The drive from New Jersey to Ithaca, NY consists of a three hour journey through a Bob Ross painting with an endless fully budded tree line on the verge of exploding in living color. Once off the highway there's still a half hour of winding road past old farms complete with dilapidated cars on cinder blocks. At the end of it all lies a quaint college town and the home of the Ithaca Bombers. The trip was well worth it even without a radio. Today, in crisp weather warmed by the sun, the Bombers defeated the Nazareth Golden Flyers for the first time in school history with a final tally of 7-5.
It was like watching playoff hockey. Both teams played insanely disciplined defense despite a boat load of penalties. The amount of fast breaks could probably be counted on one hand. Don't let the low score fool you though. These teams got up and down the field all day, it's just that the defensive players were with the offensive players virtually every step of the way. This essentially was a playoff game for both teams being members of the Empire 8. Ithaca had lost to Hartwick earlier in the season for their only loss in the conference. Nazareth had one loss as well and Hartwick and RIT were in the same boat as well with one loss. RIT handed Hartwick their second loss today convincingly with a 17-7 final. Now, the top two teams, Ithaca and RIT each have one loss and one game left in the conference against each other on May 4th. How's that for scheduling. Whichever team wins gets the AQ for the Empire 8.
Ryan Martin spearheaded the defensive stand with 17 save today for Ithaca. Interestingly enough, he was pulled in his last two starts, but Head Coach Jeff Long saw fit to stay with his number one guy and it paid off. Martin said after the game,"I got pulled early in my last two games against Hartwick and Oneonta, but Coach believed in me." He said ,"We just played straight up man to man. it was similar to the way we played Cortland, but the difference was our middies didn't get beat." Nazareth wasn't as thrilled with their goal tending. They pulled the starter in Mike Darmetko at the half after a five goals and four saves performance. Travis Kuhl replaced him making 4 saves and allowing two in the second half.
Ithaca won the game with superior outside shooting and great man down defense. The Bombers took ten penalties and the only time they allowed a man-down goal was when they were two men down. Nazareth had good ball movement on their EMO's; they just couldn't get anyone open on the crease and their outside shooting was impudent. Ithaca, however, was able to cash in on three outside cranks which the goalies could not be faulted for. Two were from Attackman Sam Griffo and the third from the Aussie Dennis Juleff.
And now for the play by play. Ithaca's face off man Josh Marksberry won the opening face, but Nazareth got the first good opportunity after totally thwarting Ithaca's attempt. Jared Koopman drove to the front of the cage for the Golden Flyers and managed a backhand shot that missed the cage. Juleff hit the post at 10:05, but the tone was clearly set by this point. Both clubs were playing outstanding defense. At 9:19 Ithaca broke the ice. Jeff Welch cut across the top of the box from his right to left and as his shooting angle dwindled he passed back against the grain to attackman Morris Jemal who found himself all alone on the crease to the goalies right. He faked high and shot low along the right pipe, 1-0. The teams would be fruitless until the 2:35 mark of the first quarter. After back and forth play PJ Rosencrans got loose on a break and split to his right in transition to beat Ryan along the left pipe and tie the game for Nazareth, 1-1. Ithaca took a penalty at 2:20 and as it expired Juleff left early from the midfield to play defense incurring another violation. Jarod Koopman got off a laser from the righty crank spot, but the stick side high shot was stuffed by Ryan.
Nazareth drew first blood in the second quarter. Justin Wahl posted up against Ithaca long pole Kevin Curtin from 12 yards out to the goalies left. He backed his way in and turned to the inside firing a lefty shot low that put Nazareth up 2-1. Ithaca's face off specialist Marksberry didn't give them any time to enjoy it. He won the next face clean and beat everyone to the cage before beating Darmetko with a bounce shot at 13:17, 2-2. PJ Rosencranz got the next quality chance for the Golden Flyers working his way to the front of the cage, but he drilled Ryan in the head standing right on the crease at 10:20. Only 15 seconds later Dennis Juleff had the best goal of the game for the Bombers. It was a simple sweep to the left. Juleff got a step on his man with a little split dodge, but he was only three yards inside the restraining line dead center when he ripped a side arm shot to the upper right corner for a 3-2 Ithaca lead. To shoot on the run, side arm, with that much velocity and accuracy is truly something special. While on the subject of Juleff. This kid has some serious talent and size at 6'2" and 200 lbs. The guy can run all day too. It appears that the only thing stopping him from completely dominating is a lack of gear changing ability. Nazareth's Justin Wahl got inside his defender Jeffrey Tousant, but Tousant never gave up and checked his stick as he was about to shoot. the game turned to crap for a brief stint with players throwing errant passes out of bounds and all around sloppy play, but both teams participated so it was a wash.
