My Head Is Spinning
Excuse me a moment. I need to sit down. I’m getting dizzy.
There, I feel better now.
I said this would be an exciting season. I didn’t imagine it would be this exciting.
Look at what happened last weekend alone:
I think I better lie down.
It’s Been A Lo-o-o-o-ng Time
Jimmy Carter was President. The United States agreed to give up the Panama Canal. Anwar Sadat visited Jerusalem. “You Don’t Have to Be a Star” was a hit song and Star Wars (the very first one) and Rocky (the very first one) were blockbusters. On TV, the show to watch was “Laverne & Shirley.”
And nobody currently playing in the SUNYAC was even born.
The year was 1977, the date was January 21 — the last time Cortland defeated Plattsburgh. Until this week.
The Red Dragons took 1-0 and 2-1 first-period leads on goals by Tim Earl. However, each time Plattsburgh tied it up thanks to David Friel and Brendon Hodge, the latter on the power play.
“It was an up-tempo game, up and down the ice,” said Cortland coach Tom Cranfield.
In the second period, Kevin Watters and Dave Ambuhl gave Cortland a two-goal lead. Jason Kilcan got one back before the period ended. The third period remained scoreless, thanks to 15 saves by John Larnerd (42 for the game), to give Cortland a 4-3 win. A win that was a (very) long time coming, ending a 54-game losing streak to the Cardinals.
“Their goalie played well. They played hard,” Plattsburgh coach Bob Emery acknowledged. “For the 15 years I’ve been here, we’ve always dodged a bullet every time we’ve been there. Back in 1992, we were down 5-1 going into the third period, and had to come back.”
Plenty Of Other Excitement
There was plenty of excitement to go around.
Plattsburgh and Oswego played to a 4-4 overtime tie. Oswego was down 2-0 only to come back and tie it up.
Emery recognized a missed opportunity: “When we were up 2-0, we couldn’t find the back of the net, couldn’t get that three goal lead which always breaks the back of your opponent. They played great and came back.”
Then, down again at 3-2, Oswego scored two goals within 1:29 late in the third period to take a 4-3 lead. With 1:51 left in the third period, the Great Lakers thought they had pulled off a great comeback — until Plattsburgh pulled the goalie, and Brendon Hodge scored with just seven seconds left to tie it up.
Despite nine shots in the extra period, the game ended deadlocked. Joe Lofberg made 41 saves for Oswego, and Craig Neilson 44 for Plattsburgh.
The night before, Oswego jumped out to a 4-0 lead over Potsdam, and then had to hang on for a 5-3 win. Five different players scored while Tyson Gajda made 34 saves.
Potsdam rebounded to blow out Cortland, 8-4. The Bears jumped out to 4-0 and 6-1 leads as Cortland had trouble getting ready for this game after the exciting win over the Cardinals. Mike Snow and Chris Lee each got a pair of goals as Potsdam unleashed 54 shots on net.
Meanwhile, as all this was going on, Fredonia just kept motoring along. After a scoreless first period, the Blue Devils defeated Geneseo, 3-2, as Jim Gilbride scored a pair. The next night, they beat Brockport, 4-2. Gilbride notched another goal.
What’s been the key to Fredonia’s surprise success this year?
“We got great leadership from our three seniors, Will Hamele, Christian Fletcher, and Craig Florkowski. We’re playing a bit harder; playing more together,” explains Fredonia coach Jeff Meredith. “We’re trying to reach our potential every time out. If we reach our potential, we feel good things will happen.”
Fredonia is back to playing a defensive style, as Hamele only needed to make 18 saves the first night, and 12 the second.
“We’re staying out of the box, getting the puck in deep; it’s a combination of things,” said Meredith on the opposition’s low shot count.
Meredith makes another point, “We’re hitting the magic number of three goals a game. Last year we lost three 2-1 games.”
Unfortunately for the Blue Devils, later in the week Fredonia lost another 2-1 game to Hobart, with that solitary goal scored by Tom Briggs, coming in the last minute with the goalie pulled.
