The man with the golden hand
Rodrigues saves season, then extends it for Oswego
LAKE PLACID, N.Y. -- It was all hands on deck for Oswego State and junior forward Paul Rodrigues was more than willing to lend one of his to the cause.
With the Lakers reeling after a goal from Amherst College's Eddie Effinger tied Friday night's Division III national semifinal with 22.1 seconds left in regulation, Rodrigues helped stem the tide of the Lord Jeffs' early overtime rush when he covered the puck with his left glove along the boards and flung his glove into the neutral zone to get Oswego St. a much-needed clear.
Paul Rodrigues scored 7:20 into overtime to send Oswego State to Saturday's DIII championship game with a 2-1 victory against Amherst on Friday night. Andrew Hare had 43 saves for the winners.
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What he did a few minutes later justified all of that hard work. Rodrigues, a 5-foot-10, 185-pound winger, found himself on the receiving end of a brilliant cross-ice stretch pass from linemate Luke Moodie and streaked in alone on Amherst's Sid Watson Award-winning goalkeeper, Jonathan LaRose.
After a little patience -- and more than a few nifty moves -- Rodrigues was being mobbed by his teammates at center ice following the goal that lifted the Lakers to a 2-1 win at Herb Brooks Arena and a berth in Saturday's Division III national final against St. Norbert College.
"I saw Moodie get the puck, and the 'D' was kind of pinching a little bit towards him, so I followed him," Rodrigues said. "Moodie saw me, and I took it from there."
It was fitting, perhaps, that the Lakers' (24-3-2) top line of Rodrigues, Moodie and center Jon Whitelaw accounted for Oswego's golden goal. The trio had combined for 110 points entering the national semifinals, but spent most of Friday night hemmed in by LaRose and the rest of Amherst's stingy defense.
"We kept talking on the bench, 'Let's keep working, working,'" Rodrigues said. "They were obviously keying in on us. They were working hard, and we didn't get the bounces sometimes. We started to get a cycle going, and that's when we started to feel like we were starting to play pretty well. We just wanted to take advantage of our opportunities, and I guess that's what we did at the end."
Though Amherst (24-4-1) head coach Jack Arena said that the Lord Jeffs didn't do anything specific to try and counterattack Oswego's potent No. 1 line, the team was definitely conscious of when the Rodrigues-Whitelaw-Moodie unit was on the ice and tried to curtail the group's opportunities, especially in the transition game.
"Specifically, [we did] nothing," Arena said. "We were conscious of what 'D' pairs we had out against them, but we have a lot of confidence in our kids and our defensive system. We tell the guys all the time that it doesn't matter who we're playing or what they're doing, they know how to defend and how they want to defend. We'll wait for them to get to the areas where we want to defend, and that's what we did tonight.
"They're so good cycling the puck that we won't even try to stop them. We'll let them cycle it, keep them to the outside. If they want to keep possession along the boards and in the corner, that's OK. As long as they don't get it to the front of the net."
It was like that for more than 67 minutes of hockey in front of a crowd of 3,100 in Lake Placid, until all of a sudden, Rodrigues found himself clear in on goal, one-on-one with the Division III national player of the year.
Rodrigues, an Etobicoke, Ontario native, needed to wait a while for LaRose to finally commit, but once the goaltender finally dropped down, Rodrigues deftly slid the puck across the crease and into the net with 12:40 to play in overtime.
"I faked the goalie, I kind of lost the angle, but luckily I got the goal at the end, tucked it in," Rodrigues said.
Twenty minutes after it had ended, a sullen LaRose still couldn't shuffle through the finer details of Rodrigues' winner.
"They hit the long pass, and he was pretty patient," he said. "Honestly, I can't even tell you where the puck went in. He was patient, the puck got a good bounce and he made a good play. That's hockey."
Though the Lakers thought they'd forged ahead for good when Ian Boots forced a turnover and blasted a shot from the high slot to beat LaRose for the first time just past the midway point of the third period, they were stunned nine minutes later. After Oswego St. junior goalie Andrew Hare turned the Lord Jeffs' first 40 shots, Effinger forced overtime on the 41st by ramming home the loose puck during a scramble in the crease with LaRose on the bench in favor of an extra attacker.
But, Gosek gave credit to players like Rodrigues for not slumping after seeing the win snatched from them in the closing ticks of regulation.
"We've been preaching all year, 'Adversity makes us stronger,'" Gosek said. "Instead of dwelling on giving up the goal late, we focused on moving ahead."
Which is why Rodrigues was willing to surrender his left glove for the cause of extending the game just a little longer. Long enough, in fact, for him to become the hero for more than tossing a glove down the ice.
"We talked about it, especially in the intermission after the third period. We said, 'Guys, let's sacrifice. We have to do whatever it takes,'" Rodrigues said. "If it means you have to kind of throw the puck out of the zone, get in front of shots, whatever it takes. That's what we did."