This Week in the SUNYAC: Jan. 17, 2002

Back in the Saddle

My thanks to colleague Russell Jaslow, who dusted off his Underwood to bring you this column last week. Russell covered the SUNYAC here for several years, and it was great to have him put on some familiar shoes.

Is the Only Road to the NCAAs through the SUNYAC championship?

Despite the addition of a second Pool C bid, it’s likely that only one SUNYAC team will make the NCAA Division III tournament — the winner of the SUNYAC championship series.

Plattsburgh’s six losses, five to teams that have been in the USCHO top ten for at least part of the year, have virtually eliminated the Cardinals from defending their national title without first winning the SUNYAC championship, unless a fortuitous set of circumstances occurs.

First, the Cardinals would have to hope that the best team in each of the other autobid conferences — or at least the top seeds in the NCHA, ECAC East, and NESCAC — win their league tournaments.

If the second-place team in the NCHA is either St. Norbert, Wisconsin-River Falls, or Wisconsin-Superior, you can count on one or maybe two of those three to nab Pool C bids, which are awarded to the top two teams not winning their conference championships among the six D-III conferences with automatic qualifiers.

Back east, if Middlebury and Norwich keep up their winning ways, but don’t take their conference tournaments, one of them will undoubtedly get a Pool C bid. And even if they win out, as yet unbeaten Bowdoin might have a shot as well.

However, if Plattsburgh were to win out, and then lose the championship series, the Cardinals would have eight losses — probably too many to qualify for an at-large bid.

A Pool C shot is not entirely out of the question for Oswego. Should the Lakers win out, or at least gain a split with RIT this weekend, they could be poised for an at-large berth should they not take the conference, but only if a set of circumstances similar to those outlined above occur.

Any other squad in the SUNYAC would have to win to be in.

One Last Week of Nonconference Tilts

It’s been a fairly successful month and a half for the SUNYAC since the first half of the conference season wrapped with the travel partner games on Dec. 4.

Plattsburgh is probably not inclined to agree.

The Cardinals went 3-3 in that stretch, and dropped their fifth decision against a ranked team last Saturday, 4-1, at Elmira.

Surprisingly, the SUNYAC had a better record against the NESCAC in that stretch, going 5-3, than against the ECAC Northeast, which won four of seven games against SUNYAC squads.

Last Saturday afternoon, Wentworth, which had beaten RIT in December, downed Cortland in a 6-5 shootout, while Johnson and Wales upended Oswego that evening, 4-3. The Lakers and Red Dragons swapped opponents on Sunday, with Oswego taking Wentworth, 4-1, and Cortland downing J & W, 5-3.

There’s still one more week of nonconference play before the SUNYAC keeps it in conference for the stretch.

Lakers and Tigers Renew Rivalry

In the 1980’s, long before the SUNYAC automatic qualifier, Oswego and RIT were top rivals in the old New York College Hockey Association.

For many years, Oswego led the all-time series by a wide margin, but now trail the Tigers 29-23-3.

Despite the fading of the rivalry over the years, the games between the two squads have been physical, hard-fought, and full of surprises. Last season was no exception.

In the first game of the series, Oswego put the only blemish on RIT’s record with a 3-3 tie on the road. RIT jumped to a 3-0 lead just 2:33 into the contest, with starting goalie Joe Lofberg skating to the bench after the third RIT tally, after making just one save. Tyson Gajda pitched a shutout in relief, making 42 saves, while the Lakers clawed back to tie the game, putting 44 shots on RIT reserve netminder Rob Boope, who got both starts that weekend after a shoulder injury to starter Tyler Euverman.

The Tigers took the return match the following night at the Romney Field House, 4-2, despite being outshot 47-28. Gajda was in net for Oswego in a penalty-filled affair.

This season’s series should be a match of teams with similar strengths, although the edge might have to go to the Tigers because of their depth at forward.

Both squads are strong on the blue line, but with All-American and leading player-of-the-year candidate Jerry Galway anchoring RIT’s deep defensive squad, the advantage there leans toward the Tigers.

RIT has a top goaltender in Euverman, who, despite a 1.83 GAA and a .928 save percentage, gave up four goals to Fredonia and three to Cortland last week.

Oswego’s trio of Lofberg, Gajda, and Sebastian Matte make up the deepest goaltending squad in Division III. Lofberg, a junior, has been the hottest in net for the Lakers, with a .941 save percentage and a 1.78 GAA.

Oswego will need to stay out of the penalty box. The Lakers have allowed nearly six power play opportunities a game, and the potent RIT power play has scored on almost half of its chances.

The favorite in both matches would have to be the Tigers, but as followers of this series know, anything can — and probably will — happen.

The Rest of the Schedule

Buffalo State has a pair at home with Manhattanville. The Valiants are tougher at home than on the road, but gave RIT quite a scare in a pair this season. Manhattanville beat Oswego, 8-4, earlier this season, and has beaten Geneseo twice, 10-1 in New Rochelle, and 8-4 upstate.

Brockport visits Pennsylvania with a two-game series at Neumann. Look for the Golden Eagles to continue to outshoot their opponents as they have in recent games, but this time around put a few more up on the scoreboard.

Fredonia takes on two ECAC West opponents, a Hobart squad that beat the Blue Devils 4-1 in November, and its first meeting with the big, young Pioneers of Utica. Despite a 5-4 overtime loss to RIT last Saturday, the Blue Devils scored four goals for only the fourth time this season.

Geneseo faces Utica in the first game between those teams, while Potsdam visits the southern tier to take on an Elmira squad that seems to win the big ones and lose the ones they shouldn’t.

Plattsburgh can all but erase the Pool C hopes of Colby as the White Mules visit the Stafford on Tuesday. The Cardinals will want to avoid going 0-6 against teams that have been in the USCHO top ten for at least part of this campaign.


Last 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?

Believe it or not, Jacques Lemaire was an assistant coach with the Cardinals in the 1981-82 season under former head coach Herb Hammond. Plattsburgh went 25-13-2, and lost the NCAA Division II championship game to Lowell that season.

Lemaire has eight Stanley Cup rings as a player for the Montreal Canadiens, in addition to two as the assistant GM of the Habs, and one as the head coach of the New Jersey Devils.

The Question Before That …

When I asked “Who is the only SUNYAC coach ever to win coach of the year in two consecutive seasons,” my source was the SUNYAC media guide, which omitted the 1983 coach of the year from its list. My mistake, but, hey, it gave Russell something to squirm about.

This Week’s Question

In school history, which team has beaten Plattsburgh more times than any other opponent?

Game of the Week

The games of the week are the home-and-home series between Oswego and RIT. These matches are always physical, hard-fought, and usually have their share of the unexpected. RIT’s depth and experience give them the edge, but some hot goaltending and solid defensive play from the Lakers could place these in the win column for Oswego.