This Week in the SUNYAC: Feb. 20, 2003

It Ends The Way It Began

It’s fitting that the final days of the SUNYAC season would be just as wild and crazy as the whole year. No need to change anything now.

Oswego lost to Brockport, yet the Great Lakers still managed to win the regular-season title thanks to Fredonia taking a face plant. Geneseo loses out on home ice on the last regular-season goal of the 2002-03 campaign. Potsdam and Buffalo State play a wild see-saw affair.

To top it all off, the hottest team down the stretch was a team that didn’t even make the playoffs — Brockport. The Golden Eagles went 3-1-1 in their final two weeks, and for want of a second — one second — they miss out on playing this weekend.

Fredonia Implodes

Heading into the weekend, Oswego still had a chance, but when it lost to Brockport to lead things off, Fredonia all but locked it up. The only way Fredonia could throw it away is if it lost all three games, and Oswego won its remaining two.

Which is exactly what happened.

Fredonia received some of its own medicine as the opposition played tight, relied on good goaltending, and got key goals. It all started at Plattsburgh when the Blue Devils lost 2-1. Plattsburgh took the lead in the second period on a goal by Jeff Hopkins, but Fredonia came back to tie it thanks to Erik Hlavaty. Ben Kemp won it for the Cardinals on a third-period power-play goal.

Craig Neilson got the win with 27 saves, including stopping a breakaway late in the game, while Will Hamele lost despite 33 saves. Hamele’s got quite a burden on his shoulders, knowing that letting in even as much as two goals can mean a loss.

That exact scenario was repeated the next night when Potsdam took the 1-0 lead on a goal by Joel Jennings, Fredonia tied it up when Mike Fleming scored, and then Dave Weagle won it for the Bears in the third on a power-play goal. Hamele made 29 saves, but again it was not enough. Ryan Venturelli only needed 19 saves to win.

Fredonia still had a chance as long as it beat last-place Buffalo State. Fredonia even scored twice, but that was not enough as it lost, 3-2. Hlavaty led things off before the Bengals scored three straight times (Greg Prybylski, Joe Urbanik, and Dave Cadarette). Nick Grove got one back in the third, but it was not enough to send Fredonia toppling into second place.

Buffalo State only got 14 shots on goal, but Hamele saved just 11 of them. Meanwhile, Jim Fowler played both his senior netminders half the game in their final appearance for Buffalo State, and they virtually had identical stats. Each stopped eleven shots in the split second period and each let up a goal. Steve Thering made 23 saves altogether while Nick Berti stopped 25.

All that losing opened the door for Oswego, and the Great Lakers gladly walked right through it. First, they stumbled a bit at the threshold in that shocking 3-2 loss at home to Brockport, despite outshooting the Golden Eagles, 56-24.

Brockport scored first when Dave Braunstein netted his second of the season. When Matt Vashaw scored two goals in the second period to take a 2-1 lead, it looked like Oswego was well on the way to taking control of the game. However, Brockport would have none of it.

Nick Smyth scored late in the second period to tie it up, and then with just three seconds left in the game, Kenny Daleo won by knocking a high rebound in with the shaft of his stick.

Oswego bounced back strong in the next two games, beating Geneseo, 5-1, and whitewashing Cortland, 7-0. Five different players scored against Geneseo, while Gary Bowman led the way in the final game with a pair while Tyson Gajda got the shutout with 17 saves. He made 26 saves in the Geneseo game.

The road to the SUNYAC championship now goes through Oswego, but Fredonia has the consolation of getting a week off and hosting the semifinal round.

One Mississippi

When you’re a kid, you learn that saying “one Mississippi” is equivalent to one second. A single tick of the clock.

That is the difference between Brockport turning an amazing hot streak into an unlikely playoff bid and cleaning out the lockers as you read this.

After stunning Oswego, 3-2, Brockport was well in the playoff hunt as it faced the one team it had to beat out, Cortland. Brockport was up for the game after taking an early 2-0 lead on goals by Michael Cameron and Paul Stasko. Nate Gagnon got one back for Cortland, but Daleo put Brockport back in front by two.

Cortland tied it up on power-play goals by Jason Perry and Kevin Watters. Brockport didn’t cave as Kevin Collins put the Golden Eagles back in front in the second period.

Brockport hung onto that lead till the end … very nearly to the end. All the way to the 19:59 mark, when Cortland’s Dave Ambuhl, on the power play and with the goalie pulled, found the net. Nobody scored in overtime despite Brockport pulling its goalie because a tie would have done it no good. Brian Tefft’s 53 saves weren’t good enough either, though his play for the week did get him named Defensive Player of the Week.

A win would have clinched Brockport a playoff spot, something nobody expected when the second half of the season got underway. Sure, Brockport scored the winning goal against Oswego with just three seconds left to even have a chance at the playoffs. However, it is human nature to agonize over lost opportunities, and not the pluses that got you there.

“One Mississippi.”

Game Of Momentum

In another wild contest, Potsdam defeated Buffalo State, 6-4, in a game of momentum.

Scott Craig, Corey McAllister, and Phil Aubrey gave Potsdam a 3-0 lead. That was followed by four straight goals by the Bengals with two coming from Matt Stankevich as well as Jason Sirois and Matt Zalewski to give Buffalo State a 4-3 lead midway through the third.

The Bears then came roaring back with another three consecutive goal outburst by John Bernfell, Weagle (who scored the winning goal both games over the weekend), and Craig on an empty netter. Ryan Venturelli made 20 saves.

