This weekend the Cortland Red Dragons made their last trip of the season to Feasterville, PA for the DIII Playoffs. The weekend was kicked off by the ECRHA's Awards Banquet. CJ Gilcrist won Player of the Year honors for DIII while Lou Vetri took home the DIII Goalie of the Year. Surprisingly enough Tom Hughes was not named Rookie of the Year, even though his stats say otherwise.
An early morning game at 7 AM against #4 seeded Ramapo started the playoffs. It took Cortland 5 minutes to score a goal but once they did, they got three in one minute. The Roadrunners netted just one in the first, while the Dragons potted one more in the first to make the score 4-1 at the end of the period. The second period saw much of the same play by Cortland, scoring another four goals to Ramapo's one. Cortland with a comfortable lead went into the final period trying to move the puck around, getting shots when an opportunity came. A five goal outing in the third would give the Dragons the confidence they needed moving forward to take on rival Oswego at 12 noon. Cortland won their first game in pool play, 13-4.
A feisty Oswego team met Cortland on the rink for each teams second pool play game. The Red
Dragon squad jumped out to an early 1-0 lead on a Mike Weber snipe from the point. Thetwo teams put on a defensive battle for the remainder of the first until Player of the Year CJ Gilcrist fired one home with :21 left to play in the period. Cortland went into the break with a 2-0 lead with a feeling of being outplayed. The second period started with the same defensive battle which ensued in the first. The physical play picked up, no penalties were called while play intensified. The Lakers held Cortland scoreless in a period for the first time this season, while the Lakers put just one past goaltender Jay Sartorius. The third period was kicked off by more physical play with penalties now coming into play. Oswego tied the game up on a power play goal. Cortland would score the next two goals (Stern, Weber), to make the score 4-2 in their favor. Oswego fired back with two quick goals of their own, one coming on the power play to even the score back up at four a piece. Max Stern found the back of the net late in the third
put Cortland back on top. However a goal from a newfound resilient Oswego would even the score up at 5-5. A late game hit by Tommy Farr on an Oswego player sent a message to the Lakers that the series wasn't over and a tone was set for a potential championship matchup. A 5-5 tie felt like a loss for Cortland, while it felt like a win for the Lakers. A possible momentum shift in the rivalry series may have occurred in the pool play game.
Cortland's third game was forfeited by Loyola, as they did not show up for the weekend. After Lehigh had beaten Ramapo earlier on the day, it left the Red Dragon-Lehigh matchup as the "semi-final" game. Winner moves on, loser goes home. Knowing the importance of the game, Cortland focused their energy to the task at hand. A slow start by the SUNY school frustrated the squad. Defenseman Gary Krupa finally broke the ice as he scored the first of the game at the 7:54 mark. Cortland would notch two more in the first from Stern and Weber as they cruised to a 3-0 lead at the break. Cortland found their stride in the second scoring four more goals (Stern, Fidotta, Krupa, Barbariantz) to really secure their place in the finals. Two early goals in the third was all Cortland could muster. Lehigh found the net behind Vetri just once in the game while Cortland skated onto the Championship game with a 9-1 victory.
A 5-5 tie against Oswego in the pool play gave Cortland a sense of anger and a sense of
unfinished business. Skating against the Lakers in the finals was the matchup that was predicted from the preseason match-ups. The time was finally here, it was time for each team to make their season count. The momentum carried over from the round robin match up as physicality was intense early until Player of the Year CJ Gilcrist tallied the first goal of the Finals at the 4:16 mark in the first period. Just :33 seconds later line mate Max Stern notched his first of the game putting Cortland out to an early 2-0 lead. The referees called the game close so the play would remain under control as there were five penalties in the first period alone (3 by Cortland and 2 by Oswego). The Lakers connected with two minutes left in the period on a power play to shorten their deficit to just one goal at the end of the stanza. The second period started with much of the play being in the neutral zone. Tom Hughes capitalized on an Oswego mishap as he made the score 3-1 in favor of the Red Dragons. The remainder of the second saw defensive play by both teams, great saves by goalies, and turnovers by the teams.
The third and final period of the Finals and season would be one to remember. The period started off with Cortland finding the momentum first. Stern would extend the Dragons lead to three goals at the 1:27 mark in the period. A desperate sort of play was then adopted by the Lakers as they saw time was of the essence. However the next goal would be scored by Cortland as Tommy Farr found the back of the net on a pass down low by Chris Fidotta. With the score at 5-1 Cortland added one more goal by Stern, his third of the game, to lengthen their lead to five goals and put the Lakers away. But 12 seconds after Sterns goal, the line of Farr and Fidotta were out with the defensive pairing of Gary Krupa and Brendan Joyce. The puck dropped for the face-off, after some jostling for the puck Farr gained control and passed the puck off to Fidotta. Back turned, Farr was cross-checked from behind and his head was slammed to the ground as Oswego's Chris Galante jumped on Farr's back and continued to punch the back of his head. Fidotta jumped on Galante
and an all out fight broke ensued. Farr skated away while teammates Joyce, Krupa, and Fidotta fended off the four Oswego players on the rink. Farr's chin was split and bloodied, requiring stitches after the game. All players on the rink at the time received roughing minors, while Galante gathered up 24 PIM's including DQ's and fighting. Farr would return to the surface to finish the game. After some time sorting out the man power and wether or not to continue the game, it was decided to finish the last three plus minutes of the game. Cortland, outraged by the fight that had occurred, continued to pile on the goals showing up the Lakers. Three more goals were scored by Mike Weber, Stern, and Krupa to finish off the game. Cortland skated away with a 9-1 win and the ECRHA's DIII Championship.
Freshmen Fidotta and Hughes were lucky enough to be apart of the first Championship team in the history of the University and they hope to win many more at the Division II level in the coming years. Juniors Krupa, Vetri, Stern, Gilcrist, Weber, and Croce look to carry the winning tradition to DII next season as well.
All players over the weekend notched at least two points in the four games played with Max Stern leading the way with 17 points. Senior Sean Glynn, who was out for the season with a blood clot in his leg, stood on the bench with crutches as the coach of the Champion Red Dragons. Fourth year players Mike Barbariantz, Lou Vetri, Sean Glynn and Tommy Farr finally got to hoist the coveted Championship Trophy for the first time. Seniors Barbariantz, Glynn, Farr, Bob Motto, and Joyce will graduate as Champions.
Best of luck goes out to all graduating seniors in their future endeavors and a big thank you goes out as well to all players, parents, and fans for being a part of the first ever Championship title in the history of Cortland Roller Hockey. Looking forward to next season, as already stated the Red Dragons will be moving up to the ECRHA's DII hoping to clinch a bid to the National Championships next March. Also moving up to DII with the team as a coach Cortland's former President and Captain Tommy Farr.
On a side note over the weekend, Oswego's Ryan Oliveri, a filming major had all his cameras at the playoff event. The rivalry of Cortland and Oswego was captured on film with gameplay, interviews, and raw footage. Oliveri's project is a spin off of the NHL's 24/7 which follows two teams leading up to the Winter Classic. This spin gives fans a look into the hotels, locker room, and pre and post game speeches. Be on the lookout for the project to come online in the near future! This will chronicle Cortland's Championship run!