For All The Marbles
SUNYAC conference action resumes this weekend, and as we noted last week, the only likely path to the NCAAs for the eight state squads is by way of the league championship.
“There are five automatic bids from the east, so at best, maybe one team is going to make it [at large],” said Plattsburgh coach Bob Emery. “So for all intents and purposes, the league is primo.
The second half of the season is crammed into the next three-and-a-half weeks — so as Buffalo Bills play-by-play veteran Van Miller is so fond of saying, “Fasten your seat belts.”
Showdowns in the North Country
The top three teams in the SUNYAC will be in action up north this weekend as Oswego and Cortland visit Plattsburgh and Potsdam.
For the 2-5 Bears, it’s a chance to gain some ground as Ed Seney’s young squad fights for a playoff berth.
For the Cardinals, a weekend sweep would give them the upper hand for home ice throughout the playoffs.
“A win this Friday against Oswego would put us up by two [games], which would be pretty good,” said Emery, whose team hosts the Lakers on Friday.
Oswego dropped a pair of nonleague games to RIT last weekend in a home-and-home series. The Lakers played RIT fairly evenly in 5-on-5 situations — even dominating play at times. Oswego outshot the Tigers both nights, but allowed four power-play goals and a 4-on-4 tally.
Coach George Roll gave goaltenders Joe Lofberg and Tyson Gajda each a start against RIT, and each played well.
Plattsburgh has beaten Oswego twice this season: a 6-4 road win on SUNYAC opening night and a 4-1 win in the championship of Plattsburgh’s Cardinal Classic tournament.
“Oswego’s a good team,” said Emery. “They’re a national contender. At this point, depending on how they do, they’re a dark horse for the national tournament. They’re coming in here with every intention on winning.”
Cortland, at 5-2 in conference, has a chance to grab a share of the lead, or move into second place on the weekend. A win over Plattsburgh by both visitors, and an Oswego loss at Potsdam would create a three-way tie for first, while at least one Oswego loss and a Red Dragon sweep would move Cortland into second place.
The progress made by Cortland under former coach Tim Vanini — whose club made the SUNYAC playoffs last season — and continued under rookie head coach Tom Cranfield, makes the Red Dragons a foe not to be taken too lightly, Emery observed.
“Cortland’s the type of team that in the past few years, you could have an off night and still beat them. Now, if you have an off night, they have a chance to beat you.” Emery added, “The SUNYAC’s getting better and better every year. And that’s good for us. We want to play the toughest schedule we can possibly play.”
Plattsburgh’s nonleague schedule is arguably the toughest in Division III, with six opponents ranked for at least part of the season in the USCHO poll. While the Cardinals are 7-0 in the SUNYAC, the defending national champs are just 5-6 outside the league.
“We knew coming into this season we had a target on our back, and everyone’s big game this year was going to be Plattsburgh,” said Emery.
How does he appraise his team’s performance?
“I have mixed feelings about my team. I think that we could play better. We could play smarter, and with more emotion.”
Emery added, “I think it’s sad to say that some of our players were looking forward to the playoffs before we even started because of what we accomplished last year.”
At the Other End of the Empire State
Brockport and Geneseo head west to Buffalo State and Fredonia this weekend.
Fredonia, just 1-6 in conference, is in seventh place in the SUNYAC, and a game behind Potsdam for the last playoff spot.
As coach Jeff Meredith has noted, Fredonia’s biggest problem has been finishing its scoring chances. The Blue Devils, who have managed just nine goals in league play, may have gotten off the schneid in recent nonconference games, becoming only the third team to score four goals on RIT in a 5-4 overtime loss, and beating Utica, 6-3, and Hobart, 5-4.
Brockport, winless in the league, has gone 3-3 since the holidays, and has been the beneficiary of three mid-semester transfers. Twins Peter and Paul Stasko each have a goal in the five games they’ve played since transferring from Geneseo, while another freshman transfer by way of New England College, linemate Ron Lien, has four goals and seven points in the same stretch. This road trip is the best opportunity for the remainder of the season for Brian Dickinson’s Soaring Eagles to get back into the hunt.
