Optimism is the word of the day before a new sports season starts, and on the eve of the 2000-2001 SUNYAC campaign, that’s exactly what every team has.
This year, all eight teams have reason to be optimistic. Plattsburgh State returns once again with a very strong squad; Potsdam State brings back nearly the entire team that made it to the conference finals; Oswego State continues to have strong goaltending and added some prized recruits; Cortland State is looking to repeat the first half of last year for the entire season this time;Geneseo State gets Aaron Coleman and Jack Staley back for one more year;Fredonia State looks to depend on a strong defense and excellent goaltending; while Brockport State looks forward to a plethora of new players; Buffalo State is finally taking their hockey program seriously, and look for this year to be their breakout season.
Indeed, optimism is definitely in the air as all eight teams start out tied for first.
It’s pretty much a no brainer picking Plattsburgh State to finish first. After all, as most coaches around the league say, Plattsburgh doesn’t rebuild, they reload. The real question is, how far can they go past the SUNYAC championship? Plattsburgh makes no bones about it, and why shouldn’t they? They already know that everybody will be gunning for them this season, so there is no reason to put up a false sense of modesty.
“Our goal is solely to win the national championship,” says coach Bob Emery. “We can have a successful year without that, but that is our goal.”
Having Niklas Sundberg back between the pipes automatically gives them an edge over most teams in the country. They did lose some top talent, including Jeff Paluseo (SUNYAC Player of the Year), Eric Seidel and Brad Erbsland. However, they have some top talent coming back also, such as Joe Dolci and Brendon Hodge (SUNYAC Rookie of the Year), who apparently worked out a lot in the offseason. Also, Eric Weidenbach and Bryan Murray.
Plattsburgh is looking to play four balanced lines. That should be possible, to the detriment of the rest of the league. Six defensemen return, and the hope is they stay healthy this year. In certain games last year, the Cardinals were forced to skate just 2-1/2 healthy defensemen.
Plattsburgh’s schedule is a tough one, loaded up with NESCAC teams, as well as RIT and Elmira. However, when your goal is to win in the last game of the season, you have to prepare yourself against the best. With their team balance and speed, the Cardinals should be playing on that last weekend.
It’s easy to pick Potsdam State to finish second based on last year’s performance. It’s even easier to pick them based on the fact that nearly the entire team is returning from that runner-up squad. Though only three seniors graduated, Nick Mendiola and Eric Gordon will be missed. However, returning are 10 seniors and 17 players total. This experience will give them a head start over many of the other teams.
Offensively, they have the spark with Joe Wlodarczyk (All-SUNYAC second team), Sean Darke and Erick Curtis expected to lead the way on the scoreboard, with workhorse Joe Munn looking to continue his “cardiac kid” label with his penchant for game-winning goals.
Defensively, Potsdam is led by All-SUNYAC second team member Dave Weagle, along with Brett Joly and Nick Eagan. This team has the potential to upend Plattsburgh for first place with one caveat — they must get solid, consistent goaltending. Todd Manley returns, but he will be looking over his shoulder at two freshmen, Ryan Venturelli from the Huntsville Wildcats and Matt O’Connor. If any of them can step up to steal any game, the Bears could be enjoying their second trip to the NCAAs.
For this reason, the Bears will need to follow the advice of Coach Ed Seney: “Our experience should be an asset for us this year. I know our team is capable of having an outstanding year, but we have to remember to work hard in practice and every game.”
How does Oswego State recover from one of the most gut-wrenching losses ever seen in hockey in last year’s playoff series with Potsdam? By forgetting about it and just looking ahead. With the number of players returning this season and some solid recruiting, the Great Lakers will have to do just that in order to take advantage of the veteran leadership.
Oswego has had a string of excellent goaltenders recently, and though they lose Gabe Accardi, sophomore Joe Lofberg has shown he is quite capable of taking over the job. Two recruits, Tyson Gajda and Nate Spadafore, will back him up.
Helping to protect the net will be six returning defensemen, led by Nate Elliot and Kris Harris, along with a trio of newcomers, including hot recruit Joe Carrabs. Carrabs is someone capable of carrying the puck end to end and quarterbacking the power play.
Up front, Oswego looks strong, as Derek Kern, Steve Cavallaro, and Joe Pecoraro look to repeat their scoring leadership. And you can’t count out Chris DiCarlo, John Sullivan, and John Hirliman. Giving them a run for their money will be regular and redshirted freshmen, including Mike Lucasic from the Oakville Blades, who has a great release and is capable of finding the holes. Another forward to keep an eye on is Brian St. John, who, last season with the Connecticut Clippers in junior hockey, scored 68 times.
Coach George Roll says of this year’s squad, “We feel pretty confident with this team.”
Oswego needs to jump out to a quick start to begin anew. If they do, they are capable of giving the North Country teams a run for their money.
Last year was a bit of a heartbreaker for Cortland State. The Red Dragons entered the last three games of league play needing only two points to make the playoffs. They ended up getting only one and missed out on the action.
However, in the beginning of the season, they were everyone’s pick as the surprise team of the year, playing unlike the Red Dragons teams of the past. So, with some good recruiting, a second team All-SUNYAC goalie coming back, and the attitude instilled by coach Tim Vanini (“We lost some steam; we hope to learn from that.”), why not a fourth place finish?
