This Week in the SUNYAC: Jan. 10, 2002

Seems Like Old Times

Loyal writer Ed Trefzger took a longer break than anticipated — and then was sent out of town — so he asked me to fill in this week. I’m pretty sure I have the credentials to do a halfway decent job.

Let’s pick up right where he left off and finish up the midseason report for the four teams that find themselves battling for the final two playoff spots.

Right On Track

“I didn’t really know what to expect coming in here,” Geneseo’s rookie coach Brian Hills said, “in fact, being my first year in Division III.”

Right now, the Ice Knights are sitting in fifth place, just two points out of home ice for the first round of the playoffs.

“After the first half, I’m pretty happy over what we have accomplished,” Hills said.

It didn’t start out that way as a young squad and a new coach struggled to get the hang of it. Geneseo started the season with four losses and dropped eight of its first nine games, including going 1-3 in SUNYAC play. Since then, the team has won five of its last eight games, going 2-1 in league play to move into that fifth spot.

Hills’ evaluation of the first half? “Our goal was to make the playoffs, and so far we have reached that.”

In order to stay on track, Geneseo is going to need to continue having its offense score goals like in recent games. In those five wins, they have averaged just over four goals a game, but only scored twice in the three losses.

Hills explained what needs to be done. “Now it’s time for certain guys to be better with their chances around the net. They need to think about how to get their shots on the net.”

Overall, Tony Scorsone leads the team with eight goals and 15 assists, while Matt Lester has lit up the lamp six times. Freshman goaltender Brent Walker has stepped in nicely with a .939 save percentage, third best in the conference.

Looking at the schedule, one would think Geneseo would be at a disadvantage with its next four SUNYAC games on the road. Hills doesn’t think so.

“People who have been around here a while,” Hills explains, “have told me that in the past Geneseo has been a real good road team.”

And that first road game happens to be at Buffalo State, the team Geneseo needs to beat out to get that home-ice spot.

Watch Out For The Slumbering Bears

There seems to be consensus on the USCHO Message Board — Potsdam may be struggling, but I sure don’t want my team facing the Bears in the playoffs. That’s what happens when you have a young team with talent that everybody is just waiting to gel.

Six of the Bears’ nine losses were one-goal games, including an overtime loss to Plattsburgh, undefeated number-one Norwich, and ECAC East contender New England College. Meanwhile, Potsdam has shown its stuff in wins over Plattsburgh and Manhattanville.

“Losing the guys we lost and having 12 new players has led to a lot of inconsistency,” Potsdam coach Ed Seney said.

Unfortunately for Potsdam, two wins over SUNYAC foes came in nonconference games, so its league record sits at a disappointing 2-5. What’s really hurting the Bears is their inability to score, averaging only 2.57 goals a league game, including scoring just once against Geneseo despite outshooting them 37-17.

“We lost a lot of top scorers,” Seney said. “It’s hard to win a college hockey game scoring one goal.”

Overall, Potsdam’s top scorer is a defenseman. All-American candidate Dave Weagle has five goals and seven assists. Anthony Greer also has five goals.

Potsdam only has two players from its power play back from last year, a power play converting at an anemic 8.7% efficiency in conference play.

Thus, Potsdam will have to continue to rely on strong goaltending from Ryan Venturelli until its offense begins to get into the groove. In league play, Venturelli has a 2.87 GAA (2.61 overall) and a .901 save percentage (.912 overall).

Seney said, “We can play with anybody in the country. We’re just looking for the breaks to fall our way.”

Potsdam will need to start getting those breaks even before they get back into conference play as its next three games are against Hobart, Middlebury, and Elmira.

Seney is confident. “We’ve always been a second half team,” he said.

That’s what those opposing fans on the Message Board are concerned about.

Desperately Seeking Goals

Nobody is having as much trouble scoring goals as the Fredonia Blue Devils, who have just nine in seven conference games. That is why Fredonia finds themselves at 1-6 and currently out of a playoff spot.

