This Week in the SUNYAC: Oct. 25, 2001

An Opportunity Too Good To Pass Up

Coming back to Cortland is a homecoming for Tom Cranfield.

“The program means a lot to me. It’s kind of special when you can return home and coach the program that you played for,” Cranfield said.

And what a way to return to your alma mater!

In his first two games as head coach at Cortland, Cranfield saw his team upset Potsdam and Fredonia, two teams picked to finish well ahead of the Red Dragons — who were not even chosen to make the playoffs — in the SUNYAC coaches poll.

Those wins made some people sit up and take notice.

“It was a pleasant surprise from our standpoint. We had a lot of young players step up; it looks like we’ve got some good young talent,” said Cranfield.

“We worked hard enough to win. Potsdam is an extremely skilled team, and I think we caught them a little off guard.”

Cortland goalie John Larnerd made 17 saves against Potsdam, giving up two on the power play, and allowing just one power-play goal on 30 shots against host Fredonia. Larnerd, a junior, was named tournament MVP.

“He is the best goalie I’ve ever worked with at any level,” said Cranfield, who says his goaltending is his team’s biggest strength.

Cranfield succeeds 2001 SUNYAC Coach of the Year Tim Vanini, who left to pursue a doctorate at Michigan State. Last season, the Red Dragons made the playoffs for the first time since Cranfield’s senior year, the 1992-93 season, when the team went 19-9.

"I just love this place. I have a passion for the program and a passion for the game of hockey. It’s just one of those things that I just couldn’t pass up."

— First-year Cortland coach Tom Cranfield, whose Red Dragons have opened the season with consecutive upset wins.

Cranfield, a defenseman and captain for former coach Al MacCormack, now at Lebanon Valley, is still Cortland’s all-time leader in assists, with 73. He also assisted MacCormack from 1993-95.

Cranfield wasn’t looking for a college coaching position until the opening at Cortland. “I don’t know if I would have left [Northfield Mount Hermon Prep] for any other school.”

“I just love this place. I have a passion for the program and a passion for the game of hockey. It’s just one of those things that I just couldn’t pass up.”

Two upset wins right out of the box doesn’t hurt either.

Hey, maybe sometimes you can go home again.

The Right Foot

The other SUNYAC program with a new man behind the bench is Geneseo.

Former Bowling Green assistant coach Brian Hills becomes only the second head coach the Ice Knights have had since Paul Duffy inaugurated the program in the 1975-76 season.

Despite having three of the top 15 scorers in Division III, the Ice Knights finished in the middle of the pack in the SUNYAC last season. The college’s desire to improve the program attracted Hills to the job.

“The school itself wants to raise to the bar here for hockey,” said Hills. “[Geneseo] has a great reputation academically, and if we can raise the level of our play with the hockey team, I think it can be a real gem of a school in Division III hockey.”

Does a new coach mean changes for the Ice Knights?

“I think pretty much everything I’m doing here is new to them.

“The guys have been real excited about the drills we’ve been doing, and the structure of the practices, and the intensity of the practices,” Hills added.

Hills’ Division I experience — as a two-time first-team All-American, as CCHA Player of the Year, and his seven years as an assistant — has rubbed off on the team.

“One of the players commented to me that he liked that we were bringing a D-I mentality to a D-III program,” said Hills.

The first-year coach says that also includes conduct away from the rink: “We’ve demanded a lot of discipline from the kids off ice here, and set in place some rules and some behavior and some dress codes and things like that.”

One difference between D-I and D-III, though, is funding. The Ice Knights have already begun some fundraising efforts to pay for things things that scholarship players might take for granted.

“Some of the things D-I program kids get for free, here they have to work for them,” said Hills. “And you know, maybe they value those items a little more because they have to put some work into it.”

Continuing the involvement he had with youth hockey at Bowling Green, Hills has reached out to young people in Geneseo, N.Y., starting up a “Junior Knights” program.

Ice Knights players are getting involved, too.

“Our guys are going to work in the youth hockey program once or twice a month with different teams. We’ve had guys out on the ice with youth hockey programs already,” said Hills.

While the Ice Knights have already played one game this season, dropping a 10-1 decision at rising Manhattanville, Hills said he really won’t be able to see how his team matches up, “until I’ve seen some of the other D-III programs and how we fare against them.

“We struggled last Saturday in the game, and I told the guys on Monday that I’m looking for much improved effort come this Friday.

“I don’t know if guys were uptight last weekend, or didn’t get off on the right foot, but it’s important for us to get off on the right foot Friday.”

In his short time at Geneseo, Hills already has.

A Good Problem To Have

Oswego coach George Roll has a tough choice to make, but it’s one many coaches would give their eye teeth for: deciding which goalie to start when you have three who can do the job.

The Lakers are off until they open their NCAA season next weekend hosting two tough SUNYAC rivals, Plattsburgh and Potsdam.

Last Friday, in exhibition against Wilfred Laurier, Roll gave each netminder a period to show his stuff.

Junior Joe Lofberg was in net for the first period, seeing only five shots and allowing one goal. But that power-play tally would have hung most any goalie out to dry: The attacker committed Lofberg to the goalie’s left before switching to the backhand, then tapped the puck underneath when Lofberg moved to put his skate against the opposite post.

Lofberg, who played in seven games behind senior Gabe Accardi as a freshman, saw action in 17 games last season for the Lakers, amassing an 11-5-0 record with a 3.23 GAA, and a .888 save percentage.

