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College Hockey:
This Week in SUNYAC

Ending Early

Every year, my colleague Chris Lerch has a running count of the teams that complete their season as we wind down to the final game. This count always starts in mid-February as teams begin to be eliminated from their league playoffs.

This year, Lerch can begin his count right now. The first team to finish their season did so nine days before January was even completed. Morrisville’s first full season in Division III and their first in the SUNYAC has ended.

The wins were difficult to come by in their second season making the transition from a two-year school. However, they did save the best for their last conference game, winning their first SUNYAC contest, beating Brockport, 3-1, finishing with a 1-15 league record.

“It’s great,” Morrisville coach Brian Grady said. “I’m thrilled for the guys. They’ve been working all year and we’ve been close, coming up on the short end. It’s good to finally get over the hump.”

Overall, they finished at 5-20, with their other wins coming against Western New England College, Lebanon Valley, and Johnson and Wales twice. Last year, they finished with a 7-10 record against Division III opponents, but three of those wins came against fellow newcomer, Becker.

“I look at wins and losses and I get frustrated and disappointed, certainly,” Grady said. “But, the development we’ve had as a group from the first weekend at Plattsburgh to this weekend here has just been outstanding. We battled everybody hard all year long in the SUNYAC.”

Six of their SUNYAC losses were by one goal, including Oswego and the heartbreaker this past Friday against Brockport when they were leading 3-0 only to lose 4-3, and two of their two-goal losses were caused by an empty netter. Also encouraging, Morrisville was never shutout in a game and were held to one goal just five times.

Morrisville will miss some key players who will be graduating. Matt Damskov is their second leading scorer with eight goals and eight assists for 16 points.

“We lose a lot in Matt,” Grady said. “Senior leadership has just been outstanding. He’s been a good points guy for us certainly, but mostly an awesome guy.”

Brett Freese has been a mainstay in goal.

“Brett Freese has been outstanding in net for us. It’s been a hard luck year for him,” Grady said referring to Freese being in most of those one-goal losses. “He’s given us a chance to win. He quietly goes about his game.”

Joe Herman leaves as the all-time Morrisville scoring leader though half his time there won’t count in his NCAA career stats since they were with the NJCAA. This season, Herman finished with five goals and nine assists for 14 points.

“Joe shows up on the scoreboard all the time, has great vision, sees the ice very well,” Grady said. “Not a speedy player, but very good at possessing the puck. A great kid who is going to be missed here.”

Chris Cacace is a senior defenseman.

“Chris has been a steady plugger for us. A great guy to be around. Picks everybody up with his spirits,” Grady said.

“The leadership,” Grady said of what will be missed the most. “These guys lead by example. They have really helped bridge this transition from Junior College to NCAA level. We’re going to miss them; they’ve been an integral part of what we’re trying to do here.”

It’s always a struggle when you move your program up. However, Morrisville has the commitment of their administration which is working hard to build and expand all aspects of the school and a new, young coach who is enthusiastic about the future.

“We have a real young group and a good core combined with some new recruits next year and I think it’s an exciting future,” Grady said.

Check Your Local Listings

The Saturday Oswego at Potsdam game will be televised, and anybody with cable in New York should be able to pick it up, as well as a good number of hockey fans in the Northeast.

Time Warner Sports Syracuse will be producing the game, and for those with Time Warner Central New York cable which also includes Northern New York, it will be shown live at 7:00 on Channel 26. Time Warner SportsNet Western New York (Buffalo area) will be showing it live on Channel 13 as well as the Southern Tier New York (Binghamton area) Time Warner cable. Time Warner SportsNet Rochester will also be showing the game, but delayed till Sunday at 4:30 p.m., also on Channel 26. Time Warner Albany will be airing it the following Friday at 7:00.

However, the big surprise is that SportsNet New York (SNY) will be picking up the game and showing it live. This station is carried by most cable outlets in New York and some in the Northeast, and if you have the extended sports package on any of the satellite providers, you can watch it no matter where in the country you reside.

As usual, check your local listings.

SUNYAC Short Shots

Brockport scored four unanswered goals in the last 7:37 to beat Morrisville, 4-3 … Morrisville won their first SUNYAC game, 3-1 against Brockport, thanks to 46 saves by Caylin Relkoff … Geneseo only let up 15 shots, but still lost to Utica, 3-1 … Nine different Lakers scored with Oswego getting three goals a period in their 9-1 thrashing of Morrisville … Plattsburgh has the second best scoring average in the nation at 5.28 goals per game, the fourth best defense letting up 1.89 goals per game, and the third best power play at 32.8%.

