Holy Mini-Games, Batman!
Love it or hate it, the mini-game is sure to generate discussion by fans, produce heartstopping action, leave some jumping in joy, and others suffering in agonizing defeat.
That’s exactly what happened in both of the play-in rounds of the SUNYAC playoffs. Both times, the mini-game was decided with just one goal, one of them in overtime. When all the dust settled, the home teams moved on to play another week.
Geneseo defeated Potsdam after dropping the second game of the series, and will now play Plattsburgh. Cortland barely escaped being knocked off, scoring a late game comeback on Saturday, and then continuing the momentum to defeat Buffalo State. The Red Dragons will play Oswego.
At the rate the playoffs are going this year, bring your heart monitors to the Saturday game, and don’t plan on getting home at a reasonable hour.
Escaped By The Hair on Their Chinny-Chin-Chin
Six minutes, twenty-six seconds. That is how close Cortland came to being eliminated from the playoffs. That is how close Buffalo State came to pulling off a stunning upset.
Jeff Olsen scored the go-ahead goal at that moment in the third period, and for the first time Cortland led in the two-game series.
Up to that point, Buffalo State had the series in control. In the first game, the Bengals shut out Cortland, 4-0. Newly-crowned SUNYAC Player of the Year Todd Nowicki showed his stuff by scoring a hat trick with Henry Jurek getting the other goal. Nick Berti stopped all 37 shots.
Buffalo State picked up where it left off in the second game. The Bengals jumped out to a 2-0 lead on a pair of goals by Josh Bluman, and even when Cortland came back to tie it thanks to Jeff Olsen and Matt Donskov goals on the power play, Buffalo State could still have advanced with the tie.
Then the roof caved in for Buffalo State. Cortland ripped off three goals in a 2:50 span, with Olsen completing the hat trick and Chris Cullen getting the finale. The 5-2 victory meant a mini-game was to follow.
Olsen continued to be the hero, scoring the solitary goal at 14:10 of the mini, saving the Red Dragons from a disappointing ending.
A Rare Commodity
Goals were as good as gold in the Potsdam-Geneseo series. The Ice Knights got the final rush, scoring at 4:36 of the first overtime period in the mini-game to knock out the Bears, 1-0.
Defense was the name of the game in the first contest. Andy Rice scored late in the first period for Geneseo, but it took another 37 minutes before Tony Scorsone made it 2-0. Anthony Greer cut the lead with 4:10 left in the game, but Potsdam was unable to get the equalizer. All the goals came on the power play.
Brett Walker made 26 saves in the win, while Ryan Venturelli made 21 saves.
The next night, it took over 50 minutes for the red light to go on. John Bernfell gave Potsdam its first lead of the series and Scott Craig made it 2-0. With the goalie pulled, Geneseo’s Brian Avery scored, but Greer came back with an empty-netter.
The goaltending battle continued with Venturelli making 24 saves and Walker 25.
To the mini-game the teams went, and that ended in a scoreless tie. The first overtime was held up due to ice problems, but hometown hero Tony Scorsone will never complain about the delay after getting the series winner.
Geneseo coach Brian Hills won’t complain, either, about Scorsone not coming off the ice.
“When we broke out of our zone, I was yelling for him to get off the ice. After the celebration, Boudette asked me, ‘Do you still want Tony to come off the ice?’”
Geneseo (7-5-2, 11-14-2) at Plattsburgh (13-1, 18-7)
This is a familiar scene, the third year in a row that Geneseo won a play-in series only to travel to face the powerhouse Cardinals. The past two years, Plattsburgh moved onto the finals.
This year also looks like the same should happen. Geneseo coach Brian Hills is under no illusion.
“We’ll go in with the me-against-the-world attitude. We have nothing to lose,” he said.
How close this series is will depend on Brett Walker of Geneseo. Forget about trying to run him, as he has put his antics behind him. It’s a futile attempt now to get him stirred up — just ask the opposition the past few weeks.
Walker will be calm. The question is, will he be strong? He was outstanding against Potsdam, but the last time he faced Plattsburgh, he let in seven goals. True, his team may have failed him on some of those, but against Plattsburgh, it will happen again. And Walker is going to have to make some big saves to overcome those lapses.
