This Week in the SUNYAC: Feb. 27, 2003

So Much For A Low-Scoring Prediction

In the past two years leading up to this year’s playoffs, the Potsdam vs. Geneseo games, or more to the point, the Venturelli vs. Walker contests, saw the following scores: 3-1, 3-1 (with an empty netter), 2-1, 3-1 (with an empty netter), 1-0 (overtime mini-game), 1-1, and 2-1.

Not counting empty-net goals, that’s a total of 19 goals in over six games. This past weekend in the quarterfinal series, the teams combined for 18 goals in two games, 13 of which were scored by Potsdam en route to a two-game sweep over Geneseo, 6-2 and 7-3.

Potsdam outplayed Geneseo in five of the six periods, and did something that perhaps was never done before — chase Brett Walker from the nets on both nights.

Game one saw Potsdam jump out to a 2-0 lead midway in the first period on goals by Chris Lee and Brett Barrer. Jay Kuczmanski got one back before the period ended. That was the closest Geneseo would get all game.

Potsdam scored four unanswered goals in the second period with Scott Craig getting two of them, both on the power play, and Corey McAllister and Mark Stewart getting the others. Geneseo scored a meaningless goal late in the third on the power play by Ryan Gage.

Potsdam was very consistent throughout, taking 11 shots on net in each period. Brett Walker made 15 saves before being yanked after the final Bears’ goal. Jeff Phelps with 11 saves and Pete Fitzgerald with one save both saw action the rest of the way. Ryan Venturelli picked up 18 saves for the win.

Geneseo responded in the second game … but for just the first period. After Potsdam took an early 1-0 lead on a goal by Lee, the Ice Knights had had enough, and bounced back with three straight scores, the first two by Jack Bullard and the final one by Paul Weismann.

With a 3-1 lead after one period, it appeared Geneseo had righted the ship, and it was looking good for the mini-game. However, once again, Potsdam dominated the second period by scoring four unanswered goals to reverse the tide and break the Ice Knights’ back.

Lee completed the hat trick with a pair, giving him four goals and three assists for the series. Mark Hathaway and Joel Jennings scored the other goals. Anthony Greer scored a pair of power play goals in the third period to put the exclamation point on the series.

The first line of Lee, Hathaway, and Greer scored all but one goal and combined for 12 points. The Bears also went 2-for-4 (and 4-for-12 over both games) on the power play.

Again Walker was pulled after the sixth goal and 19 saves. Phelps finished up with two saves on three shots. Venturelli stopped 32 shots, easily winning the battle of the goaltenders.

The number of goals may have been quite different from last year, but the result was similar between these two teams — the home team won and moves on to play another weekend.

Just A Warmup

The Plattsburgh-Cortland play-in round was essentially over 1:47 into the series when the Cardinals took a lead they would never relinquish over the next two nights in 9-2 and 7-2 drubbing of the Red Dragons.

The Cardinals didn’t even need their number one goalie as Craig Neilson was out for the weekend after taking a puck in the neck during practice on Thursday. Defenseman Peter Ollari and forward David Young was also out with injuries.

It didn’t matter as Plattsburgh outshot Cortland, 55-25, in the first game, had a 4-1 lead after one, and a 7-1 lead after two. Curtis Cribbie made 23 saves for the win.

Offensively, Plattsburgh went 2 for 3 on the power play (Jayson Barnhart and Matt Donskov), Brendon Hodge scored a pair of goals, and twice the Cardinals scored two goals in quick succession (Barnhart and Joe Carpinone 30 seconds apart in the first, and Hodge and Darren Partch nine seconds apart in the second). The other tallies were by David Friel, Chad Kemp, Rob Retter, and Ben Kemp.

Mike Schall and Matt Donskov scored for Cortland. John Larnerd didn’t last the game, playing just under two period, making 26 saves. Mark Paine stopped 20 shots in relief.

The next night saw another Plattsburgh player on the sidelines with an injury as Jason Kilcan suffered a mild concussion on Friday. Again, it didn’t matter as Plattsburgh got the jump even earlier — just 28 seconds — when Jeff Hopkins scored. Plattsburgh went 3-for-8 on the power play plus another goal on a delayed penalty, and even scored an empty-netter as Cortland got desperate.

Once again the scoring was spread out with six different players lighting the lamp. Defenseman Bryan North got the pair, his first two of the season, while Partch, Friel, Kemp, and Carpinone also scored. Cribbie made 30 saves for the win.

On Cortland’s side of the ledger, Nate Gagnon scored both Red Dragons’ goals on the power play. Larnerd lasted the whole game winding up with 35 saves.

This series was essentially a mismatch from the start, but it did allow Plattsburgh to get on a little bit of a roll with a modest five game winning streak and scoring 29 goals in the last four games.

“This is the most confident this team has been all season. Everyone is upbeat,” Hopkins told the Press Republican.

Playoff Previews

Potsdam (7-6-1, 14-11-2) at Oswego (10-3-1, 19-5-1)

These two teams have played titanic battles in the playoffs. There is the now legendary 2000 series where Potsdam scored three goals with their goalie pulled to force a mini-game, which they won. The 1998 series saw Oswego stave off a second game win by Potsdam and an early mini-game goal by the Bears, to comeback and win in overtime. 1996 also saw overtime in the mini-game, double overtime to be exact, which Potsdam won. That was after Potsdam scored a last minute goal in game two to force the mini-game. The only year that didn’t have a mini-game was 2001 when Potsdam swept the series.

