This Week in the SUNYAC: March 6, 2003

Shorthanded Turnaround

Last weekend, the defining moment in each SUNYAC semifinal series was a shorthanded goal.

In both of the opening games, the respective underdogs had an opportunity to win — a victory that was a must if they were to have any chance at reaching the finals. Instead, during a situation when the advantage is supposed to be in your favor, the moment slipped away. The games, and ultimately the series, were lost.

For the Potsdam-Oswego series that moment came at 12:42 of the second period with the score deadlocked at two. The game was falling into Potsdam’s hands — a tight-checking, slowdown affair that was dragging Oswego into emotional mistakes. With the Bears on the power play, having already scored a man advantage goal earlier by Dave Weagle, things were looking up.

Then, Weagle had the puck stripped from him at his own blue line by Jean-Simon Richard, sending Richard in alone on Ryan Venturelli to score the go-ahead goal.

Oswego gained a two-goal lead late in the third by Mike Lukajic which was partly undone by a Corey McAllister goal, but Potsdam never was able to counter the shorthanded score.

The next night, the game was more suited for Oswego, and they jumped out to a quick 3-1 lead and eventually overpowered the Bears, 5-1.

Potsdam ends with an overall record of 14-13-2. It was an up-and-down season for the Bears.

“It was a good learning year for us,” Potsdam coach Glenn Thomaris said. “Six guys got hurt for us in the middle stretch. After we got out of a seven game losing streak, we got refocused.”

The crucial moment in the Plattsburgh-Fredonia series came with five minutes left in the game. Like the other series, the game was falling into Fredonia’s hands — a low-scoring, low-shot, defensive affair that Fredonia led 2-0 on goals by Max Catelin and Scott Goergen.

Plattsburgh got one back late in the third thanks to Bryant Wilson. Then, late in the third period, Fredonia found themselves on the power play, just what they could use to keep Plattsburgh away from their net for another two minutes just after Plattsburgh squandered a two-man advantage.

Instead, Rob Retter stole the puck late in the penalty, went in on the breakaway, and tied the game. In overtime, with 51 seconds left, Joe Carpinone won it for the Cardinals after a mad scramble in front of the net.

Curtis Cribbie once again started in goal for the injured Craig Neilson, and made 26 saves for the win.

That defeat seemed to break the Blue Devils back, as the next night Plattsburgh jumped out to a 3-0 first period lead with not one but two shorthanded goals by Brendon Hodge and Jordan Smith. The other tally went to Guy Come. Plattsburgh didn’t let up, extending the lead to 5-0 on goals by Hodge and Jeff Hopkins on the power play.

Riley McTaggart on the power play and Mike Fleming added “too little, too late” goals for Fredonia. Once again, Cribbie got the start making 30 saves, and more importantly, outplayed the SUNYAC Player of the Year, Will Hamele, when it counted the most.

Fredonia’s season ends at 14-12-0 after so much promise as they led the conference all the way till the very last day. Two key problems plagued the Blue Devils — their inability to win outside the conference and their poor offense which finally bit them down the stretch.

Injury Report

Injuries are a given this time of year, and it’s when they cause the greatest impact. Oswego lost one of those impact players when Richard broke his wrist late in Friday’s game, and will be out the rest of the year. Not only do they lose a first liner and their third leading scorer, but they also lose a key player on special teams. Brady Crooks, who has been injured himself since November, did an excellent job filling in on Saturday.

Plattsburgh has been plagued by injuries lately, not the least to starting goaltender Neilson. Though he suited up this past weekend, he didn’t feel ready to go, so Cribbie has started all the playoff games this year. What do you do now? If Neilson is ready, do you put him back in, with the chance that he is rusty? Or, do you stick with Cribbie, who has gotten the job done, with the chance that the Oswego offense will be too much for him to handle?

Dave Young returned to action in the second game for Plattsburgh, but Peter Ollari continues to sit out. Word has it that Ollari will be available for this weekend. He is a player they can definitely use against Oswego.