Geneseo got outshot in both games against Potsdam. Plattsburgh is a much better offensive team, second in league goals with over five a game. Geneseo has the third-best defense, but the third-worst offense,
Translated: the Ice Knights can’t afford to fall behind too far.
Geneseo also has the league’s second-worst power play, but it won’t matter much since Plattsburgh takes the fewest penalties, not to mention that Plattsburgh has the best penalty kill. On the other end of the spectrum, Plattsburgh has the second-best power play while Geneseo is third-best in killing penalties.
Though Geneseo has a strong first line, it cannot match the depth of Plattsburgh, which includes Jason Kilcan (22 points), Mark Coletta (17), Guy Come (17), Brendon Hodge (16), Paul Dowe (14), and Adam Richards (14). And those are just the guys in the top 20 in league scoring. There’s a lot more behind them.
And they have the top SUNYAC goalie in Niklas Sundberg with a .931 save percentage. However, right behind him is Walker at .920.
Plattsburgh won the previous meetings, 3-1 and 7-0. They will win the next two as well. By how much is up to Walker.
Cortland (7-5-2, 14-10-3) at Oswego (10-3-1, 16-8-1)
Cortland struggled to get by the first round, and Oswego finished the season with a stumble. Which teams are going to show up in the Golden Romney Fieldhouse?
First, Oswego has to decide which goalie to go with, Joe Lofberg or Tyson Gajda, or continue to have them share duties. They both have a .918 league SV%, so any choice is a good one. Cortland will put John Larnerd between the pipes.
As for offense, Oswego looks to SUNYAC Co-Rookie of the Year Andy Rozak (two goals, 15 assists), Brian St. John (5-11-16), and Rob Smith (9-6-15). Overall, Oswego has the top offense in the league, averaging 5.14 goals per game.
Cortland has some scorers, too, including Jeff Olsen, Matt Donskov, and Trevor Bauer, all of whom are in the top six in league scoring. The Red Dragons are third in scoring and tops in the power play.
Based on the 9-6 game these teams ended the season with, they are not afraid to use those powerful offenses, which means it could come down to who makes the fewest defensive mistakes.
On paper and based on previous results, this should be an Oswego sweep. However, the way these teams are playing lately, and based on Oswego’s recent playoff history, expect anything. We’re going to expect a mini-game.
There are some who believe one should never reveal more information than necessary, since it increases the risk of making a mistake. I should have taken that advice last week when I answered the previous week’s trivia question.
Instead of just giving the answer — of Jeff Lupu scoring eight seconds into the national semifinal game, which was correct — I went on to provide information about Fredonia’s results past that game, that Fredonia went on to also lose the third-place game to Salem State.
That, of course, was absolutely, completely, positively, totally wrong. Fredonia bounced back to defeat Salem State, 7-4, to finish third in the nation with a single loss. My apologies to the Fredonia faithful.
There were plenty of folks, including former players, who wrote to set me straight. Looking at it optimistically, it’s nice to see that so many people pay attention to this column, and even more so, that former players, students, and fans who have moved away continue to follow their favorite sport and team through USCHO wherever they now live.
Looking at it pessimistically, I’m an idiot.
Last Week’s Question
Who is the only player to win SUNYAC Player of the Year twice outright (that is, without sharing it with anybody else)?
This one, we’re pretty sure we are going to get right.
Three players won the SUNYAC Player of the Year award twice, each time in back-to-back years, but two of those shared it for one of those seasons.
Those two include Mike Snell of Oswego, who won it in 1986 and 1987, but shared it in the first year with Howie Vandermast of Potsdam. Recently, Tracey Belanger of Plattsburgh won it in 1998 and 1999, but also shared it in the first year with Brian DeFeo of Oswego.
The only player to win it twice outright did so in the first two years the award was handed out. Brian Bell of Potsdam won it in 1984 and 1985.
This Week’s Question
Who is the only player to win the SUNYAC Rookie of the Year and then later win the SUNYAC Player of the Year?