The cornerstone of the team will be that aforementioned goaltender, John Larnerd. Two new netminders were brought in to keep John honest after the two previous backups were lost (Scott Wagner transferred to Fairfield, and Dan DiPrima left school).
Up front they lost Jeff Morrissey, Jay Bartle, and Andy McGowan. Mike Cornyea, their senior captain will need to step up along with a corps of kids, including five freshmen.
“The team needs to understand the season is two semesters,” says Vanini. “I expect our guys to work 60 minutes and play like a team.”
If they can do those two requests, then Cortland will not be the surprise team of the year. They will be right where they belong — in the playoffs and making some noise.
First the bad news — Dave D’Amico and Jason Doell have graduated. Now the good news — Aaron Coleman and Jack Staley are back for their senior years.
“They are two of the premier forwards in the country,” says coach Paul Duffy.
It’s difficult to argue with that. However, they are going to have to step up not only their game, but also their leadership, as last year’s team never seemed to jell until it was too late.
Duffy says, “The players realize what it takes to get them back to where they were in their freshman year.”
They will have some help, and it includes size. Geneseo State brought in some big forwards, including Johnny Campbell, who they have high hopes for, and a good-sized defenseman, Andy Ford, who stands at 6-foot-3, 200 lbs.
Jeremy Nau, another blueliner, comes from Northfield Prep. Also from the Jr. Amerks is Canadian goalie, Jeffrey Phelps, who will get some playing time to keep the two seniors, Kevin Koury and Greg Lenti, honest.
The Ice Knights need to hit the ground running and forget about last year’s poor start.
As Duffy says, “They have to prove themselves.” But, even more importantly, “The kids just want to win.”
The old adage says defense and goaltending wins games. Well, for Fredonia State, that will have to be true if they expect to make the playoffs this year.
The Blue Devils faltered near the end of last season, and despite finishing third, fell to Geneseo in the first round. Fredonia brings in eleven freshmen for this year, but their strength is in the upperclassmen.
That strength includes a very solid duo in net with Jamie Kosecki and Will Hamele. In front of them will be a greatly improved defense, highlighted by seniors Matt Aboudara and B.J. Bouschor (first team All-SUNYAC). The big question mark is going to be the offense and how many goals they can score. Fredonia cannot afford to get into a shootout with an opponent. Speaking of opponents, Fredonia plays them early as they believe a lot of games prior to conference play gets you ready for league play.
Fredonia needs to be ready, since other teams have made great improvements with their roster. If the Blue Devils falter again in this ultra-competitive league, they could find themselves out of the playoffs.
Coach Jeff Meredith displays a very practical philosophy heading into this season. He says, “Until we can play to our potential on a regular basis, it’s just that, potential.”
Fredonia has the potential to finish anywhere from third to seventh.
Brockport State may not be located in Missouri, but the rest of the college hockey world will take a “Show Me” attitude when it comes to the Golden Eagles’ season. The reason is quite simple — there are no seniors, only one 3-year junior (goaltender Joe Messina), no returning centermen, and 16 — count them, sixteen — new players.
Gone from last year are Doug Garrison and David Insalaco, who coach Brian Dickinson admits, “you don’t replace those guys,” as well as Joe Morgan, Matt Bernier, and Sal Balbi, who decided to leave school.
Their top recruit is goalie Tom Payment, who transferred after just one year at Canton Tech, where he led his team to an NJCAA championship. He’s already being designated the No. 1 goalie with Messina and Steve Tippett ready to back him up. The defense has been the biggest beneficiary of the large incoming class.
Dickinson said, “We’re optimistic, but we’ll be really young.”
Despite that, Brockport wants to get by the first round, something they have failed to do the past two years despite playing extremely tough in the playoffs. The schedule is in their favor, as the first six out of seven games are home.
However, Dickinson realizes they must have a sane approach to this seaso.
“It’s a marathon, not a sprint,” he says.
They want to be ready when playoff time comes. They are picked this low simply because … well … they need to show us.
It’s been heard before, but this time it may actually be for real: Buffalo State is going to get serious about their hockey program.
At least this time they are doing something about it. The school’s new athletic director understands the resources needed to get the program going, and has already made coach Jim Fowler’s job a full-time position.
On the ice, Fowler says, “Our recruiting is finally paying off.”
Last year, their underclassmen got most of the points, and they have four defensemen returning, three of whom played in every game. Both goaltenders, Harley Pottratz and Nick Berti also return.
This makes the loss of leading scorer Pat Holden, Joe DiFrancisco, and three defensemen easier to handle. The Bengals’ short-term goal is to “just compete in every game,” according to Fowler. They did that at times last year, including a memorable near-upset of Plattsburgh and Potsdam in one weekend. Instead, both games went into overtime, and they only got one point. A growing program needs to get over those hurdles, and until they do, the Bengals are picked to finish last.
However, Fowler says, “The whole attitude of the players is different.”
If this is true and Buffalo State does win those close games, then Fowler’s long-term goal for this season may come true.
“We want to make the top six for the playoffs.”
2000-01 SUNYAC Ice Hockey Coaches’ Poll
1. Plattsburgh St. (7) 49
2. Potsdam St. (1) 42
3. Oswego St. 38
4. Fredonia St. 30
5. Geneseo St. 25
6. Brockport St. 18
7. Cortland St. 15
8. Buffalo St. 7