The weekend sweep enabled Potsdam with a chance to gain home ice advantage in the play-in round. However, the Cardinals lost to Plattsburgh, 5-2. The Cardinals played a very strong game taking a 3-0 lead on goals by Conor McDonough, Bryant Wilson, and Brendon Hodge. Just when it looked like it was going to be a blowout, Potsdam’s Jennings and Craig scored 11 seconds apart late in the second.

Plattsburgh regrouped in the third — Doug Carr scored early and Jason Kilcan got an empty netter. This put Plattsburgh in third place, but the Cardinals will still appear in the play-in round, something they have not done in a very long time.

Potsdam’s chances for home ice were not completely lost. The Bears had to depend on Brockport pulling another upset, this time over Geneseo. The Golden Eagles did it again, beating Geneseo, 2-1, in overtime on a goal by Mark Digby with 43 seconds left. Brockport had the lead when Mick Utzig scored in the second period. Geneseo, needing at least a tie to gain home ice, knotted the game up at 18:51 when Kris Heeres scored.

Geneseo unleashed 62 shots on net, but Tefft stopped 61 of them.

Sundberg Honored

Niklas Sundberg, one of the best goalies ever to put on a Plattsburgh Cardinals uniform and one of the best in SUNYAC history, was honored Saturday when his number 30 was retired, only the third Plattsburgh player to be so honored in a program full of star players. (The other two were goaltender Rick Strack and forward Joey Ferras.)

Sundberg’s father traveled all the way from their hometown in Sweden to witness the honor.

Sundberg, a two-time All-American, is best known for his junior year when he backstopped his team to the national championship. In every playoff game, Plattsburgh was outshot, but thanks to Sundberg, the Cardinals held the trophy above their heads after beating a previously undefeated RIT, 6-2, in the title game in 2001.

He is the all-time Division III leader in single season (.946) and career save percentage (.924) and is second all-time in D-III history in career wins (68) and single-season GAA (1.41). He also holds seven team records, both career and single season. He finished with 11 shutouts and a goals-against average of 2.14.

Sundberg was no slouch in the classroom either. A computer science major with minors in business and math, Sundberg posted a 3.80 GPA, and was named a Verizon Academic All-American.

He currently plays for Baton Rouge of the East Coast Hockey League.

Fittingly, that night Sundberg’s replacement, Craig Neilson, posted a shutout as Plattsburgh beat Buffalo State, 8-0. Neilson made 15 saves while Bryant Wilson scored a hat trick.

Playoff Previews

Cortland (3-9-2, 5-16-4) at Plattsburgh (9-4-1, 15-7-3)

Let’s get something out of the way early on. Yes, Cortland beat Plattsburgh this year — back in November by the score of 4-3. At the time, it appeared to be a breakthrough victory for the Red Dragons coming off a strong year the season before.

Instead, it turned into a nightmare, as Cortland immediately went on a ten game winless streak, and only won one more conference game after that, against last place Buffalo State.

There will not be any breakthrough victories this time around. In fact, this series won’t even be close. Plattsburgh will take both games, easily.

Sure, Plattsburgh has had an off year, as far as Plattsburgh’s standards are concerned. However, it still has the first- and fourth-leading scorers in conference play with Brendon Hodge (25 points) and Jason Kilcan (20 points). Hodge also leads the conference in goals scored with 13.

Sundberg may not be around anymore, but Neilson led the league in GAA at 1.36 and save pct. at .942.

Still not convinced? Plattsburgh led the league in scoring against SUNYAC foes at 5.50 goals per game, nearly double Cortland’s 2.86. The Cardinals have the second best power play (25.8%) while Cortland commits the most penalties in the league while also having the second worse penalty kill.

What’s that you say? Plattsburgh lost games it never should have lost this year? True, but the Cardinals finished the season strong with three impressive wins down the stretch and winning five of their last six. Besides, what has Cortland done since upsetting Plattsburgh? Cortland went 2-14-3, with its two wins coming against the Bengals and Neumann.

Plattsburgh may have to play in the first round this year, but it is merely a warmup to prepare for the semifinals.

Geneseo (7-6-1, 9-11-3) at Potsdam (7-6-1, 12-11-2)

It’s deja vu all over again, with one difference. For the second year in a row, Potsdam and Geneseo square off in the first round, but this time the series is in Potsdam instead of Geneseo.

Last year, Geneseo won the first game, 2-1. Potsdam came back the second night with a 3-1 victory. The mini-game ended in a scoreless tie before Tony Scorsone scored in sudden death overtime to give Geneseo the series win.

This year, the series could be billed as the tale of two forgotten goalies. At the start of the year, most figured Geneseo’s Brett Walker would be one of the top goalies in the league. After getting over his antics at the start of his freshman year, Walker impersonated a stone wall. However, this year not many have talked about him, as he has been overshadowed with spectacular play by other netminders.

Meanwhile, many hailed Ryan Venturelli before the season, but consistency problems, and the knack of getting knocked off his game in you score early, plagued him all year. When he’s hot, he is certainly hot, as Geneseo saw firsthand on February 1 when Potsdam won 2-1, where Venturelli made numerous saves when his team was down two men for extended periods of time.

Walker’s league statistics are nothing to sneeze at — a 2.82 GAA and a save percentage of .916, both fourth best in the league. Venturelli sits right behind Walker in league GAA at 3.07, but his save percentage is further behind at .887.

Forgotten or not, these two goalies are still quite capable of stealing games, and whenever they face each other, it is always a battle of wills, like back in November when they played to a 1-1 tie.

Good goaltending and low scoring offenses will produce the same type of series as last year — limited scoring, great saves, and tight games. The fans in Potsdam should not expect to hit the bars early Saturday night, because they will be seeing a mini-game, which could go on for a very long time.