Keep It Simple
Buffalo State is off to the best start in school history. And after one week of SUNYAC play, the Bengals find themselves in an unfamiliar position — tied for first place with Plattsburgh, with a 2-0 conference record.
Last season, its best-ever overall and in conference, Buffalo State won just four of 14 SUNYAC meetings.
The Bengals, scoreless in their first two games, have been on a scoring tear, averaging almost six goals per game since.
“At the SUNYAC Challenge, we found out some of our weaknesses. Not shooting, and not crashing the net was one of them,” said coach Jim Fowler.
Todd Nowicki, this week’s USCHO D-III offensive player of the week, leads the SUNYAC in scoring after the first weekend, with two goals and six assists.
“Ever since he’s been here, he’s always been putting up points,” said Fowler.
His linemates, fellow senior Joe Urbanik and junior Jason Comardo, are among the league’s top three scorers after the first weekend. Urbanik, with four goals and two assists, is second, and Comardo is tied for third with two goals and three helpers.
The three skated as a unit for about three-quarters of last season, but this season have really gelled.
“All three of them are moving the puck, and I they think they finally know each other. When one guy shoots, the other guys are going for the net,” said the sixth-year head coach.
While Buffalo State has been an offensive machine, the Bengals did give up four goals against both Geneseo and Brockport, and allowed the Ice Knights 40 shots.
The Bengals, down 4-2 after a two periods in the Geneseo game, came back with three unanswered goals.
“In the defensive zone we want to make sure that we’re blocking shots and that we’re not giving up quality shots,” said Fowler. “Geneseo came out flying against us and they didn’t quit for 60 minutes. I think our guys had to adjust to that.”
The Bengals, along with travel partner Fredonia, face two perennial SUNYAC powers this weekend: Plattsburgh and Potsdam.
To be successful against the Cardinals on Friday night, Fowler’s team needs to avoid mistakes that an opportunistic Plattsburgh team is so good at capitalizing upon.
“I talked to the guys about playing very smart, simple hockey. Plattsburgh’s the kind of a team that every time you make a mistake, you’re going to find it in the back of the net,” noted Fowler.
“If we take off a couple shifts against Plattsburgh, they’re going to be up one, two-nothing right away against us.”
Fowler boils the keys to Friday’s game down to three things: “Play 60 minutes, play simple, and play smart.”
Saturday, Buffalo State hosts winless Potsdam. In the SUNYAC Challenge consolation game, the Bears smacked the Bengals, 5-0.
“They totally dominated us in the SUNYAC Challenge,” said Fowler. “Potsdam’s a skilled team. We have to go out there and set a tempo, work hard, and get the puck deep, and get shots on net. When they do have their chances, we have to play the body, and not let them wheel-and-deal out there.”
How well Buffalo State does in achieving its goals this weekend will give the rest of the SUNYAC an idea of just how good the best Bengals team ever really is.
Close, And Finally A Cigar
Geneseo notched its first win of the season last Saturday afternoon, a 2-1 overtime victory over Fredonia.
“In reality, we should probably have three wins right now. They’ve been close, one-goal games, and that’s going to happen,” said first-year coach Brian Hills.
“We had a bounce go our way Saturday, and that made the difference for us.”
In addition to the one-goal victory, two of Geneseo’s losses have been also by one goal, including Friday night’s 5-4 loss to Buffalo State.
“Friday night we were in control with Buff State, leading 4-2 going into the third, and had three defensive mistakes,” said Hills. “It was kind of unfortunate to lose the way we did, because we were in pretty good control and had several chances to tie it up, too.”
Geneseo has done a good job putting the puck on net, averaging over 34 shots per game. Except for a season-starting drubbing by Manhattanville, the Ice Knights have outshot their opponents, including a 41-29 advantage in shots in a 7-4 loss to Hobart, and 39-23 in a 2-1 loss at Brockport.
Even so, Hills is looking to his defense to make the difference.
“We’re a team that’s got to be real strong defensively, because we’re not a team that’s going to score four to six goals on a regular basis. In order to win games, we’ve got to be winning them 2-1, 3-2, 4-3,” said Hills.
“I think we’ve been pretty sound defensively. For 40 minutes against Fredonia, I don’t think we gave them a good scoring chance, and I think we did a fairly good job against Buff State, too.”
Hills was also happy with the play of goalie Brett Walker, who saw his first action last weekend since struggling a bit his debut as an Ice Knight in the Manhattanville loss. “He came back strong for us last weekend, and he’s part of the reason we had a chance to win both games,” said Hills.
This weekend, Geneseo and travel partner Brockport, host Oswego and the upstart Cortland Red Dragons.
What do the Ice Knights need to do to win this weekend?
“In order to beat a team like an Oswego, or a Potsdam, or a Cortland, we’ve got to play well for pretty much 50 or 60 minutes of the game,” said Hills. “We can’t afford to make a lot of big mistakes, because those teams will capitalize on those mistakes.
“That’s what I’m looking for this weekend. Trying to string together a series of minutes where we make as few mistakes as possible.”
