First Game, Biggest Game
It’s finally here. This weekend starts SUNYAC conference play.
For Oswego and Plattsburgh, Friday’s game is also their first NCAA contest.
“I think this is going to be the toughest two-game road trip of the year for us. Fortunately, it’s at the beginning of the year for us and we don’t have any injuries,” said Plattsburgh coach Bob Emery, who travels to Cortland on Saturday.
“Oswego’s always been a tough place to play. They always seem to have a good crowd when they play us. That is our number-one rival in college hockey — probably the best rivalry in Division III. The game is going to be filled with emotion. They’re going to be really jacked up and we’ve got to be ready to play.”
That boisterous Romney Fieldhouse crowd should be out in large numbers to support the Lakers, but coach George Roll doesn’t want his players to get too absorbed by the atmosphere.
“Against a team like Plattsburgh, you have to play 60 minutes and you have to stay within your system,” Roll said, “and not get caught up in the crowd, especially because when our team gets too excited, we tend to take a lot of penalties, and that’s not something you want to do against Plattsburgh.
“We just want to remain realistic in our goals for the weekend and try to get better as the season progresses. The guys are extremely excited to play, but we’ve tried to keep it on an even keel.”
One decision Roll had to make before this weekend was which goalie would get the start against the Cardinals: Joe Lofberg, Tyson Gajda, or Sebastian Matte.
“This weekend Tyson’s going to play against Plattsburgh, and we’ll have to see about Saturday. Right now, Tyson has the upper hand as to who is number one and we’ll have to see how the other guys do,” said Roll. “It’s gonna be a difficult situation [this season] in terms of who is going to be number-one.”
One of Emery’s goals this season is “to try to equal the emotion of our opponent. Being former national champion and being picked No. 1, teams’ emotions are going to be extremely high. And I think when there’s more emotion, you’re going to get faster and you’re going to get stronger. We have to realize that.”
Emotions will be high at Oswego this Friday as the first game of the season for both teams is also one of their biggest.
Potsdam Looks For Redemption
Tom Cranfield’s upstart Cortland Red Dragons host Potsdam Friday. In the first game of the SUNYAC Challenge, the Bears were upset by Cortland, 3-2.
“I’ll bet that Ed [Seney, Potsdam coach] has got a little redemption on his mind. So it will be an interesting weekend, opening up with Potsdam, and we’ll see where we matchup with Plattsburgh,” said Cranfield.
“Cortland’s got a good a goalie, and we’re playing them down there, so I’m sure they’re confident they can beat us again. Our guys now are trying to prove that we’re going to be a pretty good team this year. Whether we are or not, we don’t know yet,” said Seney, who has a dozen rookies on the roster.
The Other Matchups
Buffalo State and Fredonia visit Geneseo and Brockport in the other travel-partner matchups this weekend.
In contrast to Plattsburgh and Oswego, both the Bengals and Blue Devils have four games under their belts from the SUNYAC Challenge and the Buffalo State All Sport Invitational, while Geneseo has played three games and Brockport two.
Does the early-season play give a team a leg up when it comes to conference play?
“We’ll take every leg up we can get. I think it gives you a little more opportunity to be game savvy.” said Fredonia coach Jeff Meredith. “It allows them to have maybe some of their system down under fire. And it gives them a better taste of the level of intensity that they need to compete, which certainly goes up when you get into conference play.”
For Brockport’s Brian Dickinson, the win over Geneseo last weekend in the Chase Rochester Cup tournament was important in setting the right tone for the Golden Eagles. “The win last weekend was huge. If we were 0-and-2, and we were coming off the year we had, and you fall behind on Friday, keeping the kids going in the right direction — it makes your job just that much tougher.”
SUNYAC Challenge A Rotating Event
This year’s inaugural SUNYAC Challenge replaced Fredonia’s annual Blue Devil tournament, but it won’t be held there every year.
Potsdam will host the get-together next year, with Buffalo State, Fredonia, and Cortland heading up to Maxcy Hall.
Fredonia’s Meredith said, “I think the coaches enjoyed getting together. I think the coaches enjoyed having their teams play on the 19th of October.”
Meredith added, “You come out of that weekend having a good idea about where you stand among your peers and what you need to do to get ready.”
Potsdam’s Seney, who saw his Bears lose to Cortland, was not as enthusiastic about the tournament.
“The problem is [the games] count, as far as your record. There’s not many games we have where we can get kids out there, but it’s so early that you might get beat. It’s hard when you have so many new guys to go out there in a must-win game the first game of the year — it doesn’t make much sense.”
Said Seney, “You don’t have much chance to get the new guys acclimated on special teams. The whole weekend seems to be power play [or] man down. The first game is kind of counterproductive in that sense.”
Don’t Let Yourself Fall Into That Same Old Trap
Hockey 101 time.
Fredonia coach Jeff Meredith says something he sees “all the time” on the Internet — including here at USCHO.com — gives him a chuckle.
“I have to laugh every time I look at the Internet and see that ‘Fredonia does nothing but trap.’ For people who really know the game, you know that’s not the case at all.”
But Fredonia does take a defensive-minded approach, right, coach?
“There’s the difference. There’s a difference between a defensive-minded game and having that mentality, and ‘trapping.’” explained Meredith, who pointed out with more depth than I can include here all the differences between the way the Blue Devils play tough defense and the trap.
“When you take a game like we played last January against RIT, the No. 1 team in the nation and 50 percent on the power play, our goal is to give ourselves a chance to win that hockey game and be competitive right to the end.
“What that means is you’d better have a chance to solve that power play, which we did; it means that you just can’t shoot yourself in the foot out of your own zone. That might mean high off the glass or hard off the boards. It might mean taking an icing when you’re under pressure.
“But to me these are more making smart, easy plays, than all of a sudden getting in trouble and throwing it up the middle. I think that sometimes when you play teams that can capitalize on one mistake, you have to play a simpler game.”
So, either get it right, folks, or just keep your trap shut.
Last week’s questions:
What team won the SUNYAC tournament without winning a game in the championship series?
Potsdam: the Bears and Plattsburgh tied on two consecutive nights to force a mini-game in the 1996 SUNYAC championship. With a victory in the mini-game — not an official NCAA game — Potsdam advanced to the NCAA quarterfinals.
And what change was made to the format of the series as a result?
The SUNYAC championship is now a best-of-three series. Plattsburgh beat Potsdam two games to one in that format in the 2001 SUNYAC championship.
This week’s question:
While we’re in the north country, what NCAA ice hockey rule change was precipitated by Potsdam’s pregame drills?
SUNYAC Game of the Week
Hands down, it’s Plattsburgh at Oswego.
The biggest rivals in the SUNYAC start their season against each other. The Cardinals are a heavy favorite, as they will be against most opponents this season, but a rollicking Romney Fieldhouse and some smart play by a physical Lakers squad will make this one a battle to the end and a dandy.