It has been a gradual process, but the plan put in place during his first season at Buffalo State is now paying off for coach Jim Fowler.
Fowler started 1996-97 without a recruiting class, and over the next couple of seasons had to concentrate on filling a roster. Those teams were not competitive, and Fowler knew that getting beat by double-digit scores was not going to build confidence or attract recruits.
“So we tried to pick teams that were at our level, newer programs, and teams that were, hopefully, turning the corner, to start playing them and build some confidence first,” said Fowler. “So as you start to win games, seven games, 12 games, and not three games, you start to get over the hump, and guys say, ‘Hey, they’re starting to win, maybe I’ll go there now.’
“That was my toughest sell, to try to get guys to come to a team that won three games last year. Now, we’re a playoff contender, we’re knocking at that door, we can battle with these teams now. Guys want to hear that. They want to play for a winner, or someone who’s going to be there soon.”
Knocking At The Door
This year’s SUNYAC preseason poll finds the Bengals in fifth, a finish that would put them in the playoffs for the first time.
“We’re returning nine of our top 10 scorers. I think that [the SUNYAC coaches] looked at the offensive capabilities we have,” said Fowler.
Fowler’s top four scorers from last season — forwards Joe Urbanik, Todd Nowicki, third-year captain Rocky Reeves, and Jason Comardo — are all back. They combined for 52 goals in the 2000-01 campaign.
On the defensive end, “We have pretty much a veteran team, with our No. 1 goaltender coming back and some pretty solid defensemen,” said Fowler.
Four blueliners return, including assistant captain Jad Ramsay, Ricardo Hernandez, Cyle McCorkle, and Guy Duquette.
Goalie Nick Berti, who emerged as the team’s top netminder in the second half of the season, will be challenged for game time by freshman Adam Horvath and junior Steve Thering, who comes to the Bengals after two years of junior college hockey at SUNY Morrisville.
After a season in which the Bengals achieved a number of firsts: a .500 record (12-12-1), a seven-game unbeaten streak, and records for wins, goals, and shots in a season, Fowler’s squad is ready to battle for one of the SUNYAC’s six playoff spots.
“Each year I’ve been in the league — for 13 years as a player and coach — you’ve always had Plattsburgh, Potsdam, and Oswego, and maybe Fredonia up there, but I think its going to be a race for three or four teams for the last two playoff spots.”
With a veteran squad that has learned how to win, a steadily improving Buffalo State is going to be in the hunt.