This Week in the SUNYAC: Feb. 28, 2002

Another Nailbiting Weekend

The first round of the SUNYAC playoffs saw both series end up in the mini-game. The second round nearly had the same result.

Plattsburgh needed the mini to knock off Geneseo. Meanwhile, Oswego came as close as you can get, winning the series in overtime in the second game. We’ll call that a virtual mini-game — humor us — thus making it, unofficially at least, four for four in mini-game series.

When all is said and done, it turns out that the top two teams in the regular season end up facing off against each other. Oswego and Plattsburgh, no strangers to rivalry, duke it out for the SUNYAC championship and the right to continue in the NCAA playoffs.

The Mini-Game That Wasn’t Expected

After game one of the Geneseo at Plattsburgh series, who would have figured this series would wind up in the mini-game?

Plattsburgh cruised to a 7-1 victory Friday night thanks to a four=goal outburst in the second period. Highlighting the scoring was Darren Partch, who got two goals and two assists. Niklas Sundberg made 25 saves, losing the shutout with just under five minutes to play.

Plattsburgh coach Bob Emery was prophetic when he told the Plattsburgh Press Republican, “It doesn’t matter if we won this game 7-1 or 2-1. All we did tonight was guarantee a mini-game.”

Wouldn’t you know it, they did just that. Geneseo, after losing three straight and being outscored 17-2 to the Cardinals this season, bounced back to surprise Plattsburgh, 2-1.

The key goal in that game just may have been the first one. Geneseo got a shorthanded goal with 51 seconds left in the first, by Andy Ford on a shot that deflected off the post.

That gave the Ice Knights a boost, and when they held Plattsburgh scoreless through two periods, an idea arose that they could pull off the upset. Even when the Cardinals tied it up early in the third on a goal by James Coleman, Geneseo was not deterred.

Brian Avery scored the game winner on a wrister from the slot area with just under eight minutes to play. Brett Walker held off Plattsburgh, totaling 31 saves.

Plattsburgh’s offense woke up in the mini-game, storming out of the gate en route to a 3-0 victory. Jason Kilcan and Adam Richards scored 21 seconds apart a quarter of the way in to end any hopes for Geneseo. Richards added an empty netter and Sundberg stopped all 10 shots.

Different Format Prevented Mini-Game

Before this year, the Cortland at Oswego series would have gone to the mini-game. That is because they didn’t play the five-minute overtimes for the regular games in the past.

With the teams tying 1-1 the first night despite the extra five minutes, and then ending regulation in the second game tied at four, there would have been a mini.

Instead, Oswego, which historically has not had much luck in mini-games, ended it all with a goal 28 seconds into overtime of game two.

Game one was saved by Oswego’s Jared Marinich, who scored with 1:42 left to play. John Larnerd’s 36 saves for Cortland was almost for naught.

On the other end, Tyson Gajda made 28 saves. The lone goal for Cortland was scored by Matt Donskov on the power play 25 seconds into the middle period.

The next night, the teams again ended regulation tied, this time 4-4. Once again, Larnerd came up big making 33 saves in the three periods. Oswego finally put Cortland away 28 seconds into overtime on a goal by Matt Vashaw, who shot through a crowd.

So Cortland, which nearly got upset by Buffalo State, ends up nearly upsetting Oswego. However, it was a great run this year for the Red Dragons and their first year coach, Tom Canfield. Look for them to be strong contenders next season.

Meanwhile, Oswego travels up to Plattsburgh for yet another meeting of traditional foes. Note: Vashaw scored one other overtime goal this year. It was the one that beat Plattsburgh back in January.

Final Format

Unlike the first two rounds, there will be no mini-game in the finals. No, we’re not making that a prediction. It’s a guarantee. That’s because this is (almost) a true-blue best-of-three series — with the exception being that ties are allowed.

However, if the series is tied after the first two games (1-1 or 0-0-2), then they will play a complete game three Sunday afternoon. If that game ends in a tie, then unlike the first two games, which will have a single five-minute overtime, game three will play 20-minute sudden death overtime periods until somebody scores a goal.

The winner gets the SUNYAC’s automatic bid into the NCAA playoffs. The loser will have no hope of an at-large bid, and thus will end the season.

Finals Preview

Oswego (10-3-1, 17-8-2) at Plattsburgh (13-1, 19-8)

This series is an enigma. Every time you think you have an angle figured out, another fact sends you back scratching your head.

Plattsburgh finished the season with a 13-1 conference record. They are playing in Stafford Arena. This should be a blowout, right? Oswego has no chance, right?

Wait a second. That one loss was to Oswego. In Stafford. And Plattsburgh barely got by Potsdam in the last game of the season, and lost to Geneseo in game two of the semifinals.

So, it appears that Oswego does have a chance, right?

Again, wait a second. Ever since Oswego took that 3-2 overtime win, they haven’t exactly been stellar. They lost to Geneseo and Fredonia, and tied Buffalo State. Then, they couldn’t win a game against Cortland in regulation during the semifinals.

What’s a prognosticator to do? Look at the three things that win playoff games — goaltending, defense, and special teams.

Plattsburgh has the edge in goaltending. Let’s face it, no matter how good the Oswego tandem of Joe Lofberg and Tyson Gajda has been (each has played 14 games overall, each has a .918 conference save percentage), the fact is Niklas Sundberg outranks them.

There is a reason why Sundberg was named first team All-SUNYAC. It’s not just his .931 conference save percentage or 1.76 GAA. It’s also his ability to keep his team in the game when they are being outplayed. And, he has the experience to win the big one, built from many championship games, including the biggest one of all last year.

In conference play, Plattsburgh has the edge in defense, but not by much. The Cardinals have let up 25 league goals while Oswego has seen the red light go on 33 times. Plattsburgh has been known to be outskated in their own zone at times, but overall they know how to play behind the blue line.

Special teams are too close to call. Plattsburgh has converted 21.9% of their league power plays, Oswego 21.7%. Plattsburgh has a 90.1% effectiveness killing off penalties while Oswego is a tick behind at 90.0%.

If all the above still makes it too close to call, sometimes, you just need to throw out all the logical data and look at this way — can Oswego beat Plattsburgh in Stafford two out of three games?

No. But, don’t put any money in Las Vegas on it. Just in case.

Please, No Tennis Balls

It is traditional, some think an absurd tradition, for Plattsburgh fans to toss tennis balls after their team scores the first goal against Oswego.

This weekend, that would be a really, really stupid thing to do. That’s because, with so much at stake in the playoffs, the last thing the home crowd wants to risk is a penalty against the Cardinals. And don’t think the refs won’t hesitate to do so at this time of the year.

Save the tennis balls for when the snow melts, and you can go out on the court.


Last Week’s Question

Who is the only player to win the SUNYAC Rookie of the Year and then later win the SUNYAC Player of the Year?

Looking at the list of Rookies of the Year, a virtual Who’s Who of SUNYAC hockey, one would assume that a bunch of them went on to win Player of the Year. Yet, despite many of them having stellar careers, only one did just that.

That was Tracey Belanger, who won the rookie award in 1996, and the Player of the Year award in 1998 and 1999. Belanger also won the SUNYAC tournament MVP in 1999, becoming the only player to complete the hat trick of league awards.

This Week’s Question

Besides the aforementioned Belanger, how many other players won the SUNYAC Player of the Year and the SUNYAC tournament MVP?