The Lake Placid and Saranac Lake hockey teams combined to score just two goals in road games played over the weekend as the Champlain Valley Athletic Conference regular season came to a close. But those goals turned out to be huge for both the Blue Bombers and the Red Storm.
On Friday, a first-period tally by Elias Smith was the only goal that Lake Placid needed to claim a 1-0 victory over host Plattsburgh at the Ameri-Can North Sports Arena. Then on the same ice Saturday a second-period goal scored by Saranac Lake senior captain Grant Strack enabled the Red Storm to finish in a 1-1 deadlock with CVAC champion Beekmantown. With the tie, the Red Storm earned a home game for the first-round of the Section VII playoffs.
Smith, a junior, scored the game's only goal at the 6:53 mark of the first period when he slid a puck past Hornets goalie Robbie Knowles. Nzoni Thompson earned the assist on Smith's tally, and sophomore goaltender Tucker Angelopolous made 27 saves to earn the shutout victory.
Plattsburgh headed into the contest after already clinching second place in the CVAC standings and an opening-round bye for the postseason. With the win, the Blue Bombers avenged a loss at home to the Hornets earlier in the season.
"Both teams played a really good game," Lake Placid head coach Keith Clark said. "It was up-and-down the ice and fast-paced. It was a good result for us heading into the playoffs."
With the win, the Blue Bombers finished their CVAC campaign in third place with a 6-3-1 record, and will host Saranac Central Tuesday in a quarterfinal playoff game at the Olympic Center. The opening faceoff is scheduled for 6 p.m.
Facing a Beekmantown team that has lost just one regular-season game in the past two years, Saranac Lake had an uphill battle on its hands when it traveled to face the Eagles on Saturday.
And this time around, a tie really was just as good as a win, and even better according to Saranac Lake head coach Will Ellsworth, whose team skated with just three defensemen and two forward lines.
After a scoreless first period, Strack lifted the Red Storm into a 1-0 lead when he buried a puck with just 45 seconds remaining in the middle stanza with Christian Thomas picking up the assist. The Eagles later tied the game on a goal by Nathan Foster 44 seconds into the third period, and the score stayed 1-1 the rest of the way as Saranac Lake finished fourth in the league standings.
"We knew we needed that point to host a playoff game, and that's something we really wanted to do," said Ellsworth, whose Red Storm are the defending Section VII champions. "It was just a gutsy performance by our team. It was Beekmantown's senior night, they had this laser light show, we had our backs against the wall, and our kids went in their and got the job done."
Junior goalie Blake Darrah had a strong outing in nets, making 33 saves in a game that saw the Eagles hold a 34-24 edges in shots on goal. Dustin Plumadore recorded 23 stops between the pipes for Beekmantown, which finished 8-1-1 in league play to earn a second straight CVAC regular season crown.
Saranac Lake entered the game on the heels of another gritty effort that ended up in a 2-1 overtime loss to Plattsburgh.
"We just took Plattsburgh - the 11th ranked team in the state - and Beekmantown, who's ranked 12th, right to the wire," Ellsworth said. "At this point, our kids have a can-do attitude, despite our short bench. Our last two games were just like playoff hockey. They kind of brought back memories of our run last year.
"At this point, it's there for the taking for any team, even for sixth-seeded Saranac," Ellsworth added. "The team that makes the fewest amount of mistakes, the team that is the most opportunistic, I think that's the team who is going to win it."
Fourth-seeded Saranac Lake finished the regular season with a 6-8-5 record overall, including a 3-5-2 mark in the CVAC. The Red Storm will host fifth-seeded Northeastern Clinton Tuesday in quarterfinal action at the Civic Center starting at 6:30 p.m. The teams split their two meetins earlier this season, both winning on home ice.