ROME – Based on how it has played against the best Division I sides in the regular season, the Cazenovia ice hockey team has real reason to think it can make a serious run in the Section III playoffs.
Firm evidence that backed up this belief was found Tuesday night at Kennedy Arena, when the Lakers took on state Division I no. 11-ranked Rome Free Academy and, led by Rhiley Montoya’s hat trick, topped the Black Knights 6-3.
RFA was 16-3 and econd in the Division I standings behind West Genesee, but this did not bother Cazenovia one bit, especially Montoya, who scored just 2:15 into the game, assisted by Henry Miller and Shamus Newcomb.
Tyler Lokker tied it for RFA four minutes later and then gave his side a 2-1 lead late in the first period, only to have Montoya answer 38 seconds after the second goal to pull his side even going into the intermission.
Early in the second, John Sharrino’s goal pushed the Black Knights back in front 3-2, but it would not score again, Cazenovia’s defense protecting its side well and Ezra Stahlberg finishing with 17 saves.
A dramatic mid-game scoring burst turned it permanently in the Lakers’ favor.
It was Newcomb tying the game again 3-3 at the 5:27 mark of the second, Jack Donlin assisting on the power-play goal, and seconds later a two-on-on-break led to Miller, off a feed from Montoya, putting the go-ahead goal past RFA netminder Donte Sparace.
Within two minutes, it was 5-3, Donlin taking his turn with a high shot that was the result of a turnover forced by Jake Hightchew, who got credit for the assist.
Before RFA could really recover from this surge, Montoya returned and, with a minute left in the second, beat Sparace for his third goal of the night, Newcomb and Donlin on the assists. Neither side would add to their total in the third period.
Donlin’s two assists ran his career total to 88. In doing so, Donlin broke the program record of 87 set by Sean Cannizzaro from 2007 to 2011 before a college lacrosse career that included an NCAA championship in 2015 at the University of Denver . Finn Hagan and Vinny Dinatale also got credit for assists.
Great as this win was, it was nearly as important for the Lakers to prevail Thursday at Ontario Bay, because a win here would mean clinching third place in Division I and an advantageous position in the 11-team field.
Not having a letdown after RFA, Cazenovia blanked the Storm 5-0, getting in front with Miller’s first-period goal, then extending the lead to 3-0 when Donlin converted on power-play and short-handed goals in the second.
Those were Donlin’s 24th and 25th goals on the season, the most by any Cazenovia players since Brian Gara’s 48 in the state championship season of 2010-11.
Montoya then wrapped it up with back-to-back third-period goals. Lucas Cornish got two assists as Donlin, Montoya and Miller each got one assist and Stahlberg stopped all 23 shots he faced.
Then, on Friday night, Cazenovia lost, 8-2, to Ithaca, getting goals from Hagan and Dylan George in the first period, but then wearing down from its third game in four days as the Little Red broke out of a 2-2 tie with six unanswered goals in the last two periods.
Still, the Lakers had that no. 3 seed and, this Friday at 6:15 at Morrisville State IcePlex will, in the sectional quarterfinals, face the winner of an opening-round game between no. 6 seed Watertown IHC and no. 11 seed Mohawk Valley.