“You either have a knack for scoring or you don’t,” coach Jeff Meredith puts it matter-of-factly. “We had a great knack a number of years ago, but we don’t now.”

It doesn’t help that a lot of guys are having personal slumps all at the same time nor that a lot of freshmen are getting ice time, and it’s taking them a while to get used to the college game.

Junior Christian Fletcher is the only one lighting up the lamp with nine goals overall and three in league play.

“We’re getting the opportunities, but just not finishing,” Meredith explains. It’s a matter of continuing the basics. “Keep getting our shots off, keep going to the net.”

Thus, the burden rests on goalie Will Hamele’s shoulders.

“Will is playing outstanding, holding opponents down, but has zero to show for it.” Meredith says. “He’s a wonderful kid. We just have to produce for him.”

Meredith understands the challenge, “It’s an uphill battle with seven games to go. We realize what a big challenge it is, and we’re ready to get into the challenge.”

Fredonia risks missing the playoffs for the first time in a long while. Its first conference weekend of the second half, they host Brockport and Geneseo. The outcome of that weekend will go a long way in determining whether the Blue Devils are going to see any second season action.

Right now, that is the only goal Meredith is looking at. “We know it is going to be tough enough to get into the playoffs. If we shoot for that goal, others will fall into place as they come.”

The real goals Fredonia needs are the ones where the puck goes into the net.

Adjusting Goals

What do you do when you are winless in league play and only 2-13-0 overall like Brockport? You adjust your goals.

“At the beginning, we set a goal to go 6-8 in SUNYAC,” coach Brian Dickinson said. “We’ve adjusted that to play one at a time, win as many games as you can, and see where that places us at the end.”

On the ice, Dickinson hopes to, “tighten up defensively, and score more than two goals a game.”

Brockport took a step towards that by picking up a three transfers and putting them all on the same line. Twins Paul and Peter Stasko came over from Geneseo, and Ron Lien transferred in from New England College. By the second game, Lien had a goal in a 5-1 victory over Framingham State, and in their third game together, Lien scored another with both Staskos getting the assists, and then assisted on a Paul Stasko goal in a 4-3 loss to Lebanon Valley.

Dickinson says of the three, “They play hard, are smart, and picked up the system really well.”

Brockport has been getting a lot of shots off, but just haven’t been scoring. In just the three games of the new year, they outshot Fitchburg State, 38-26, and lost 6-2, outshot Framingham State, 54-24 in the win, and outshot Lebanon Valley, 33-29, in the loss.

Leading the scoring is senior Darren Kennedy with seven goals (six of them in conference play) and six assists.

Brockport is going to have to get used to busses, as its next seven games are on the road (in fact, its first ten games of 2002 are away) including the next three league games. Brockport finally returns home for the final three games of the season.

However, Brockport is not deterred.

“The kids are encouraged,” Dickinson says. “We haven’t lost anybody, mentally. They still believe.”

The Battle of the Ryans

For the 1999-2000 season, a new goalie came to Potsdam. His name was Ryan Thomson, and he did quite well. However, he decided to transfer to New England College for the following year.

In came another new goalie for Potsdam for the 2000-2001 season. His name was Ryan Venturelli, and he too did quite well.

Wouldn’t you know it, the two teams met in the New England College Holiday Classic championship game that year, but Potsdam’s Ryan didn’t play. NEC’s Ryan did, and he beat his old teammates, 3-1.

By the end of that year, Ryan led New England College to an ECAC East tournament victory and into the NCAA playoffs. Meanwhile, Ryan led Potsdam to within one game of the SUNYAC playoff title and just missed out on an at-large bid, partly due to that loss to Ryan.

For the 2001-2 season, both Ryans stayed put. Both teams once again met in the New England College Holiday Classic championship game before New Years thanks to New England College beating Southern New Hampshire University, 11-4, and Potsdam downing Southern Maine, 3-2, on a power-play goal by Anthony Greer and two third-period goals by Jeff Milroy, and then holding off the Huskies after they scored two late goals.

