In Thursday’s sectional quarterfinal game, the state of affairs couldn’t have been much better for the Clinton Warriors after two periods. Third-seeded Clinton, as an underdog on the road, had outworked, outskated, and outwitted their hosts en route to a 2-1 lead over the second-seeded Auburn Maroons.
But on this night, it just wasn’t meant to be. Auburn, fighting for their life in one of the stiffest Section III Division II playoff brackets in recent memory, reminded those in attendance at Casey Park why they are one of the state’s premier teams. And in front of their home fans, they did so with a vengeance. With the season on the line, the Maroons exploded for five goals in the third period to wipe out the deficit, and bring the upset bid to a screeching halt as the Maroons triumphed over the Warriors by a 6-2 score.
As they have many a time this year, the Maroons, keyed by their dangerous top line of Kaiden Tubbert, Johnny Malandruccolo, and Jake Morin, came out firing with their transition game right off the draw, and it led to a penalty just 25 seconds in. Tubbert, the fleet footed 50 point forward who is headed off to prep school in Maine next season, drove wide at the right circle, catching defenseman Garrett Frank flat-footed, and Frank was called for the trip. The Maroons came away empty handed on that power play, but the Tubbert-led attack continued to generate opportunities, ringing one off the pipe and producing numerous others. The persistence paid off. Morin, off a narrow misfire on the rush, got his team on the board with Clinton scrambling to recover, netting the icebreaker at 5:24 of the first.
The Maroons had gained the lead and were outchancing the Warriors, but all the while, an area of weakness for Auburn had become very apparent to Clinton. While Auburn’s transition offense was firing when they were presented with the chance to carry the line with speed, their ability to get the puck into an attacking position without turning it over presented a continual challenge. The breakout challenges for the Maroons, became a gold mine for a Warriors offense that needed a spark after falling behind.. As the Warriors began to slowly tilt the ice surface, Maroon netminder Jack Farrington was called upon to make big stop, after big stop.
Eventually, the Maroons made one mistake too many. Auburn’s TJ Reilly coughed the puck up just outside his own blue line, and Clinton’s Mike Teesdale took care of the rest, walking in and zipping the wrister over Farrington’s left shoulder to knot the game at one. The 1-1 stalemate held through the first intermission, with Clinton outshooting the Maroons 9-4.
While the Maroons held an early lead in the first, it would be the Warriors that would strike early the second period to assume their first lead of the night. Just 23 seconds into the second period, Eddie Allen launched a bomb from the point, inducing a rebound. Steve Calidonna was there to bang in the loose change, and the onus would fall onto Auburn with Clinton’s 2-1 advantage. The Warriors were then tested by a penalty laden stretch, in which they killed off three minor penalties. The momentum generated by those successful kills carried the Clinton lead into the second intermission, as the Warriors tilted the ice surface in even strength play en route to a 23-12 shot advantage after two periods.
However, a talented, but visibly frustrated Auburn team wasn’t going down without a fight. And Jake Morin would deliver with one of the finest periods of his high school hockey career to help put the Maroons ahead, and ensure the lead would stand to the buzzer. With 11:14 to go, Morin took advantage of a critical break in the slot, collecting a bouncing center feed and potting his second of the game to knot the game up at two, with Malandruccolo and Tubbert picking up assists.
After a critical goal, the talented Auburn top line wasn’t stopping there. It took just seven seconds for the group to find paydirt again, as Tubbert was able to cash in on the primary assist from Morin to give Auburn the lead for good. Morin would score twice more for a total of four goals, and Brendan Williams added more insurance with a backdoor tap in to cap off a furious charge for the Maroons as they pulled out a 6-2 win.
Brian Saunders finished with 15 saves for the Warriors, who wrap up at 8-10-1 under coach Jon Davignon. Farrington stopped 24 for the Maroons, who advance to take on the winner of Friday’s contest between Whitesboro and top-seeded Skaneateles in the semifinal round.
Clinton 1-1-0 2
Auburn 1-0-5 6