NYSPHSAA HOCKEY FINAL: Queensbury vs Skaneateles

Skaneateles' Chris Falso, center, receives a hug from teammates after the Lakers won the NYSPHSAA Division II championship over Queensbury Sunday at the HarborCenter in Buffalo. 

BUFFALO — It’s not often that a veteran all-league goalie is forced to take a back seat to a younger, less experienced netminder when the games count the most.

For Skaneateles’ Chris Falso, that became a reality. After splitting most of the regular season minutes with sophomore Adam Casper, and winning the Lakers’ opening sectional game, Falso was a spectator for the remainder of Skaneateles’ postseason run to the state title.

Casper was nearly unbeatable through the Lakers’ win over Cortland-Homer in the Section III, Division II championship to the NYSPHSAA Division II title win over Queensbury, allowing only three goals in four games, pitching a shutout in the process.

So when the Lakers scored their sixth and final goal late in the third period against Queensbury, Skaneateles coach Mitch Major pulled Casper and replaced him with Falso, allowing the senior goaltender to play the final minutes of the championship season.

“Chris is just … I cannot believe the type of player he’s been for us this year,” Major said. “Adam stepped up in the playoffs for us, but Chris is the one that pushed Adam and has been his mentor all year. Chris is an unbelievable individual with a huge heart and I couldn’t be more proud to have the opportunity to put him in at the end.

“I put him in there because he earned it. If I could play two goalies I would, but I can’t. I was so proud to get him in there for everything he’s done.”

It’s a gift and a curse to essentially have two starting goaltenders. Falso and Casper rotated playing time during the regular season and each put up strong numbers over the course of the year. Casper posted a .922 save percentage over 522 minutes, while Falso owned a .919 save percentage in 511 minutes.

Falso was named a Section III second-team all-star for his efforts but after he helped Skaneateles fend off Auburn in the section semifinals, Major decided to give Casper the net the rest of the way.

No one was happier to see Falso back in goal for the ending than his partner.

“That was awesome,” Casper said. “That was the best feeling because Chris has supported me all season long and I can’t thank him enough for that. This season we came together and grew very close, and I’m very thankful for that. Chris has helped me with so much stuff and I look up to him as a role model.”

Clearly that respect is shared by the entire lineup. While Falso’s entrance wasn’t perfect — Queensbury managed to put one puck past him for a goal — the cameo had a sweet ending. One of the first players to embrace Falso in the championship celebration was forward Ryan Gick, who described his goalie as “an unreal kid.”

“He was our starter and let a younger kid come in and take his spot,” Gick said. “He overcame that and supported him. It’s unlucky that he got scored on, but to be able to hug him first was everything. I don’t think he really cared as long as we win. When I looked at him after the goal I said don’t worry about it and he said, ‘I don’t care … we’re state champs.’ I think that shows who he is and how he overcomes things.”

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Sports writer Justin Ritzel can be reached at 282-2257 or at justin.ritzel@lee.net. Follow him on Twitter @CitizenRitz.