That will be especially important against Oswego, a team that was able to mount several odd-man rushes last weekend against Plattsburgh.
Not A Schmeer Campaign
Throwing objects on the ice is a great hockey tradition — okay, maybe it’s not great, but it is a tradition.
Whether it’s an octopus tossed by a Detroit Red Wings fan — the eight legs representing the wins required at one time to drink from Lord Stanley’s Cup — or the ancient practice of throwing hats onto the ice after a player gets his third goal, some fans just love a chance to throw stuff.
Oswego fans got their chance to litter the playing surface last Friday, as the Great Lakers played host to Plattsburgh.
As has become the custom when the Cardinals come to town, fans launched hundreds of bagels onto the ice to “feed the birds” after Oswego’s Matt Vashaw drew first blood, scoring on the power play just three minutes into the contest.
Although they scrambled like a S.W.A.T. team to clear the chewy debris, it still took the rink crew more than ten minutes to remove the bagels and a few minutes more to squeegee up the crumbs.
After a quick inspection by referee Jeff Fulton to make sure everything was kosher, the game got back underway, but not before the public address announcer reminded fans that any other objects thrown on the ice would result in a penalty to Oswego.
The Lakers had no opportunity to capitalize on the momentum they might have gained on the early marker; Plattsburgh reeled off five unanswered goals over the next 50 minutes.
With nothing for the Oswego faithful to celebrate, only an occasional bagel made it onto the ice here and there, again resulting in warnings, but no penalties. Some of those fans were ejected by state police who provide security at the games.
In the third period, the Lakers narrowed the Plattsburgh lead to 5-2 on a shorthanded goal by Brian St. John.
Plattsburgh, whether not in game shape as coach Bob Emery said after the contest, or just a bit complacent with a big lead, had been outplayed by Oswego through the first 15 minutes of the third. The Laker goal might have turned the tide a bit with a fair amount of time still left on the Romney Field House clock.
A few Great Laker fans spoiled that chance, though, by heaving a half-dozen more bagels onto the ice after the St. John goal.
In addition to the remaining 40 seconds of the Plattsburgh power play, Oswego also had to kill off the two-minute bench minor that resulted from the yeasty debris. Although the Lakers managed to stave off the 5-on-3, Plattsburgh sealed the victory with its sixth goal during the remaining 5-on-4.
Did the loss in momentum after Oswego’s first goal or the late bench minor cost the Lakers the game? Outside the Oswego dressing room, coach George Roll said he didn’t think so.
“I don’t buy that. They beat us tonight, and that had nothing to do with the outcome,” said Roll.
Cardinal fans will get to return the favor Jan. 25, when the Lakers visit the north country, though the Plattsburgh faithful eschew the edible for projectiles with a little more bounce.
Unless Oswego achieves the improbable, a shutout of the Cardinals, the Lakers will be torrented with hundreds of tennis balls heaved from the higher bleachers of a thundering Stafford Ice Arena when the homestanders get their first score.
While the bagel-throwing tradition with Plattsburgh has developed in recent years, it supplants an older one shared with the Lakers’ biggest rival before the advent of the SUNYAC autobid, RIT.
Through most of the 1980s, the once-archrivals belonged to the defunct New York College Hockey Association, and battled more than once for that conference’s championship.
Citrus fruit matching the school colors served as ammunition when the two teams met. In games at RIT’s Frank Ritter Arena, fans would throw oranges onto the ice after the first Tiger goal, while Oswego fans would return the favor with limes at the Romney.
The fading of the rivalry, not to mention the removal of oranges from RIT dining halls the week before Oswego games, saw the tradition disappear.
Did Oswego fans cost their team the game? No. The game is won or lost by the players on the ice.
But it’s impossible to say what difference an extra bounce in Oswego’s step might have made after the first goal, or what chance the Lakers might have had in the third without an extra penalty to kill.
The only influence a team’s faithful should have on a game is the encouragement of players with boisterous cheers and rousing applause. A band, some signs, and even cheerleaders, are a nice touch.
It may be fun to toss baked goods or sporting goods onto the ice.
But maybe it’s time for fans at both schools to lay this “tradition” to rest.
Last week’s question:
While we’re in the north country, what NCAA ice hockey rule change was precipitated by Potsdam’s pregame drills?
During warmups, Potsdam used two goals or a pair of pylons in lieu of a second goal set on either side of the ice. The practice was banned by the NCAA rules committee.
This week’s question:
Two SUNYAC teams have faced each other for the Division III championship only once. What were the teams and the year?
Game Of The Week
Potsdam at Buffalo State
A lot is hanging in the balance for these two teams. A loss to Buffalo State, depending on the outcome of Friday’s game at Fredonia, could put the Bears at 0-and-4, while a win both nights would improve their SUNYAC record to 2-2.
A win by the Bengals could help cement their position as one of the SUNYAC’s contenders, while a sweep by the two teams from up north would drop the Bengals to the middle of the pack, with games at Oswego and Cortland ahead.