LAKE PLACID - The top-seeded Lake Placid boys hockey team advanced to the Section VII championship Thursday night after beating Northeastern Clinton 4-1 on its home ice.
The Blue Bombers will now face off against Beekmantown at 8 p.m. Tuesday at the Stafford Ice Arena in Plattsburgh. Beekmantown beat Plattsburgh 5-3 Thursday night.
"Both Plattsburgh and Beekmantown are good skating teams," Lake Placid coach Keith Clark said. "They've got good players at all positions, so it's going to be a game where you have to get some bounces and you've got to work your tail off to get those bounces, and we'll be ready for it hopefully."
Lake Placid’s Nzoni Thompson takes a shot on goal during Thursday night’s Section VII semifinal game against Northeastern Clinton. Thompson led the Blue Bombers with two goals in a 4-1 win.
(Enterprise photo — Mike Lynch)
Lake Placid’s Chris Williams (24) and Shane McNierney (9) fight for the puck with Northeastern Clinton’s Mason Letourneau Thursday night.
(Enterprise photo — Mike Lynch)
Against Northeastern Clinton, the Blue Bombers found themselves dominating the puck early but unable to get any goals.
Northeastern Clinton got on the scoreboard first when Nick Leduc scored an unassisted goal 11:44 into the first period, but that lead didn't last long.
Lake Placid controlled the puck on the ensuing faceoff and took it right to the net, where Ryan Damp found Dillon Savage for a one-timer. That score came exactly 10 seconds later.
"I thought we did a nice job sticking with it," Clark said. "I thought NCCS played really hard, and we knew it was going to be a battle. It's playoff hockey. Wins don't come easy, and we had to face a one-goal deficit, and I thought we responded really well. We kind of stuck with it."
The score remained tied until 7:40 into the second period when Elias Smith put home a loose puck in front of the goal.
"Elias, he was opportunistic," Clark said. "He's got real good feet and he turned on a mistake by NCCS and was able to put it in the back of the net. He was really aware, and he used his feet to get around the puck and got a big goal for us."
Through the first two periods, the Blue Bombers found themselves with twice as many shots on goal as the Cougars. Lake Placid had 16 shots compared to Northeastern Clinton's eight, but the Blue Bombers were having a hard time getting the puck past goalie Anthony Piche. That changed in the third period when Blue Bombers defenseman Nzoni Thompson twice found the back of the net, including one from just inside the blue line.
"In the third, we did a much better job of moving with the puck, trying to create shooting lanes and, like I said, trying to get some traffic in front instead of shots from the point that the goalie's seeing or shots with our head down," Clark said. "We got a lot of shots blocked early. They didn't see to get through. I think that was our defensemen getting our head up a little more, and little bit of traffic certainly helped."
Piche had a hard time picking up the puck on the Blue Bombers' last two goals, according to Thompson.
"The goalie didn't see either of them, so our guys did a really a good job screening in front," he said.
In the end, Lake Placid outshot the Cougars 25-15. Piche had 21 saves while Lake Placid's goalie Tucker Angelopoulos stopped 14.
Angelopoulos has played strong all season, and his play in the championship game against Beekmantown will be a key.
Lake Placid beat Beekmantown twice, but they withstood a lot of pressure to do so. In a late January game between the two teams, the first matchup, Beekmantown outshot Lake Placid 40-18. Angelopoulos picked up 38 saves in that game.
"I haven't seen him have a weak game this year," Thompson said about his goalie. "He's really putting his head to it and working hard. Those games against Beekmantown, Tucker really helped us out in both of those."
Lake Placid's record is now 18-3. As of Thursday, the Bombers were ranked No. 16 among Division II teams statewide. Beekmantown is 16-4-1 and ranked No. 23.
"They've got some pretty good depth, and they're the No. 1 seed for a reason, and they played well all year," Northeastern Clinton coach Rob Francis said about Lake Placid. "They stick to their systems. They get the puck in deep, and they look for opportunities, and you make a mistake and they're going to make you pay - and that's what happened tonight."