OSWEGO — Five years since Mary Gosek passed away from ovarian cancer, the Oswego State men’s hockey team has reached a new “generation” of players.
Up and down the lineup, from the seniors to the freshmen, no one ever had the chance to meet Mary. The last players to ever know who Mary, Lakers’ head coach Ed Gosek’s late wife, was were the four-year seniors who graduated this past May, when they were still being by recruited by Oswego State.
Ed Gosek and the rest of the staff “try to tell the players stories” about Mary — who she was, her role with the Oswego State hockey program and her impact in the community — to keep her legacy alive.
But what always stood out about Mary was her passion for the sport and the team.
“That was our message to them when they were flat and not competing. Be the aggressors,” Ed Gosek said. “Finally, not the whole third period but portions of it, we were being aggressors. We weren’t anticipating. We were moving our feet. That was our best hockey of the game.”
It was in that third period that Oswego State pushed through and came away with a 2-1 SUNYAC win over SUNY Cortland Friday on the Lakers’ annual TEAL night — raising awareness about ovarian cancer and other life-altering diseases, while supporting Peaceful Remedies, the local nonprofit that Mary founded.
“They gutted it out and found a way,” Gosek said. “They’re capable of playing better. That’s the positive. And we still found a way to get it done.”
As has been a common theme for Oswego State, repeated over and over by Gosek, the first period presented a lack of energy. With several chances throughout the opening 20 minutes, Gosek added the team was “back on their heels.”
Every time there was a rebound opportunity or a chance to crash the net and be the “aggressors,” Cortland got the puck back to give itself chances — eventually capitalizing at 11:18 of the first period, with a goal from Trevor Veneklase on the power play.
“We weren’t putting our noses in there to take hits. I didn’t feel we were gritty enough. You’ve got to have a nose for the net,” Gosek said. “You’ve got to will those pucks in (the net) one way or another. A lot of the times, it’s not about how accurate you are.”
Connor Sleeth tied the game with 12:37 left in the second period after getting a snap shot through a little traffic, making a shooting lane for himself getting around a couple Cortland defenders. It was his first collegiate goal.
Gosek mentioned that Sleeth caught Cortland’s goaltender, Luca Durante, “off-guard” and “the puck just found its way in.”
Later in the third period, Troy Robillard scored the game-winning goal at 11:41 after screening the goalie.
“I’m glad to see Robillard snipe one from the point. He’s certainly not a pure goal scorer, but hey, we’ll take it,” Gosek said. “(Cortland) got running around in the defensive zone and he got it through.”
With the one-game weekend, Steven Kozikoski got the starting nod, making 21 saves. Even though Oswego State gave up a few “grade A scoring chances” to Cortland, Gosek mentioned the senior netminder made “timely saves” when the Lakers needed them.
“We’d be down in their end and get two or three Grade A’s. (Cortland would) come down and we’d give a good Grade A scoring chance up, and Koz stood to the task,” Gosek said. “Just his approach was very positive. We’ll build on that. It’s nice to know you’ve got a dependable goalie in there. Not that the others aren’t. But, at this point, he’s proved his worth as a senior.”
On the ice, with two tough opponents in Brockport State and SUNY Geneseo this weekend, Gosek said the coaching staff will “show (the players) video” in terms of stuff to improve on, such as the Lakers’ transitions from defense to offense when breaking out of the defensive zone.
“There were just too many passengers tonight,” Gosek said. “We had a lot of guys that didn’t show us any energy. … The positive is, being better after a win is a heck of a lot easier to accept things not going well.”
But off the ice, in the beginning stages of the season while still being a “work in progress,” according to Gosek, the coaching staff is trying to teach how to handle adversity: managing emotions and handling life’s “ups and downs.”
“The big picture, as we said to them, we’re getting to play a game. Ovarian cancer and other illnesses, it’s the reality of the world we live in. You hope they don’t have to go through it,” Gosek said. “This year’s a big learning curve. … We’ll continue to show them video and we’ll continue to work on drills that work on our shortcomings. We’ll continue to make the game easier for them. It’s a great group. They’ve been receptive to that. We’ve got to keep that going.”