SKANEATELES — If Friday's game between the Lakers and Golden Eagles is any indication, the Section III, Division II playoffs is going to be a rough ride.
In a battle of the two top-ranked teams in New York state in Division II, Skaneateles hockey clinched the No. 1 seed and a league title with a 4-2 win over Cortland-Homer at the Skaneateles YMCA.
While hockey teams often focus on taking everything one game at a time and not letting outside noise affect what happens on the ice, the Lakers took a different approach to facing the Golden Eagles, instead embracing the moment.
"I took a little different stance. I said, 'Guys, this is for the league championship and you don't always get these opportunities, so leave it all out there,'" Skaneateles coach Mitch Major said. "Let's call it what it is. It's going to be a big game and there's going to be a lot of pressure. I thought the guys played great. The guys are buying in right now and every guy on the team is playing with a high level of intensity."
The meeting between the league's two best squads was originally scheduled to be played on Jan. 9, but school closures that day forced a postponement to the end of the season. If everything happens for a reason, in this instance the reason was to serve as a perfect tune-up for both teams heading into sectionals.
"I talked to (Cortland-Homer coach Chad Totman) before the game and we both agreed that we couldn't have a better game going into sectionals," Major said. "We both knew we had a bye and this is exactly what both teams needed."
Skaneateles quickly separated itself in the first period with three goals in the opening 12 minutes. Luke Lynn scored the game's first goal, converting a costly Cortland-Homer turnover when the Golden Eagles were on the power play; the Lakers would score again minutes later while shorthanded when Charlie Russell followed up on a rebound opportunity after a shot by Bauer Morrissey.
Cole Heintz joined the scoring with five minutes left in the first when he buried another loose puck in front of the goal to give Skaneateles the 3-0 advantage. Cortland-Homer answered shortly after the third Lakers goal to trim the deficit to 3-1.
After a wild first, both defenses settled in during the second, but Skaneateles again cracked the code when a nice move by Garrett Krieger in the Cortland-Homer zone that led to a Jimmy Liberatore goal and a 4-1 Lakers advantage.
While Cortland-Homer would again cut Skaneateles' lead to two, its chances of a comeback were halted by a plague of penalties. Tempers from both teams flared in the final minutes, with each club being assessed a handful of minor penalties along with a pair of misconducts.
If there wasn't a history between them, there is now.
Under the new Section III, Division II playoff format, six of the seven teams in the league qualify for the postseason, and the two top seeds — Skaneateles and Cortland-Homer in this instance — earn a first-round bye. The Lakers will then host the lowest seed remaining next week in the section semifinals.
Before Skaneateles can worry about its next opponent, a decision will need to be made in net, where goalies Chris Falso and Adam Casper have shared time this year, and both offer strong statistics among the league leaders in goals against and save percentage. Casper stated his case to start sectionals with 25 saves against the Golden Eagles, but the Lakers will continue to evaluate the position moving forward.
"We're going to take it game by game," Major said. "We'll have a good week of practice next week and decide on a starter, go from there and take it one game at a time."