Sophomore Tyson Gajda got the nod for the second stanza, stopping all nine shots he faced, during a penalty-filled period that allowed power play opportunities for both sides. Splitting time with Lofberg, Gajda had a 6-4-1 record as a freshman, a 2.75 GAA and a .904 save percentage. The tie, the only regular-season blemish against RIT, came in relief, with Gajda blanking a Tiger squad that had taken an early first-period 3-0 lead.

Roll said he was pleased with the play of both his veterans.

Transfer Sebastian Matte, also a sophomore, was in goal for the last period. Matte gave up a couple of early goals, and seemed just a bit nervous at first, facing 10 shots, and making some big saves, in a period of end-to-end hockey.

“It was his first game [for Oswego], and he can play better than that,” said Roll, who also pointed out that giveaways in the zone, “freshman mistakes,” led to the two goals.

Matte came to Oswego from Salem State, where a transfer to the Vikings last season, Kaleb Christenson, had most of the time in net. In four games, Matte had 3-1 record, a .944 save percentage, and a 1.44 GAA.

After the exhibition, Roll said, with a bit of a smile, “It’s a tough position for a coach to be in when you’ve got three good ones in goal.”

Since any of the three has the skills to start for a majority of the teams in Division III, Roll has depth in a position where an injury can make or break a season. And he has the flexibility that not every coach has: to play the hot netminder in any given game.

It’s a position most of his colleagues in the coaching ranks will never be fortunate enough to face, but, then again, they won’t have to find enough playing time for three strong goalies, either.

Tournaments In Western New York

This weekend finds four SUNYAC teams in tournaments.

Brockport and Geneseo join the two other Rochester-area schools, RIT and Hobart, in the third annual Chase Rochester Cup Tournament.

Brockport coach Brian Dickinson is looking for a better result for his team than last year, when the Golden Eagles dropped the tournament championship to the Tigers 10-1, and lost on home ice during the regular season 14-2.

With some attitude problems gone from the team, a healthy roster, and some promising recruits, Dickinson looks for a better showing.

“Last year was not what our coaching philosophy is about … [It] was one of those years where nothing went right, and it snowballed into some bad apples … and they were the dominant personalities in our locker room.”

After watching a tape of the second game against the Tigers, in which Brockport hung on through the first two-thirds of the contest, Dickinson believes that if his team can work hard and keep it close, they have a shot at RIT in the tournament’s first round.

Steve Tippett will get the nod in goal for Brockport. Tippett had a bit of an off season last year, said Dickinson. “He’s worked very hard, and I think he’ll do very well.”

What does Geneseo’s Brian Hills expect in this weekend’s Rochester Cup?

“I know what to expect from RIT … there’s no question there we’re facing one of the ultimate powerhouses in Division III hockey.”

About the other three participants, “We’re all middle-of-the-pack teams in our leagues — and I’m looking for our team to build on what I’ve been teaching them.”

Meanwhile, Buffalo State hosts its All Sport Invitational, with the Bengals and Fredonia each facing Milwaukee School of Engineering and Utica College.

Buffalo State is Utica’s first varsity opponent, so it’s difficult to know what to expect.

“I’ll tell you what, right now I’m scared to death,” said Jim Fowler, now in his sixth season as Bengals head coach, who compared the start Utica’s new program to that of Manhattanville a few years back.

“They’ve had a year to recruit, and I’ve seen the roster they’ve brought in … it’s pretty scary. [It’s] their first collegiate game and you know they’re going to be pretty excited.”

Fowler says MSOE is not to be overlooked, either. The Bengals played a couple of close games in Milwaukee last season, and the Raiders’ new coach, Mark Ostapina, has brought in some new recruits.

Buffalo State needs to be more disciplined this weekend, says Fowler. The Bengals had 42 minutes of penalties in games against Fredonia and Potsdam.

Fowler’s squad, scoreless in six periods last weekend, needs to take advantage of scoring chances, too. “In our first period we had eight 2-on-1’s, and I think we hit the net on about three of them.”

Expect the Bengals to hit the net a few times this weekend.

Around The Empire State

  • Geneseo’s Brian Hills, Bowling Green ’83, joins two fellow alums — RIT’s Wayne Wilson (’84), and Oswego’s George Roll (’86) — in western New York. Bowling Green head coach Buddy Powers (’76), who Hills and Wilson both assisted, and who was himself an assistant to Jerry York when all three played there, beat them all to the area, coaching RIT in the 1988-89 season.
  • An Oct. 12 exhibition by the Plattsburgh men’s and women’s hockey teams raised over $3,000 to benefit the relief effort in the aftermath of Sept. 11. Two co-ed teams played two 25-minutes halves before 800 in attendance. The women’s team starts its inaugural season Nov. 3.
  • Will Hamele of Fredonia and Potsdam’s Ryan Venturelli each notched career shutout number three last weekend in wins over Buffalo State.
  • Along with other changes in the program, Geneseo has renovated its Ira S. Wilson arena dressing room, with new paint, an Ice Knights logo, and new padding to replace the carpet and, according to reliable sources, to rid the place of the carpet’s lingering odor.

SUNYAC Trivia, Parts One and Two

What team won the SUNYAC tournament without winning a game in the championship series?

And what change was made to the format of the series as a result?

Answer Me This

Don’t you hate it when colleges don’t put a link to their athletic department on their home page? Do they really think hiding athletics under “Current Students” and then from there under “Campus Life” makes them better academically?

Next Week

Next week starts the SUNYAC conference schedule. In addition to this regular column, we’ll preview the season with a look at each team.