BUFFALO — They went through the handshake line, tapped their sticks politely as Skaneateles accepted individual awards, endured the celebrations at the other end.
Then the Queensbury Spartans retired to their dressing room. Within minutes, there was talk about next year.
“It’s sad to be over, because I’m a senior, and I don’t want to see it end,” forward Casey Moulthrop said, “but I’m excited for the underclassmen and the juniors that come back next year, and hopefully do it all again.”
The Spartans’ season ended with a 6-1 loss to Skaneateles in the Division II championship game of the State Ice Hockey Tournament on Sunday at Harborcenter. Queensbury added to its state-level resume this winter with its sixth trip to the final four and second appearance in the title game.
The dream of getting to the very top died against a slick-skating Lakers team that won its fourth state crown, but the Spartans lose only a handful of seniors this spring. There are a bevy of juniors and sophomores expected to return, including Brendan Duffy, their leading scorer, and Brayden Ordway, who was named to the all-tournament team.
“We worked hard,” coach Dean Williams said. “A lot of skill on the team. They gave us something to look forward to next year. There’s a lot of returning players and a lot of talented hockey players and hard workers. Not to take away from the seniors, but we have a really good, talented group coming back and I know they’ll keep this in mind and want to get back here.”
On Sunday, the Spartans were up against a Skaneateles team with plenty of finesse. Queensbury sometimes had trouble getting the puck out of its own zone. Williams said that was a product of the Lakers’ skill.
“When you work hard and you skate hard, you create turnovers and you create a team that is rushed, so that a simple pass or a breakout, we feel like we have to do something quickly with it, which you do ... everything happens faster and faster. That’s when you see those unforced turnovers.”
“It’s one of those teams ... I saw it growing up in youth hockey ... it’s a team that plays well together, they just look like they grew up together,” Moulthrop said of Skaneateles, “and we have that too, but they brought it to a different level.”
The Lakers pressed hard in the first period and came close to scoring a couple of times. Williams was happy to get out of it with a scoreless tie.
“The first period, that’s actually what we wanted,” Williams said. “It wasn’t a great start, but we felt like if we could get through the first period even or better, we had a shot.”
Skaneateles broke through early in the second period when Ryan Gick scored just as a power play was ending. Cole Heintz made it 2-0, then Luke Lynn scored less than a minute after that to make it a three-goal lead. Williams called time out. A couple of penalties gave the Spartans a two-man advantage, but they weren’t able to get anything out of it, which might have been the turning point of the game.
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“I felt like we didn’t respond well to that second goal, and then they pop in a third one,” he said.
The penalties began to mount in the third period, and Williams felt that worked against Queensbury. When Duffy scored in the final minute of the third period, there was hardly any celebration. The writing was on the wall.
The Spartans weren’t able to get their forechecking game going, and thus didn’t produce much offense. The number of quality scoring chances for QHS was fairly limited.
“We didn’t have too many opportunities, but we didn’t take advantage of the ones that we had,” Williams said.
The Spartans ended the season 15-7-1.
“I’m still very proud of the season as a whole,” Williams said. “It’s a group that worked really hard and they should be proud of what they did.”
Division II State Final
Queensbury 0 0 1 — 1
Skaneateles 0 3 3 — 6
First period — None.
Second period — 1, Skaneateles, Rick Gick (Jim Liberatone, Garrett Krieger), 2:15. 2, Skaneateles, Cole Heintz (Bauer Morrissey), 10:28. 3, Skaneateles, Luke Lynn, 11:08.
Third period — 4, Skaneateles, Garrett Krieger (Charlie Russell, Charlie Major), 2:57 (pp). 5, Skaneateles, Luke Lynn (Owen VanHoltz, Bauer Morrissey), 10:23 (pp). 6, Skaneateles, Jack Henry (Bauer Morrissey), 10:42 (pp). 7, Queensbury, Brendan Duffy (Trevor Vogel, Jack Randall), 14:43.
Goalies-saves — Owen Smith (Q) 23, Blake Powers (Q) 1, Adam Casper (Sk) 13, Chris Falco (Sk) 2.