With 4:03 left in the half the Bombers struck again. Sam Griffo got his first of three on a delayed call. Freshman Matt Casey fed Griffo from behind. Griffo fielded the pass in the lefty crank spot with his right hand and ripped an upper cut to the short high right corner from 14 yards out, 4-2. Nazareth was man down for the next face, but PJ Rosencranz won the draw and drove hard to the Bombers net nearly scoring with a one handed shovel shot. He didn't score, but he succeeded in drawing a foul. The ball was worked by Justin Wahl, but senior defenseman Tim Favarro ripped him with a sweet over the head check. Push call was made on ensuing fight for ground ball and awarded back to Nazareth. At 3:08 their were clock problems trying to deal with all the penalties, but after all was said and done Wahl took the ball at Favaro again with a similar outcome. Wahl was able to recover the loose ball and time out was called by Nazareth coach Rob Randell. The ball was put back into play and there was quickly another penalty when Toussant wouldn't allow his man to move freely on the crease. With the delayed call on Ithaca's Scott Guerra took the opportunity to run through a pick as hard as he could drawing another penalty. Guerra wound up playing defense against the driving attacker and was a hair from drawing an additional slash call. The ball hit the ground and Naz had a two men up field to play with. They worked the ball to Chad Kuczek for a lefty bounce shot that curled underneath the crossbar from about 14 yards out to Ryan's left at 1:55, 4-3. After the next face off the swarm of players fighting for the ball became unruly until Nazareth's Rosencranz emerged clean. He sprinted towards the cage and ripped a 15 yard shot as if time was about to run out, but there was a minute left and no back up. the shot sailed wide and Ithaca cleared off the inbound. Julleff headed for the cage with time running out beating three men in the process, but his shot was wide as well. The difference was he had back up. With literally no time left Brian Weil in bounded the ball from behind to Sam Griffo for an instant replay of his first goal. With so little time left and no room for mental breakdowns this was a costly goal for the Flyers as Griffo shouldn't of had that kind of time. The goal beat the buzzer with zero seconds on the clock, 5-3.
Justin Wahl came across on the opening face off after possession was call and crushed an Ithaca with a clean hit. The NCAA has some wacky rule about the number of steps you can take before hitting a guy or something like that which penalized the attackman for great hustle and a great hit. Matt Casey bobbled the ball at the top of the box on Ithaca's man up and Nazareth was able to escape clean. Chad Kuczek got off a sweet lefty crank for Nazareth, but Ryan was equal to the task. Ithaca cleared and called time out. What ever was set up failed because they actually got called for failure to advance. Nazareth started to pour it on and they got Ithaca's defense to start sliding. The problem was they were never able to find the open man and instead of moving the ball the player who was doubled would run away and the defense would recover easily. Ithaca made it 6-3 at the 9:29 point of the third. Morris Jemal curled wide to his right from behind and hit Griffo cutting on the crease for a lefty quick stick low. Later Nazareth got another man-up at 8:28 for a silly delay of game when a Bomber through the ball a little too far out of bounds after a change of possession call at the midfield. Nazareth again got nothing but a far outside shot which missed the cage as time expired.
From this point on Ithaca totally lost direction on offense. Naz defenders were chasing them all over the field when they had possession and they seemed overwhelmed leaving the game in the defense' hands. They got called for failure to advance three times in the third quarter. Ithaca's defense was more than up to the challenge until the 4:01 mark of the third. Jarod Koopman swept to his right from the top and hit Avery Burke who was flanking him underneath. Avery caught the ball and took two more steps before shooting the ball low and away along left pipe from about 8 yards out, 6-4. Ithaca's Nick Mayer almost replied for the Bombers with a righty crank that had the back of the net written all over it, but Travis Kuhl smothered the low shot.
In the fourth quarter Ithaca scored after killing another penalty. Juleff ran down the left side and when he was about five yards from goal line extended he turned and fed Brian Weil cutting across the crease for a 7-4 lead. Ithaca gave Nazareth a few more man ups, but Ryan stood tall saving outside shots that were high and ones he saw all the way. With 1:43 left in the game Chad Kuczek got the ball on a rare break in transition and scored from 12 yards out with a lefty crank shot that was LOW, 7-5. That would be all the scoring on the day. Ithaca still has life and they made history in the process.
|Sam Griffo||(3, 0)|
|Morris Jemal||(1, 1)|
|Dennis Juleff||(1, 1)|
|Brian Weil||(1, 1)|
|Jeff Welch||(0, 1)|
|Matt Casey||(0, 1)|
|Josh Marksberry||(1, 0)|
|Ryan Martin||17 (0.773)|