Game of the Week

From here on out, every game but one is a SUNYAC contest. There will be no rest. No break. No out of conference opponents to worry less about points. It all counts: the stretch run where the men will be separated from the boys.

What a battle we return to especially in the middle of the pack. Five teams are separated by three points, and two of them won’t be making the playoffs. And had Brockport swept Morrisville, there would have been just two points separating those five teams.

Since every other team got four points from the Mustangs, Brockport essentially spotted the entire league two points. Their coach, Brian Dickinson, is fully aware of how that could hurt them down the stretch.

“The roar you heard was from the three teams above us — Geneseo, Cortland, Buffalo State — because they can control their own destiny,” he said. “We’re going to have to do it the hard way. We were hoping to be sitting there at nine points and control our destiny only a point out of fourth.”

So with every game being played with such high stakes, how do you choose a game of the week? You don’t. You pick the games that are key swing games.

Of course, one obvious game is Oswego at Plattsburgh. This fierce rivalry moves to the North Country with the Cardinals holding a three point edge. If Plattsburgh wins, they virtually clinch first place. An Oswego victory means we have a battle going down to the wire for the top seed.

Another crucial swing game is Cortland at Potsdam. The Red Dragons are two points behind the fourth place Bears. A win and suddenly Cortland is a serious playoff contender. A loss and Cortland could fall into a hole they can’t get out of, and Potsdam suddenly starts thinking about the real possibility of hosting the first round.

This game also has Dickinson worried, because he loses out no matter what the result.

“If we don’t get points this weekend, Potsdam plays Cortland, so one of those teams is going to get points, if not both will get a point,” he said.

How about another Friday contest, Geneseo at Buffalo State. These teams are in a three-way tie for fifth place. No explanation is needed on the consequences of this result. I’ll be at that game.

Finally, I’ll pick one Saturday contest regardless of Friday’s results: Brockport at Buffalo State. For Brockport, who is now playing catch up, the whole weekend is ultra important.

“Now we are going to have to go on the road next week,” Dickinson said after the Morrisville loss. “We’re going to have to beat Buffalo State and going to have to hopefully get a point, maybe two out of Fredonia. Tough places to play. Two places where we tied last year. We’ve got to come out of it with points and hopefully leapfrog Buff State.

“Those are going to be crucial points.”

Every game starting right now is going to be crucial. Drop the puck!

On The Periphery

I always rail on fans who are so blinded by their worshipping that they completely lose sight of right and wrong with their “heroes,” willing to forgive them, even defend them, despite heinous crimes such as murder (OJ), dog fighting (Vick), and child neglect (Britney), especially when the recipient of this runaway worshipping is, let’s face, in an
inconsequential field in the grand scheme of things such as sports, actors, or music stars.

Yet, I must confess. There is one case that I, too, fall into this trap.

I started playing competitive chess as a kid before the famous Fischer-Spassky match, the ultimate Cold War battle played out in sports long before the Miracle on Ice. The popularity that match brought to chess was astounding. It was front page news in every newspaper nearly every day. It was the lead story on the TV news. PBS showed and analyzed every game live. Kids on my soccer team who didn’t know a rook from a bishop would talk about it.

Bobby Fischer was a god to us chess players. A genius of unparalleled proportions. He was the youngest ever junior national champion. The youngest National Master. The youngest U.S. Champion. The youngest International Master. He breezed through Candidates matches undefeated, an unheard of feat. He won 20 consecutive matches (no draws) against the world’s top players. And finally he was an American World Champion.

He was arguably the greatest chess player who ever lived. Perhaps, Garry Kasparov could have beaten him in their respective primes. But, nobody … nobody … played as innovatively as Fischer did.

However, as we all know, there was a darker side to Fischer and his genius. His actions started to become despicable, inexcusable, and for me, very personal. Despite having a Jewish mother and probably a Jewish father, he was anti-Semitic to the core constantly uttering vile statements. He spoke out against the country that was once so proud of
him. He cheered 9/11. He called America the Evil Empire. There was not a single shred of him that was likable.

Yet, for this fan who remembered his ingenious innovative play, the popularity and acceptance he brought to chess, who got caught up in the mystical folklore of his long disappearances wondering if that bearded man at Washington Square Park could possibly be him, it was difficult to cease the inane hero worship for someone who was anything but a hero.

I know. Double standard. Repulsive. Hypocrite. You can call me all that, and you would be right.

But, I just can’t hate Bobby Fischer.


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