Finals Preview

Plattsburgh (9-4-1, 19-7-3) at Oswego (10-3-1, 21-5-1)

Early in the new year, an Oswego fan wrote me complaining about something that Chris Lerch wrote in his national column, that Plattsburgh would somehow find a way to win the SUNYAC. I wrote back to him, saying I agreed with Lerch.

Now, I’m not so sure.

First, let’s argue the “agree with Lerch” side. Plattsburgh comes into this series red-hot, as most teams do at this stage of the season. They have won seven in a row, but more importantly are starting to play typical Plattsburgh playoff hockey — never giving up in games, scoring in bunches, making the key saves, in other words, always finding a way to win.

Plattsburgh has the top offense in the league, the second best power play in the league, and the top scorer in the league (Hodge). An offense like that could cause problems for Oswego, especially early in the games where its defense and goaltending looked shaky against Potsdam.

There have been some issues with the Cardinals’ goaltending and defense, but during the current seven game winning streak, they have let up only 11 goals, Neilson has gained confidence winding up with the best GAA and SV% in the league, and Cribbie has done a superb job replacing Neilson in the playoffs.

Plattsburgh also has the best defense against Oswego’s top power play — the Cardinals are the least penalized team in the league.

When Plattsburgh gets on a roll, it is tough to stop them. Couple that with Bob Emery being behind the bench during that roll, a coach who has been there many, many times and has outcoached the best of them, and Plattsburgh becomes that much harder to stop.

Now, let’s argue that Oswego has come of age in the second semester. They too are riding a hot streak, winning 14 of their last 15 games, and even in that embarrassing loss to Brockport, they played well, but simply ran into a red hot goalie. The Plattsburgh goaltenders may be playing very well lately, but I don’t see them playing as well as Brockport’s Brian Tefft did in that upset.

The offense has been hot as well. In those 15 games, Oswego scored less than five goals just four times. They’re the only offense and power play that can go toe-to-toe with Plattsburgh. Despite that, Oswego coach George Roll does not want to see an open skating game like he did against Potsdam.

“These [the Potsdam] games were much more up and down,” he said. “We don’t want that against them [Plattsburgh]. We want the grinding game against Plattsburgh.”

Gajda has come into his own this year, solidly winning the number one spot, finishing second in GAA and SV% in the league, and getting three shutouts this year, a school record.

Oswego has the best penalty kill, and recently they have allowed just one power play goal in 31 chances.

Oswego can throw line after line at you, and wear you down with strong skating and speed. If Oswego gets on an early roll and causes confusion for the Plattsburgh goaltending situation, this series could get ugly for the Cardinals.

People talk about the slow start the Great Lakers had, losing their first three games. That’s ancient history. Since November 8, Oswego has lost just two games. Oswego has not lost to Plattsburgh this season, tying the first time, 4-4, and defeating them up in Stafford, 5-3.

On paper, Oswego should win this series. In the locker room, Plattsburgh could. And, if it goes three games, Plattsburgh has the edge — they will have gained the confidence without gathering any doubts like Oswego will, with Plattsburgh being in a very familiar situation. And they have always some how found a way to win.

Rev It Up

The anticipation is growing. A matchup between two great rivals for all the marbles has everyone excited. The USCHO message board is busy with a whole lot of good-natured smack-talking.

The Oswego fans certainly can’t wait, because as Roll said, “We haven’t won a title in a long time.”

It’s been since 1991, to be exact.

Plattsburgh fans are eager for the series to get started as well. It’s been a rough season for them, but now they have a chance to be vindicated and take their seventh straight title.

Gajda is aware of that. “To be the champion, you have to go through the champions,” he said. “They’re the reigning champions, so we have to go through them.”

This weekend, the Romney Field House will feel like the Romney of old — packed, loud, obnoxious, and a place where visitors fear to tread.

Drop the puck. And crank it up.