The Blue Devils have a tough stretch coming up when they return to SUNYAC play facing Buffalo State, Plattsburgh, and Potsdam.
Meredith has no illusions, “We’re not looking at standings. We’re not worried about standings. We’re trying to take things one period at a time.”
In other action, after the loss to Fredonia, Geneseo came back to beat Buffalo State, 5-3. Buffalo State was coming off a 7-2 win over Brockport. Joe Urbanik scored four goals and added one assist, while Greg Prybylski got two. Nick Berti made 39 saves for the win.
The PrimeLink Great Northern Shootout
If there is a better tournament in Division III hockey, the facts sure don’t support it. Last year alone, three of the four teams in the Frozen Four were Great Northern Shootout teams. Ironically, that was the first year since the tournament began that the national champion was not a Shootout participant.
So competitive is this tournament that in those first three years, the national champion did not win the Great Northern Shootout in the same season. But a PrimeLink team won the national championship seven years in a row until last season.
In the past four years, 16 teams were in the Frozen Four. Fifty percent of the time, they were Great Northern Shootout teams. And the one team that hasn’t been to the Frozen Four — Potsdam — has won at least one game the past two years. There is no easy game in this tournament, and this year alone, all four teams are ranked in the top 11 in the nation.
“A lot of people look at that tournament and say ‘Wow!’” Emery said.
This year, the two SUNYAC teams square off in the first game. It doesn’t count in the standings, so does that mean the teams don’t care as much? Not according to the coaches.
“It will be interesting to see how we can do with Plattsburgh,” Potsdam coach Glenn Thomaris said. “They are the cream of the crop.”
“In Division III, you only play 25 games. As a coach, you can’t afford to take a night off, for one loss could mean losing home ice in the playoffs,” Emery said. “We’re their [Potsdam's] big game. They will come in playing hard.”
The tournament is hosted by Norwich this year, in a rink that is larger than normal size (200×90), and even larger than the smallish rinks at the New York schools. The coaches have mixed reactions to that.
Emery, for one, is not worried: “When we began putting teams like Middlebury on our schedule, we started recruiting more of a skating team. I think the larger rink isn’t a problem for us any more.”
Thomaris isn’t as confident: “They’re [Plattsburgh] good skaters, and the ice surface is larger. We’re a checking team. We’re going to have to up our play.”
However, Potsdam does have some pretty good skaters, especially the first line of Eric Peter-Kaiser, Chris Lee, and its leading scorer, Anthony Greer. Of course, Emery is right: the Cardinals do have a lot of great skaters. If both teams are up — and there is no reason to think otherwise — this game should come down to defense and goaltending.
No matter what happens that first night, each team gets the “privilege” of playing either Middlebury or Norwich. If you’re in the area, don’t miss it. However, you better already have your ticket because the best tournament in Division III hockey is sold out.
As if the Great Northern Shootout wasn’t enough for Plattsburgh, the Cardinals host Elmira before that. Potsdam plays Hobart the weekend before. Other teams are also playing some tough nonleague competition over the Thanksgiving week. Buffalo State plays a pair at Manhattanville while Cortland faces off against Hobart and Hamilton, and Oswego travels to Williams. Oswego and Brockport also participate in holiday tournaments, competing in the Ben McCabe at Amherst and the Babson Invitational, respectively.
Then, as if that weren’t enough, conference play resumes on Tuesday as the travel partners square off. There’s no rest for the weary as Plattsburgh and Potsdam play each other again just four days after their game in Norwich, this time at Maxcy Hall. Fredonia puts its undefeated league mark on the line at Buffalo State, and in another key game for second place, Oswego travels to Cortland.
The Featured Word: Smitten
At Oswego, a group of female fans hold up a large banner with a player’s name on it in large colorful letters — VASHAW. They hold this banner up the entire game. All three periods. In another section, a similar banner hangs on the wall just above another group of female students.
Forward Matt Vashaw is very popular with the co-ed population. They are just smitten with him.
Taking A Week Off
I’m going to be taking the holiday week off.
We wish you all a happy and very safe Thanksgiving Day. I’ll see you back here in December with lots of action to catch up on.