You Call This a Break?
A break in the SUNYAC schedule means anything but a break for Plattsburgh, as the Cardinals face two or three of the current top ten teams in the country.
Elmira, ranked tenth in the preseason USCHO.com Division III poll, makes the trip from the southern tier to the north country Saturday.
“We’ve played three teams we should have beaten [Cortland, Buffalo State, and Fredonia], and we’ve beaten them. I think the real test for us comes against Elmira,” said coach Bob Emery.
The Elmira game will also have implications in the first regular season USCHO.com poll on Monday. Plattsburgh narrowly beat RIT for first place in the preseason poll, and a loss, or perhaps even a narrow victory for the Cardinals could change who’s at the top.
Elmira comes into the game with one loss from a split with Wis.-Stevens Point, and wins over Neumann and Hobart.
The Soaring Eagles match up well with Plattsburgh; both teams have depth in scoring, and both have talent on the blue line. Elmira also has a knack for scoring late in the game, and could sneak one past Plattsburgh if it can keep it close.
Besides, said Emery, “nobody has trouble getting ready to play here.”
Thanksgiving weekend, Potsdam hosts this year’s edition of the best in-season tournament in D-III, the Primelink Great Northern Shootout. Plattsburgh takes on Norwich in the first round, and either Middlebury or Potsdam in the second round.
The Cardinals should be favored in the Shootout.
Before the season, Emery called the tournament his team’s “toughest road trip of the season.”
Last year, Middlebury blanked Plattsburgh, 3-0, in the first round of the tournament. The Cardinals downed Norwich 6-1 in the consolation, after the Cadets were upended by Potsdam, 2-1, in the opener.
Middlebury returns a veteran squad, but has lost All-American Scott Goldman to graduation. Norwich comes into the tournament needing to replace the scoring and leadership two-time USCHO D-III Player of the Year Keith Aucoin.
Both teams see their first action against weak competition this weekend, while Plattsburgh will have had five games and an exhibition, and Potsdam seven plus the exhibition, under their belts.
That game experience has helped the Cardinals gel on the blue line, an area that before the season Emery said was an area Plattsburgh would need to develop.
In Plattsburgh’s season opener at Oswego, the Cardinals allowed several odd-man rushes by the Lakers when defensemen pinched in. After that game, Emery said, “There’s only one defenseman I want trying to score, [senior Peter] Ollari. The rest of them have to stay back and keep the other team from scoring.”
Emery is pleased with the development his blueliners have shown so far, but there’s still room for improvement.
“One defenseman, [freshman] Doug Carr, has really stepped it up. Ollari’s Ollari — he’s played well,” said Emery, who along with Ollari, has experienced defensemen in senior Jeff Marshall and sophomore Chad Kemp.
“I think if we can get the combination of some guys getting confidence with some guys getting experience, I think we’ll be fine there,” added Emery.
Despite an offense that can rack up the goals — averaging better than five goals per game last season — don’t look for the Cardinals to have the top scorer in the country.
“We’ve had a lot of success over the years at Plattsburgh with balanced scoring. We don’t have guys getting six or seven points in a game. Our schedule’s tough, so we don’t blow out a lot of teams,” said Emery. “I’d like to have our top scorer be the top scorer in the country, but I think that’s not important, and it’s not going to happen with our tough schedule.”
With three opponents all at the top of their conferences, these nonconference games have postseason implications, despite how early they fall in the schedule.
“The games are big. I think we still have to win our league to get into the NCAA tournament,” said Emery. “But these games are important for the rankings, home ice advantage, etc.
“But more than that you play for pride every night. Just like every other team, we’re out to win every game.”
North country residents are in for some great hockey the next two weekends.
Other Non-Conference Action
Potsdam, in addition to the Primelink Great Northern Shootout, has a real test Friday, Nov. 16 against visiting Manhattanville. The Valiants lost a last-second heartbreaker on home ice to RIT, 5-4, and will be a formidable opponent to the rebuilding Bears.
Oswego has a pair of tough road games coming up. Saturday, Nov. 24, the Lakers travel to Manhattanville. The following Tuesday, the Lakers visit Elmira, in a nonconference rivalry almost as heated as the one with RIT.
Cortland takes on three nonconference opponents from three different leagues over the next week-and-a-half. Saturday, one of the top teams from the ECAC Northeast, Johnson and Wales, visits Alumni Arena. Tuesday, Nov. 20, the Red Dragons visit college hockey’s newest team, Utica, from the ECAC West. The following Tuesday, Hamilton, of the NESCAC, visits. The three games will give a good indication where a surprising Cortland squad stacks up.
Brockport has a chance to right the ship a bit in a home game against Curry from the ECAC Northeast. The Colonels are in the same boat as the Golden Eagles, winning only four games last season, but improving.
