SYRACUSE — The Maroons had the two most dangerous players on the ice and a goaltender to back them up.
That was the difference between winning a section title and losing it.
Auburn hockey captured the program’s second Section III, Division II crown with a 5-1 win over Clinton Monday at the Onondaga County War Memorial. The Maroons last won the section title in 2014 and made two other appearances in 1983 and 1989.
“It’s great for the group of guys we have,” Auburn coach Mike Lowe said. “These guys weren’t there the last time we won it. It’s a special group and we have some special talents. They’re special individuals that are working real hard. I know Clinton worked real hard too but I’m just really proud of the guys we have.
“It’s great for the community. There was great community support here today and it’s going to be fun back home.”
Jake Morin scored three goals for Auburn while Johnny Malandruccolo posted a pair of goals, including a shorthanded tally that ended up as the eventual game-winner. Malandruccolo also contributed one assist, while Austin Black and Aidan Hastings both added helpers.
Goalie Jack Kalabanka extended his stretch of strong play between the pipes. Kalabanka allowed the game’s first goal on a breakaway 3:54 into the game, but shut out Clinton the rest of the way.
He finished with 38 saves.
Auburn trailed 1-0 in the opening four minutes and nearly coughed up a second goal when the Warriors threw a shot on net from the corner that bounced off a Maroons defenseman and in the net, but the play was waved off by the referee as the net had come off its moorings.
The Maroons’ best chance came midway through the first when Malandruccolo slid a pass to a wide-open Morin beside the Clinton goal, but his shot was snared by the glove of Warriors goalie Brian Saunders.
“We weren’t worried after the first. We may have been down 1-0, but we had the offensive opportunities that we were looking to get,” Lowe said. “The goalie made a couple nice saves, but after the first period the kids knew it was only a matter of time. With the kids we have on our team, we can kind of play rope-a-dope a little bit.”
Morin wasn’t denied on his next great chance — with 5:21 left in the second period, the hulking center sped through open ice inside the Clinton blue line and wired a shot off the post and in to tie the score 1-1.
Less than four minutes later, Malandruccolo put Auburn ahead for the first time. With the Maroons killing a penalty, a bouncing puck eluded a Clinton defenseman in the Auburn zone, freeing up Malandruccolo for a breakaway and his five-hole shot was enough for a 2-1 advantage.
The Maroons came in waves in the third, starting with Malandruccolo’s second of the game on another breakaway 1:12 into the period.
“I’m just doing everything I can, looking everywhere and trying to score,” Malandruccolo said. “The first one I kind of lost (the puck) so I just did whatever at the end, but the second one I knew what I was doing.”
Auburn added two more goals in the next four minutes, both from Morin, to take a commanding 5-1 lead. Clinton peppered the Auburn net with 14 shots over the final 15 minutes, but Kalabanka was up to the task.
“Kalabanka played great,” Lowe said. “Clinton is a real hard team to play against. They’ll shoot from everywhere and anywhere, and then they come crashing in. … Very physical down low. Kalabanka knew that he had to focus 100 percent of the time. We just wanted to make sure our forwards and defense kept them to the outside. As long as we could limit them to that first shot from the outside and clear the front of the net, we thought we’d be in good shape.”
It helped the Maroons that they have Section III’s two leading scorers in Morin and Malandruccolo. The pair, who are linemates, combined for all five goals and an assist.
“It’s mainly him. He gets me the puck,” Morin said of Malandruccolo. “He’s doing the dirty work and I’m just in front ready to bury pucks. It’s a total team effort though, not just me and Johnny. It’s the defense, it’s all the forwards, it’s the whole team getting pumped up.”
Now the Maroons (15-6-2) move on to the New York State Public High School Athletic Association regionals, where they will take on Section X champion Ogdensburg Free Academy.
“They have some high-end forwards. I think the top two or three forwards in Section X play for OFA,” Lowe said. “We have to play our best game of the year Saturday to advance.”