Geneseo, at 3-4, and Buffalo State, at 4-3, have a chance to solidify their standings. They’ll match up on Friday night. The Bengals won the first meeting at Geneseo, 5-4, scoring three straight in the third period.
The Knights added a player to the roster during the semester break, 6-5, 230 lb. sophomore defenseman Paul Weismann, who saw limited action in a season-and-a-half at Bowling Green, where coach Brian Hills was an assistant before taking the Geneseo post this season.
However, Geneseo will be without Weismann and goalie Brett Walker for Friday’s match against the Bengals. Both were given majors and game disqualifications late in the first period for fighting in the Knights’ 5-4 loss to Utica.
That was Walker’s second ejection this season. He leads all goaltenders in the country with 11 infractions and 55 penalty minutes.
Congratulations to Buffalo State’s Rocky Reeves, a finalist for the Hockey Humanitarian Award for the second year in a row. The winner will be named on Friday, April 5 in St. Paul, Minn. as part of the activities surrounding the NCAA Division I Frozen Four.
Reeves has been a four-year captain for coach Jim Fowler.
Only one non-Division I player has ever won the award, RIT’s Kristine Pierce, in 1999.
Tuesday’s 5-3 win against Colby marked the 300th victory behind the Plattsburgh bench for Bob Emery and associate head coach Kevin Houle.
Emery is taking the milestone in stride.
“To be honest with you — and I’m not just trying to say the right thing — it doesn’t really make me feel any different,” said Emery. “But if you look at it, I’m really impressed on how fast we got there.”
In 13 seasons at Plattsburgh, their record stands at 300-86-26.
The two are sort of the yin and yang of coaching: Emery can be fiery and volatile on the bench, while in the same situation, Houle will appear calm and studious.
“We’re definitely a coaching tandem, Houle and I. He’s equally important, if not more important to the program, in my eyes.
“When I got the job here years ago, I knew how I was. Kevin and I were classmates and roommates [at Boston College]. I knew he was a lot the opposite of me and I think that’s real important in coaching. One coach needs to complement the other one in teaching and in coaching techniques.”
Cardinals Return to the Ritter?
After years of home-and-home series, Plattsburgh has decided not to play at Elmira next season. Replacing that contest will likely be a game at RIT.
“We’re working on getting RIT back on the schedule,” said Emery, who had disclosed the possibility on WIRY’s pregame show Tuesday. “I think [RIT coach] Wayne [Wilson] is doing a really good job, and they play with class, whether they win or lose, and that’s the type of team we want to play. It’s not solidified, but it is penciled in that we will play RIT next year.”
The Tigers would visit Plattsburgh in 2003-04.
Don’t look for a two-game series between the two teams that battled for the title last year, though. “Too many teams want to play us,” said Emery.
Two who will get the chance next year are Manhattanville and nearby Skidmore. Both will be in the Plattsburgh Cardinal Classic in December.
Why the schedule change?
Perhaps this comment from Emery sums it up: “We win with class at Plattsburgh and we’re going to lose with class. Every team we play we hope can do the same.”
Reunion, of Sorts
Cortland has a late addition to its schedule, a contest next Tuesday against Lebanon Valley.
It marks the first meeting between former Red Dragon and current Flying Dutchmen coach Al MacCormack, and Cortland coach Tom Cranfield. Cranfield played for MacCormack at Cortland in the late ’80s and early ’90s, and was also a MacCormack assistant.
Until last season, Cortland’s last visit to the SUNYAC playoffs was under MacCormack in 1991, Cranfield’s senior year.
Last Week’s Question
In school history, which team has beaten Plattsburgh more times than any other?
Elmira. Through this season, Elmira leads the series 34-33-1. Only Potsdam and Oswego have faced Plattsburgh more times than the Soaring Eagles, and neither comes close to Elmira in wins.
This Week’s Question
Two teams in SUNYAC history have no wins against Plattsburgh. One of them is Buffalo State. Can you name the other one?
Game of the Week
Friday’s game between Oswego and Plattsburgh gets the nod. A win by the Lakers gives them a tie with the Cardinals atop the SUNYAC. A Plattsburgh victory would just about guarantee the top seed for the defending champs.