatic coming out on top.
"Getting to the championship game, it's something you work for all season long," Rozak added. "Saranac Lake put up quite a fight. I give them a lot of credit. They kept coming and coming. They did a good job getting behind on defense in the second period, and they made us pay. In the third period, we did a much better job keeping them in front of us, keeping them on the perimeter. We played a pretty good game."
Of the eight teams playing Saturday, it was clear that Saranac Lake had the most fans gathered at the rink, and the Red Storm players did not want to let their faithful down. Despite the loss, the red-and-white-clad spectators saw another inspired effort from their team, which finished the season with a 15-8-1 overall record.
"The community has supported us all season long," Ellsworth said. "To see hundreds of fans travel to Utica to pull for Saranac Lake - that's something very special. We didn't win, but I know we didn't disappoint our fans. Our kids all laid it on the line."
"This was the most fun I've ever had in my life," Devin Darrah said. "We've fought from day one to get here, and with so many fans cheering us on, we just decided that this was a home game for us. It felt like we were playing on home ice at the civic center. We just kept pouring it on. We just ran out of time."
Darrah was one of five seniors who saw their Red Storm hockey careers come to an end. Joining Darrah in their final game for Saranac Lake were co-captain Kyle Dora, defenseman Ty Curry, forward Shawn Wilcox and back-up goaltender Pat Woodward.
"I wish our five seniors all the best as they move on with the rest of their lives," Ellsworth said. "Our team rallied around those guys. They were a big reason we reached the final four."
Phelan, a junior, will surely be one of the leaders for the Red Storm icers next season. He said this winter was certainly a season to remember.
"I've never been with such a great group of kids," Phelan said. "We were a team in every sense of the word. Devin and Kyle - I can't even express how much we're going to miss those guys. Getting this far should be an inspiration to the rest of us. We're going to need a bunch of new faces stepping it up next season."