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College Hockey:
SUNYAC picks: March 2

This is the 12th time Oswego and Plattsburgh have met for the SUNYAC championship. Plattsburgh has won nine of the previous 11 confrontations. The last time they met, two years ago, Oswego won 6-3. Plattsburgh is making its 21st consecutive championship appearance.

If you cannot make the game, you can watch it live. If you live in the Syracuse, Auburn, Utica, Binghamton, and North Country (but not Plattsburgh) areas, you can watch it on Time Warner Cable 1027. On the Oswego campus, it will be on channel 10, and locally on channel 96. Otherwise, go to the webcast.

Plattsburgh (12-3-1, 18-4-4) at Oswego (14-0-2, 22-2-2)
It’s round three of the great rivalry for 2011-12. They tied the first time in Plattsburgh, 2-2, and Oswego won at home a couple of weeks ago, 3-0.

By all accounts, both teams should make the NCAA playoffs, though odder things have happened. Thus, the automatic berth is not really what’s on the line. What is, of course, is a conference title, as well as a good seeding in the national playoffs to try and avoid having to compete in the play-in game, as well trying to host the quarterfinal round.

Plattsburgh got here with a triple overtime 4-3 win over Buffalo State. With a week to regroup, that marathon will have no effect on Saturday’s game.

Oswego cruised to an 8-3 win over Fredonia. In fact, Oswego has done a lot of cruising lately. Since being shutout by Neumann on the last day of 2011, Oswego has not scored less than three goals in a game, and when it did score three goals three times, it let up just one score in those three games combined. Meanwhile, Oswego has scored five or more goals in a game seven times in 2012. The Lakers have not lost this calendar year, giving them the longest current winning streak in the country at 12.

I have never seen Oswego play this well at this time of the season before. Even in 2010, when they beat Plattsburgh and blew out Bowdoin in the NCAA quarterfinals, I do not believe they were as strong as now. When they won the national championship in 2007, they entered the NCAAs sputtering.

“Our main focus is on ourselves and not our opponent,” Oswego coach Ed Gosek said. “I think since Christmas break, our focus has been on our discipline, our work ethic, and how we play, our execution, and not so much focused on the other team. I think as coaches, we learn too. A little less emphasis on our opponent, on their system. Not that we don’t pay attention to detail, but our focus is on our own situation, and I think the players have bought into that.”

Of course, we are talking about Plattsburgh as their opponent.

“We respect Plattsburgh,” Gosek said. “We can’t get outworked. We can’t lose battles. The mental aspect, the mind part of it, is going to be a key ingredient.”

The mind part of it is what Plattsburgh coach Bob Emery often harps about.

“We can’t have any mental lapses out there, because the puck can be in the back of our net,” he said.

They also can’t have any mental lapses in the third period, a recurring theme for the Cardinals this year. The most egregious infraction was the previous game against Buffalo State, where they blew a 3-1 lead in the third period, causing all those overtimes.

A few weeks ago, I felt Plattsburgh was playing as well as anyone in the country. Strong defense, strong discipline, hardly any penalties, beating some very good teams. However, now the lack of finishing has been a major factor in the games down the stretch, beating Buffalo State only 1-0, losing to Brockport, barely beating Geneseo, 2-1, getting shutout by Oswego, needing overtime to beat Cortland, and of course the semifinal round.

After the Oswego game, Emery talked about how his team’s emphasis has to be “on defense first with the kind of team we have.”

But let’s not forget, Oswego plays some pretty good defense themselves. In fact, better than Plattsburgh in league play (1.62 goals allowed per game vs. 2.00). Oswego’s penalty kill isn’t too far behind Plattsburgh (90.8 percent vs. 88.4 percent).

In net, it’s going to be the battle of former Division I goaltenders. Plattsburgh’s Mathieu Cadieux (formerly Quinnipiac) against perhaps the most underrated goalie in the country, Oswego’s Andrew Hare (formerly Niagara).

They actually met once in Division I on January 22, 2010. Hare started for Niagara, which won 6-2, making 48 saves. Cadieux came in for relief, giving up the last three goals and stopping 10 shots.

SUNYAC championship, automatic bid, high seed in the NCAA, bragging rights in this rivalry — take your pick. You don’t need much motivation when Plattsburgh and Oswego take to the ice.

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