A sweep may be in order again this year for the Great Lakers. Oswego’s offense is powerful, scoring 5.36 goals per game and they have the best power play at 28.6%. Their defense isn’t too shabby either, second best in the league at 2.21 goals allowed per game.

Oswego has many players and many lines that can score, including the number two, three, and five point getters (Mike Lukajic, Don Patrick, and John Hirliman, respectively). In fact, Oswego has seven of the top 13 scorers in league play. You can contain them, but you can’t stop them.

Can Potsdam stop them? For one, the Bears have got to stop committing penalties at the rate they have in the second half. Then, Ryan Venturelli is going to have to be at the top of his game, and must be prepared to steal at least one game for Potsdam to have a chance at all.

On the other side of the ledger, here is a case where statistics can be misleading. Potsdam ranks third in league play offensively. However, Plattsburgh and Oswego are miles ahead of everyone else, and the other team’s offensive outputs aren’t much to cheer about. Potsdam’s line of Lee, Greer, and Hathaway are hot right now. Earlier in the season it was Lee, Greer, and Stewart that shined. See where the similarity is? Beyond that line, the Bears stumble. Potsdam must get production from the other lines as well as defensemen Dave Weagle to have a chance.

Some say that Tyson Gajda is not a premier goaltender, but is able to take advantage of an offense that always gives him the lead. Besides the fact that RIT would probably disagree with that, so what? Even if Gajda and his defense is “just good enough” to win with the offense they have, that’s exactly the point. They have an offense, even in the playoffs, that can win games singlehandedly.

Oswego is the only SUNYAC team that Potsdam has not beaten or tied at least once this year. The reason is simple. In both Oswego wins (5-3 and 5-2), the offense eventually overwhelmed the Bears. Which is most likely what will happen again this weekend.

Of course, based on their history, a mini-game probably is in order. Oh, back in 1982, these teams met in an ECAC West playoff game … which went into overtime with Potsdam winning.

Plattsburgh (9-4-1, 17-7-3) at Fredonia (10-4-0, 14-10-0)

Now, it gets harder. And not just for Plattsburgh, but for Fredonia as well. The last team you want to see in the playoffs is Plattsburgh, no matter how off their year has been. The Cardinals always seem to find a way to win when all the marbles are on the table.

Plattsburgh still had the top offense in conference play and the second best power play. This will go up against Fredonia’s top defense with a stingy 1.79 goals allowed per game. That is where the series will be decided.

Plattsburgh has a good defense (2.50 goals allowed per game) and Fredonia has a weak offense (3.07 goals per game). Therefore, Fredonia is not going to win this game by outscoring Plattsburgh in a shootout. And, Plattsburgh is not going to lose this game by turning into a sieve.

Fredonia is not going to score a lot of goals. That’s a given. Thus, it is really simple — if Fredonia stops Plattsburgh’s offense, the Blue Devils win. If Plattsburgh can solve Fredonia’s defense and goaltending, the Cardinals win.

It it does come down to goaltending, Fredonia wins hands down with Will Hamele, the SUNYAC Player of the Year, especially if Craig Neilson has not fully recovered from his freak injury the week before. If it just comes down to defense, then it is a tossup.

Plattsburgh is hot right now, and on a bit of a roll, but don’t be fooled by Fredonia’s recent slump. Two of those three losses down the stretch were by 2-1 scores. That is exactly the type of game Fredonia likes. That time the bounces didn’t go their way. However, they still accumulated a 10-4 conference record with that style which is nothing to sneeze at. In a two game series, that style can wear the opposition down, and more importantly force them into a mistake at a key moment.

I’ll be surprised if this doesn’t go to a mini-game. Both teams have enough strengths and weaknesses to pull a win out, like they did in the regular season when Fredonia won at home, 5-2, and Plattsburgh returned the favor, 2-1.

As to who wins the mini-game, consider these two factors. The Plattsburgh-Fredonia trip is the longest distance between any two SUNYAC schools, and Plattsburgh has had a slew of injuries lately. Whether the Cardinals can withstand the demands of a mini-game at the end of a grueling weekend, will decide this series.

Facts To Ponder

The following probably has nothing to do with anything, but as sports fans it is always interesting to think about.

  • The last time Hamele was named SUNYAC Player of the Year, as a sophomore two years ago, he had a miserable playoffs, letting up 10 goals as Fredonia was swept in the play-in round by Geneseo, 6-0 and 4-2.
  • The last time Plattsburgh was the third seed in the SUNYAC playoffs, back in 1998, they beat Fredonia, Geneseo, and Oswego to win the league championship, then defeated RIT in the national quarterfinals, before finally falling to Wisconsin-Stevens Point in the Frozen Four semifinals, but came back to win the consolation game against Augsburg.
  • Personal Goal

    I will be covering the Potsdam at Oswego series. The last time I covered a Potsdam at Oswego playoff game I got pulled over for speeding. Though I was able to talk my way out of a ticket (the first and only time I have ever been able to do that, and I still have no idea how I did it except I actually believe the State Trooper was an Oswego hockey fan), I don’t want to see if my luck will repeat.

    So, for all the law enforcers out there who plan on patrolling Route 104 this weekend, don’t worry about me. I plan on being a good boy.