This Week in the SUNYAC: Jan. 31, 2002

I’m Baaaack

Just when you thought it was safe to read the SUNYAC Newsletter again, Ed Trefzger asked me to fill in for him once more.

Cardinals Filled With Buckshot

It is both a blessing and a curse when you are consistent winners and the most followed sports team in your town and from a small community that relies on you. Everything gets magnified. Both the good and the bad.

That is the dilemma that the Plattsburgh Cardinals find themselves in, as lately they must feel like they are being used as skeet shooting targets.

Plattsburgh entered this past weekend with an so-so performance outside the SUNYAC. However, they had a chance to redeem themselves by continuing to march their way through the conference in an attempt to gain the automatic bid in order to defend their national title. Instead, they continued to have troubles on the ice as they dropped a 3-2 overtime decision to Oswego, and now find themselves in a tie for first place.

The game was a wild one as the Cardinals kept setting themselves up to win it. First, Darren Partch scored just 18 seconds into the contest. Plattsburgh couldn’t take advantage of that momentum. After falling behind, 2-1, Jeff Hopkins tied the game on a penalty shot early in the second period. Again, even with that rare exciting play, Plattsburgh could not take advantage of the situation. Plattsburgh even outshot Oswego, 40-27, including 15-7 in the third period, but yet again, the Cardinals were stymied. The only shot in overtime turned out to be the winning Oswego goal.

Plattsburgh did bounce back strong the next day, beating Cortland, 7-1. Seven different players scored. However, later that night, Plattsburgh’s season hit its nadir in an ugly off ice incident. Defenseman Mark Cole was arrested after entering the apartment of teammate Jeff Hopkins and according to District Attorney Richard Cantwell allegedly saw Hopkins in bed with Cole’s girlfriend. Cole attacked Hopkins, sending him to the hospital with injuries that may cause Hopkins to miss the rest of the regular season, though some reports say he could be back “soon.” Cole was suspended indefinitely from the team and faces serious legal issues.

Plattsburgh heads into this weekend facing Buffalo State and Fredonia. These are not gimme games. They do so with possibly only four defensemen and perhaps an unsettled locker room.

Coach Bob Emery has one of his toughest coaching tasks in his career. He may be taking the right approach as he told the Plattsburgh Press Republican, “We have to move ahead and put our attention and our energy toward hockey.”

The Great Lakers Are Just That

Coming into the weekend, Oswego had lost two previous times this season to Plattsburgh and were coming off a weekend losing twice to RIT, only scoring one goal. With that, and having to play at Stafford, they were the definite underdogs.

Well, Oswego isn’t in second place for nothing. They overcame an early goal and a second period penalty shot that tied it, to score on their only shot in overtime for the 3-2 win. Matt Vashaw got that game winner after Rob Smith and Brian St. John scored in the first period. Joe Lofberg played a major role stopping 38 shots.

The next night, Oswego didn’t suffer any kind of letdown, blowing out Potsdam, 8-1. Tyson Gajda got the call in net this time, making 24 saves. Paul Perrier scored twice while Gary Bowman got a shorthander. Vashaw scored the last goal again, but by then the game was long over.

The Great Lakers sit in a tie for first (but currently would lose the tie-breaker) and host Geneseo and Brockport this weekend. At the very least, they have an excellent chance to all but lock up a first round bye.

Who Needs Five on Five?

Sure, hockey is played with five skaters aside, and a couple of goalies thrown in for good measure. Just don’t tell that to Potsdam and Cortland, who seemed quite content to play with guys in the penalty box. Constantly. Potsdam won the game 8-5, and none of the 13 goals were scored when both teams were full strength. All eight Bears’ goals were on the power play (out of 13 total opportunities), the first one a two man advantage. Cortland scored twice on the power-play (once five on four, once four on three) with the other three coming on four on four situations.

All told, there were 21 power-play opportunities in the game with 73 minutes of penalties called. The key penalty was the only major in the game, a slashing call to Cortland’s Trevor Bauer just at the end of the second period with the score tied, 4-4. Potsdam opened the third period scoring twice on that power-play and never looked back.

Anthony Greer and Chris Lee both got hat tricks for the Bears. In addition, Lee’s two assists gave him five points for the night.

Both teams would lose badly the next night.

Nothing Really Settled

Thanks to a trio of ties and a bunch of split weekends, nothing much really got decided last weekend concerning the playoff picture. In fact, it seemed to have tightened up a bit.

However, time is now the enemy of most teams, and the lack of games has already given Plattsburgh and Oswego a guaranteed spot in the playoffs. If any of them wins both games this weekend coupled with at least one loss or tie by both Buffalo State and Cortland, then they clinch a bye for the first round. Who gets first place, of course, will go down to the wire.

As for the other teams, it is a mad scramble. Buffalo State and Cortland can clinch a playoff berth this weekend with two wins and one Fredonia loss or tie, or with one win and one Fredonia loss and a second Fredonia loss or tie.

Brockport can be eliminated from the playoff picture if Potsdam wins both their games and the Golden Knights drop one, or if Potsdam wins one and Brockport losses two.

Finally, two Potsdam wins and a loss by Fredonia to Plattsburgh will eliminate the Blue Devils from the playoffs.

If all those combinations gives you a headache thinking about it, don’t feel bad. I didn’t figure all that. Ed did.

Best Playoff System Left In College Hockey?

The SUNYAC just may have the best, or at least the most fun, playoff system left in college hockey. Division I ECAC used to have a great system where every pair of positions meant something, causing all kinds of excitement right down to the wire. Then they, like every other league, sold out and just let the whole league and the kitchen sink into the playoffs. Sometimes the kitchen sink was better then some of the teams that made it.

The SUNYAC now is the only league where positions are important throughout the standings. The top two teams get a bye in the first round. The next two get to host the first round. The two after that get into the playoffs. The last two teams go home.

It makes the regular season mean something for everybody. Let’s hope the powers that be don’t get assimilated into the mediocre trend and trash it all.

The Return of Walker

Fans in Oswego and Cortland may get to see some excitement as Geneseo’s goaltender, Brett Walker, returns to action after sitting out a two game suspension for a DQ. Will he keep his cool or will the opposition successfully ignite him? Hide the women and children.

Next Time

Who will return next week to write the SUNYAC Newsletter? Will it be a tag team effort the rest of the way, or will Ed choke down the stretch and hand it off to me to finish out the season?

No matter who it is, there will be plenty to cover as the final playoff shuffling takes place.


Last Week’s Question

Two teams in SUNYAC history have no wins against Plattsburgh. One of them is Buffalo State. Can you name the other one?

This is kind of a trick question (what else would we expect from Ed), as the answer is a school that no longer has a hockey team. SUNY Binghamton lost all eight games they faced Plattsburgh with a program that didn’t last very long. Cortland came mighty close, having won just once against the Cardinals in 54 tries, with no ties.

This Week’s Question

Who was the only player to win the SUNYAC Tournament MVP award twice?

Game of the Week

Two contests stick out as being slightly more important than the others. Just slightly as every point is so important at this stage. Fredonia at Potsdam on Friday night is a key matchup as the Bears sit just one game ahead of the Blue Devils for the last playoff spot. Then, the Geneseo at Cortland game on Saturday could decide home ice in the first round as just one point separates the two teams heading into this weekend.