So, the two Ryans finally faced each other. Ryan beat Ryan, 2-1. That is Thomson beat Venturelli. Potsdam’s lone goal was scored by Nik Andrews in the second period after New England College scored twice in the first. The winning Ryan made 35 saves while the losing Ryan made 28.

Stay tuned next year to see whether there is another Battle of the Ryans.

Changing of the Guard?

True, Plattsburgh is having a fine season. However, whenever they have been tested, they have not performed as well as one would expect from the defending national champion. They lost to Middlebury, back in November they had a three game losing streak to Elmira, Norwich, and Potsdam, and even when they have won, they sometimes struggled like against Geneseo and Potsdam in December.

So, when a rematch came up against Norwich, the Cardinals figured this was a chance to prove they are still the defending national champions, and deserve respect.

For a while, it appeared that the Cardinals were going to teach the Cadets a lesson on who is still King of the Hill, as Plattsburgh jumped out to a 3-1 lead in the second period after letting up the first goal. Jason Kilcan, Guy Come, and Brendon Hodge scored the goals.

However, Plattsburgh wasn’t able to hold on, and it was Norwich that taught the final lesson, scoring four unanswered goals en route to a 5-3 victory. To add insult to injury, Plattsburgh was outshot 36-15.

The Cardinals now have some soul-searching to do as they regroup and try to regain their spot as the most-feared team in the nation.

Next Time

Ed will be back. I’ll return to hibernating. And we’ll see how well I did on predicting winners based on whether Ed counts my results in his overall record.

Meanwhile, on the ice, there will be a slew of nonconference games to keep Ed’s keyboard busy.

My Rant

If my good friend Chris Lerch can put unrelated rants in his Division III column, why can’t I?

Actually, I can’t, because my rant would take up the whole column, and that would be kind of silly.

So, I’ll just provide the conclusion. If you ever fly Delta, don’t ever check any baggage. Coming or going. It doesn’t matter. Trust me on this one.


Last Week’s Question

Who is the only SUNYAC coach ever to win coach of the year in two consecutive seasons?

I thought Ed was a nice guy. Looks like I was wrong. Ed ends up asking a question that cannot be answered, and then high-tails it out of town.

You see, there were two coaches who won back-to-back SUNYAC Coach of the Year titles, and that occurred in the first four years of the award. John Horan of Potsdam won the award in 1983 and 1984. The following two years, Paul Duffy from Geneseo took the honor, though he shared it with Horan in the latter year.

So, let’s get back at Ed. Usually, only longtime Plattsburgh fans know the answer to both parts of this week’s trivia question. Why don’t we keep it to ourselves, and not tell Ed. Then, when he is putting next week’s column together, and I leave town, we can enjoy watching his brow bead up with sweat.

This Week’s Question

While we are on the subject of coaches, what NHL Hall of Famer and Stanley Cup champion, as a player and coach, was an assistant coach for Plattsburgh? For a bonus, when?

Game of the Week

Despite a great lineup of games on January 15, this is an easy choice. It’s Saturday’s contest between Plattsburgh and Elmira in the Thunderdome.

One of the great Division III rivalries, these two proud programs square off in a game where both teams are looking to make a statement.

Plattsburgh just lost to Norwich for the second time in a row, and along with a loss to Middlebury and Elmira earlier in the season, are looking to reestablish themselves. More importantly, looking to show they can win when put to the test. What better way to do that than with a win against Elmira?

Meanwhile, Elmira was completely embarrassed last Sunday in a 6-3 loss at the hands of Lebanon Valley, but bounced back with an 11-0 wipeout over Geneseo. That left Elmira with just four wins in the past nine games. What better way to make up for that than a win against Plattsburgh?

Yep, this is a matchup you don’t want to miss.