Geneseo, hit hard by injuries, also will look to get back on track. Friday and Saturday, the Knights host last year’s ECAC Northeast champs, Lebanon Valley, and new ECAC West team Neumann. After a tough loss to RIT, and a disheartening one to Cortland, look for Geneseo to rebound.
The Knights also will visit Hobart on Wednesday, Nov. 28. Geneseo will try to avenge a loss to the Statesmen in the Chase Rochester Cup’s first round. In that game, the Knights outshot Hobart 41-29, and scored three straight goals to tie Hobart 4-4 in the third, but lost 7-4 on two late scores and an empty-netter.
Buffalo State hosts Hobart on Tuesday, Nov. 20. The high-flying Bengals will have their hands full with a young Statesmen squad that has a similar ability to score goals.
Fredonia has the Thanksgiving holiday off. The Blue Devils take the ice next on Nov. 30 at Cortland, when SUNYAC conference play resumes.
A Point of Emphasis …
Each season, the NCAA rules committee calls attention to certain areas of the game — “Points of Emphasis” — that they believe need to be improved. This includes not only new rules, but also a stronger emphasis on existing rules.
This season, diving — trying to draw a penalty — is again on the list.
Last season, as a point of emphasis, the NCAA said that diving “shows up officials and must not be tolerated.”
In this year’s rule book, the NCAA rules committee states that “Attempts to curb the spread of diving in 2000-01 fell short of success.”
As a result, the penalty for diving has been changed from a misconduct to a minor penalty.
So far this season, a handful of diving minors have been assessed in SUNYAC games. Some diving penalties have been handed out at the same time as a minor on the opposing team.
I’ve been asked how it can make sense to whistle a penalty on one player and then penalize the other for diving.
Let’s say, for example, a player hooks another player from behind, resulting in a penalty. If the hooked player then does the “Greg Louganis” to try to sell the infraction, he will get the minor for diving, since he took action to try to draw it.
(Diving can also be taken to extremes. One of the top players in Division III a couple of seasons back was famous for drawing penalties, but took it to the point of poor sportsmanship — exactly the kind of conduct this rule is meant to dissuade. In an NCAA Quarterfinal, after the whistle, I saw this player pass about a foot away from an opposing player, and as he passed, he flipped backwards onto the ice as if shot by a sniper from the top row of the bleachers, in an unsuccessful attempt to draw a penalty.)
Selling a penalty has been part of the game forever, and it will continue to be. However, this new rule, if enforced, should lower the number of players in the running for the Academy Award.
… And One That Should Be
Last weekend, two SUNYAC goaltenders were given majors for fighting and game disqualifications: Cortland’s John Larnerd, and Geneseo’s Brett Walker.
Why two fights by goalies? Could it be because referees are not doing a proper job in penalizing players who check or slash goaltenders?
Goalies have a “privileged area” which is bounded by an imaginary line between the two special spots (the centers of the two face-off circles) and from the special spots back to the end boards. Within that area, a player may not “charge or foul a goaltender.” Outside that area, the netminder is fair game, like any skater.
Less than a minute before his fighting penalty, Walker was run into by a player on what should have been an obvious call, but no call was made. Frustrated when he was slammed back into the net on the next series, Walker took things into his own hands, and attempted to beat the snot out of an opposing player.
I’m not condoning his actions or those of any other goalie who responds this way. But if officials allow goalies to be checked, or deliberately slashed — especially after the whistle — tempers are going to flare.
The ECAC, who supplies officials for SUNYAC games, needs to do a better job protecting goalies.
They could start by enforcing the rules.
“You could look it up …”
You can read all about this for yourself by downloading your own copy of the NCAA rulebook.
Last week’s question:
Two SUNYAC teams have faced each other for the Division III championship only once. What were the teams and the year?
Oswego and Plattsburgh, 1987. Plattsburgh had to vacate the championship because of an NCAA violation (which a few Cardinal fans “thanked” me by e-mail for reminding them about.)
This week’s questions:
Since we’ll be away next week for the Thanksgiving holiday, here are two questions which follow up on last week’s topic:
Which goaltender from that championship game is now a head coach in the CHA?
And, what current ESPN broadcaster covered that game on the radio?
Game of the Week
Elmira at Plattsburgh
Plattsburgh’s only real test this season so far was the opener at Oswego, which could have gone the other way were it not for the acrobatics of goalie Nik Sundberg on some Laker rushes. Elmira has similar scoring depth to the Cardinals, and maybe a touch more experience on the blue line.
This game will come down to goaltending and special teams. I’m going to pick this one 5-3, Plattsburgh, with a late empty-net goal.