Quick, name the three hottest teams in Division III hockey right now. Okay, Oswego and St. Norbert were the easy picks. How about the third … waiting … waiting … waiting …
Give up? It’s Buffalo State. Oswego has a nine-game winning streak this year; St. Norbert has won their last eight. The Bengals, after dropping their opening weekend pair of games, are now 6-0-1 in their last seven games, the third longest current unbeaten streak in the country this year.
In that span, they beat an always tough Fredonia, tied nationally-ranked Geneseo, and beat at the time nationally-ranked Plattsburgh, along with a win against Potsdam and Skidmore. All this placed them in the polls for the first time in school history, ranked 15th nationally.
Ever since that first weekend, Buffalo State has only once let up more than two goals in a game, as they have let up 10 goals in these last seven games.
“Goaltending has been the number one reason,” Buffalo State coach Nick Carriere said. “[Kevin] Carr has been the difference maker, making the timely saves. On the penalty kill, we’re getting a better understanding of the things we need to take away from our opponents. Even since the Cortland game, where we let up three power-play goals, we’ve been a bit more stingy.”
After giving up five power-play goals in the first weekend, they have given up just five in the next seven games. This is a good thing considering Buffalo State averages 16.6 penalty minutes per game overall, and in SUNYAC, they top the conference with 17.9.
Carr tops a large Buffalo State recruiting class — 12 freshmen have seen action this year. Carr has a .942 save percentage (10th best in the country) with a 2.21 goals against average. He is definitely making himself a leading candidate for SUNYAC Rookie of the Year.
In most cases, a young team needs some time to gel and learn the college game, usually making a year like this a rebuilding one.
“We have a young team, and we’re trying to teach them what they need to do, and they’re buying into it,” Carriere said. “A couple of bounces have helped and taking advantage of the opportunities when we have them.”
The key now will be how this young team reacts when adversity hits with two-thirds of the season still to go.
Game of the Week
Which brings us to our game of the week selection — Morrisville at Buffalo State on Friday night.
At the beginning of the season, most felt Morrisville was mature enough to make some noise. How much was the question. Most felt Buffalo State would take awhile before finding their identity.
Now, they face off with a Buffalo State team tied for second and Morrisville, who has a game in hand, one point behind. The points from this game very well could decide at the end of the season a home playoff spot.
“Brian [Grady] has done a really nice job,” Carriere said. “He’s got a good, skilled, hard-working team that is very aggressive.”
This will also be a test for Carr, as he faces arguably the best goaltender in the league.
“Obviously, Relkoff is the guy there, a big presence in net,” Carriere said. “It’s hard to get pucks behind him. They’re a hot team. They had some big games and some big upsets.”
It will not be an upset for whomever wins this game, which makes it all that much tougher to pick. I’m going with the veteran goaltender to end Buffalo State’s streak.
For those games I picked in the past two weeks, I did quite well, with a 13-5 mark and one game ending in a tie. Plus, even though I picked Cortland to lose all three of their recent nonconference matchups, I did say I like to think they can win one of them. Which they did, against Hamilton. Overall, that places me at 23-9-3 (.700) for the season.
Two other games certainly could be candidates for game of the week. The first is Oswego at Geneseo on Saturday. This is Geneseo’s chance not just to prove they can play with an Oswego, but being three points behind the Lakers, it’s a must win to stay in the hunt for first place. For Oswego, it will be their toughest test on the road.
Plattsburgh at Potsdam on Friday is more a North Country rivalry for Potsdam than it is for the Cardinals. Nonetheless, with the way the season has gone for Plattsburgh, there is no question they need to win. For the Bears, they also desperately need a victory to prevent an already deepening hole from becoming a bottomless pit.
Plattsburgh coach Bob Emery said on WIRY’s Behind the Bench, “I told the guys [after beating Norwich}, enjoy the win, have some fun tonight, but don’t forget in the back of your minds you better come to work on Monday because Potsdam is a big, big game. We got behind the 8-ball and that’s a big game for us. We want to keep it rolling.”
Goaltending on both teams can be inconsistent, but until Potsdam can stay out of the box, especially at inopportune times, I’m going with the visitors to win.
Oswego should have no problems against Brockport, as assistant coach Mark Digby returns to his alma mater’s rink. Unless Geneseo is caught looking ahead, they, too, should win their first game of the weekend against Cortland, but, the Red Dragons will rebound to take a victory at Brockport while Fredonia will avenge their playoff loss to Morrisville by sending the Mustangs home defeated.
In nonleague games, I see Elmira beating Fredonia, Hobart beating Potsdam, Buffalo State beating Utica, Plattsburgh taking it to Skidmore, and Buffalo State finishing things up with a win over Hobart.