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This Week in Men's D-II/III

College Hockey:
SUNYAC Playoff Preview

Home Ice, No Advantage?
You work all year for home ice advantage in the playoffs, and then you end up playing a team that beat you on your home ice earlier in the season.

“I think when you look at the two first round games, you are splitting hairs,” Fredonia coach Jeff Meredith said. “Let’s be honest, the home team should be favorites being they played well to be the home team. Yet, there’s a lot of pressure on the home team to win.”

Buffalo State completed the season with its best finish ever, third place. Their reward is to host Fredonia, who beat them in Buffalo, 6-4.

Morrisville just missed hosting its first playoff game, so they instead go on the road to Plattsburgh, where they beat the Cardinals back in November, 3-2.

“It’s a one-game season,” Morrisville coach Brian Grady said. “Anything can happen.”

Anything can happen. Whether you are home or away.

PLAY-IN PREVIEWS
(All statistics in the previews are for conference play only.)

Morrisville (8-7-1, 11-12-1) at Plattsburgh (9-7-0, 17-7-1)
Interestingly, both these teams aren’t exactly where they wanted to be. Plattsburgh played exceptionally well outside the conference. In fact, overall, Plattsburgh has the second best record amongst SUNYAC teams. Yet, they finished fourth in the league. The Cardinals probably figured with their overall record, they would also be high enough in the standings to get a bye in the first round.

Meanwhile, Morrisville had their first home playoff spot within their grasp, and let it slip away with two losses in the final weekend.

Yet, here they are, and they have a playoff game to win.

“Certainly, not the way we wanted to enter the playoffs, but we’re here,” Grady said. “It’s exciting. It’s exciting for our program. All of our hard work is rewarded. It’s a testament to our team’s efforts. Obviously, we would have liked to be home, but we’re happy where we’re at.

“We saw that last year, losing to Fredonia in the last regular season game, 7-1. Then, turning it around and win in the playoffs. That’s the way we’re approaching it. We’ve washed our hands of last weekend.”

Ironically, Morrisville may be better off where they are. Besides the aforementioned win at Plattsburgh, the Mustangs are 5-2-1 on the road, but only 3-5-0 at home.

“For some reason, our team seems to rise to the stage,” Grady said. “We’ve played well on the road. The guys seem to be more comfortable on the road. It certainly is opposite of the way I felt when I played. But, it certainly brings us confidence.”

Meanwhile, Plattsburgh also does not play as well at home, with a 4-4 mark while they are 5-3 on the road.

Nonetheless, Plattsburgh does have a lot of things going for it — second best offense at four goals per game (with Morrisville third at 3.69), the second best power play in the league at 25.9 percent, while Morrisville is the most penalized (19.7 minutes per game), and the least penalized team at just nine minutes per game.

Eric Satim (8-12-20) and Dylan Clarke (10-6-16) lead the way upfront.It appeared goaltending was finally getting settled with Josh Leis (2.96 goals against average, .874 save percentage) apparently winning the number one spot. However, down the stretch, Ryan Williams (2.45 GAA, .880 save pct.) was once again getting opportunities. A confidence issue in this position is not what the Cardinals want to see at this point in the season.

There is no confidence issue for Morrisville with Caylin Relkoff (3.03 GAA, .909 save pct.). The senior would love nothing more than to continue a career that helped his team make huge strides over the past four years.

He’ll need help, and he’ll get if from Tyler Swan (8-10-18), Bobby Cass (3-10-13), and Geoff Matzel (7-6-13). However, the Mustangs will not have the services of defenseman Daniel Morello, sitting out after a game disqualification last Saturday.

“We just have to play at the level we’re capable of,” Grady said. “We just have to play at the level we’ve shown we’re capable of. It’s going to be a challenge. They’re a battle tested team in the playoffs.”

Fredonia (7-8-1, 12-12-1) at Buffalo State (8-5-3, 12-10-3)
The only time Buffalo State got to host a playoff game, they lost to Fredonia in double overtime. Now, they get to host again … and play Fredonia again.

They split the season series, each winning on the road, with Buffalo State’s coming in overtime. They both enter the playoffs playing well. Buffalo State has won three in a row and four out of their last five. Fredonia is 2-1-1 in their last four.

The most impressive stat goes to Buffalo State. They have let up just two even-strength goals in the last five games. The last time they let up more than one five-on-five goal in a game was when they played Fredonia. The Blue Devils also scored four power-play goals in that game.

“We’re playing really well,” Buffalo State coach Nick Carriere said. “We evaluated the last Fredonia game. They got up on us 5-1, and that wasn’t acceptable. Fredonia is the most disciplined team in the conference. They have a great power play.”

The Blue Devils have a 23.5 percent power play efficiency, third best in the league. Mat Hehr leads the team with seven power-play goals followed by Bryan Ross with five. However, the big problem Fredonia will have to overcome is having their second leading scorer, Jordan Oye (10-11-21), suspended because of a game disqualification this past Saturday.

When you are going up against an outstanding freshman goaltender, the last thing you want is to have one of your snipers in street clothes.

Yet, missing Oye has not deterred Fredonia’s confidence.

“Excited,” Meredith explains the team’s attitude. “We’re a sixth seed. We get to go on the road. There’s no pressure playing the third seed. As a sixth seed, no one is expecting you to do anything. As opposed to traveling four to six hours, we get to travel just 45 minutes, so we’re happy with that.”

Buffalo State may be a young team, but they will be relying on their senior, Nick Petriello (4-15-19). Trevor McKinney leads in goals with 10.

“We’re a young team,” Carriere said. “We’re not worried about too many systems. Just have to worry about the guys getting nervous.”

However, this game will ultimately come down to goaltending, a battle of freshmen goaltending. Fredonia’s Mark Friesen (2.43 goals against average, .920 save percentage) versus Buffalo State’s Kevin Carr (2.59 GAA, .927 save pct.).

“Very happy [with Friesen],” Meredith said. “He’s playing the way we want him to play. He’s playing the way we envisioned at this time of year.”

“He’s special,” Carriere said of Carr. “As a freshman coming in, I knew we had something special. It couldn’t have worked out better. He knows he needs to be a calm and calculated type of guy for us. We’re going to rely on him.”

With this type of goaltending, maybe we’ll see another double overtime classic.


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