AUBURN — While the stakes weren't as high this time, Friday's game between Auburn hockey and Clinton was par for the course in terms of scoring chances and physicality.
This time around, though, it was the Warriors that came out on top.
In a rematch of last year's Section III, Division II championship game, Auburn fell to Clinton 5-2 at Casey Park Ice Rink despite plenty of offensive zone time and scoring chances for the Maroons.
Clinton, which entered the game winless in league play, scored twice on the power play, twice more on Auburn defensive miscues, and lastly into an empty net.
"They took advantage of their opportunities, we did not," Auburn coach Mike Lowe said. "I thought we generated more offensive opportunities and more scoring chances than we typically do, but just couldn't finish. The goalie made some nice saves and we've got to be better at finishing."
RJ Szakalski and Brendan Williams both potted goals for the Maroons, while Austin Black picked up an assist.
Clinton was one of the few teams that succeeded in shutting down the Maroons' Johnny Malandruccolo, the section's leading scorer, by continuously shadowing Malandruccolo with its best defenders.
Despite that, the Maroons' supporting cast generated plenty of chances but simply couldn't cash in.
"The rest of the team played well," Lowe said. "That might be the most high-quality scoring chances we've had this year. A lot of guys had good looks, made some nice plays and had good opportunities. That's not the first time that teams have keyed on Johnny ... most teams do. We usually find a way to score goals and come out on a better end of things."
After a scoreless first, Clinton scored twice in the second to go ahead 2-0 before Williams tipped in Black's blue-line shot on a power play midway through the second. The Warriors struck with their third goal only 1:28 into the final period to go back ahead by a pair, but that was quickly countered when Szakalski buried his own rebound on a breakaway less than a minute later.
The score remained 3-2 in Clinton's favor until the Warriors took advantage of a turnover in the Maroons' zone, resulting in a score for Ethan Carr, his second of the night.
A five-minute major penalty against Auburn with 3:32 remaining put the Maroons, down 4-2, in a difficult predicament. As Auburn pulled its goalie Aaron Kowal inside of the final two minutes and did have some quality chances, Clinton ultimately filled the empty net to go up 5-2 and effectively end the game.
"We've got to get better defensively, giving up easy goals," Lowe said. "We've got to make teams work harder to get their goals. At times we've given up easy ones that we can't be doing. We've got to get better in our end.
"We can't have any lapses. We're not a good enough team to take time off, take half a period off. We've got to play hard, play smart for 51 minutes."
Auburn (7-6) hosts Whitesboro Friday, Jan. 11.