A national championship and a No. 1 ranking in the preseason USCHO.com Division III poll put a bulls-eye on the backs of the Plattsburgh Cardinals.
“We’re going to be everyone’s big game, especially in our rink. It seems it’s a tough place to play, but it’s an easy place to get ready to play,” said coach Bob Emery.
Despite some preseason turmoil, and a midseason slump, Plattsburgh was the hottest team in the nation down the stretch last year.
But turmoil doesn’t bother Emery: “When you have hard times, it makes you stronger as a team. I hope this isn’t an year without any turmoil for us, because turmoil makes you stronger.”
On the ice, instead of off?
Three Top Centers
“Our top three centers are as good as any three centers in the country,” said Emery, speaking of Brendon Hodge, captain Jason Kilcan, and Guy Come.
Hodge, Kilcan, and forward and assistant captain Mark Coletta were the top three scorers for Plattsburgh last season, combining for 57 goals and 115 points. All three return for Emery and associate coach Kevin Houle. The team loses its fourth-leading scorer, SUNYAC tournament MVP Derrick Shaw, to graduation.
Arguably the best goalie in Division III during the playoffs last season was Niklas Sundberg.
Part of his improvement last year came from getting into better shape. This year, he’s in even better shape, according to Emery.
“His body fat is extremely low and he’s had a great camp so far. I hope he can pick up where he left off. He did a great job down the stretch for us last year.”
Sundberg amassed a .926 save percentage, a 2.27 GAA, and a 27-5-0 record last season.
If there’s an area in which the Cardinals will need to improve as the season progresses, it might be on defense, where the loss of Bryan Murray, a two-time second-team All-American, and Bobby Owen will be felt.
“I think the hardest position to teach is defense. And we have two freshmen who we think are real good, but we have to be patient with those guys. So if we had a weakness, it would probably have to be on defense,” said Emery.
Junior assistant captain Peter Ollari, and senior Jeff Marshall are among those who return on the blue line for Plattsburgh.
Special teams should continue to be another strength for the Cardinals. Last season a decent 24 percent on the power play was overshadowed by Plattsburgh’s penalty kill, which allowed just 20 power-play goals while scoring 17 times shorthanded.
Rebuild? Not Here
Plattsburgh never seems to be in a rebuilding mode. The Cardinals have won the SUNYAC eight times in Emery’s 11 seasons behind the bench.
“We don’t like to rebuild at Plattsburgh; we like to retool. Any time you have more than five or six guys to replace, it’s very tough on the program. Sometimes it takes you more than a year to get it back.”
Emery’s nine freshmen will have to compete hard for playing time. “We’ll have a few rookies in the lineup. We’re very happy with what we’ve seen. There’s an adjustment period for the freshmen, but they end up taking someone’s job, at least one or two of them.”
With the nucleus of its high-powered offense returning, a goalie still improving in his senior year, and rookies looking to fill some shoes, this year’s Plattsburgh Cardinals may even be better than the champs of last season.