Freshmen-heavy Lakers get set for Frozen Four

As Wisconsin Eau-Claire netted their insurance goal in the final minute of last year's national title game, Lakers head coach Ed Gosek believed he was watching Oswego's window for a championship close.

It was the fourth consecutive Frozen Four and their second straight trip to the finals for the Lakers' 14 seniors. With 19 freshmen and five incoming transfers, Gosek knew he needed to tamper his expectations for the 2013-14 season.

"I can't repeat on air some of my comments after our first practice," laughed Gosek earlier this week as his team prepared for its fifth-straight Frozen Four bid. "And then losing our first game at home, which doesn't happen very often, was a humbling experience for all of us."

But the early setbacks and growing pains along the way have brought this young Lakers squad together.

"We've just become a big family," explained freshman forward Alex Botten. "We've faced a lot of adversity throughout the season. To start things off we lost our home opener to Fredonia. That was an eye-opener to our team."

Gosek stressed that the season has certainly taught him a thing or two about patience, something he admits isn't a strength.

"We continued to work hard, stick to what we do and didn't take shortcuts," said Gosek. "It's the same with practice this week and with this weekend. We want to continue to work hard to get better for the future, whether the future is this Friday night or next season."

Gosek is quick to point out that much of his team's success is a product of strong leadership from the small core of returning players, namely senior captain David Titanic. Titanic is one of just two seniors on the Oswego roster. The 5-foot-9, laidback, honors candidate isn't the flashiest player on the ice, but Lakers swear he's their difference-maker.

"He's remained calm at times when others started to kind of panic around him," said Botten. "He's helped the team become what it is."

Last week couldn't have been more chaotic for the Lakers. A blizzard pushed their NCAA play-in game against Bowdoin back a day, throwing pregame skate, video sessions and meals out of rhythm. On top of it all, midterm exams also threw a wrench in the game-day routines of many Lakers.

"We were out of sync and ripe for the picking," admitted Gosek.

After two evenly fought periods, Bowdoin jumped out to a two-goal lead early in the third. But in his final game in Campus Center Arena, Titanic rallied his troops around him.

"David carried the team on his back with his penalty kill, his goal and his assist on the game-winning goal. He really willed the team to win," said Gosek. "In big games it's not always your big players, but having big character. David certainly did that last Thursday, which allowed us to get down to Boston and get back on track."

The Lakers looked unstoppable in their 3-0 thumping of Babson that propelled Oswego to the semifinals.

Freshman netminder Matt Zawadzki's turned away 27 shots to earn his fourth shutout of the season, his first since January 17.

"Matt's definitely shown us some resiliency and mental toughness by not coming apart," said Gosek. "He's certainly had opportunities to come unraveled over the last few weeks and I think it's a credit to him that it hasn't happened. Hopefully those experiences serve him well this Friday night.

"He'll have to be our best player again just like he was on Sunday at Babson. This time of year goaltenders make coaches look awful good. They are the difference in the outcome."

As the majority of this Laker lineup experiences its first Frozen, they do so without the pressure that seemed to hang on past teams. Without the weight of the last shot at a title looming over them, the young roster is playing loose.

"This group is just kind of taking it as we go," said Titanic. "It's an advantage for our team. They don't seem to feel the pressure or anything, maybe because it's their first time through, so I think we're dangerous in that regard."

For Titanic, however, it is his last shot at a title and his final weekend lacing up for the Lakers.

"It kind of kicked in when I was playing my last game here against Bowdoin," said Titanic. "I wanted it to be a special night for my last game in the Campus Center and we did that. This being my last weekend playing hockey as a Laker I want to make it one to remember. There's only one way to do that and hopefully we'll do it."

The Lakers will faceoff against the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point tonight at 7:30 p.m. in Lewiston, ME. The winner will advance to play the winner of Friday's 4 p.m. tilt between 2011 and 2012 champion St. Norbert and fellow SUNYAC member Geneseo State. The puck drops on the title game on Saturday in Lewiston at 7 p.m.
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