This Week in the SUNYAC: Wrap-Up

The Dynasty Ends

Oswego ended Plattsburgh’s reign as the king of SUNYAC, with a thrilling two games to one championship series victory. The Cardinals’ six consecutive titles, a record, comes to a halt, but Plattsburgh still leads with overall titles by a large margin — 16 in total.

Meanwhile Oswego wins their first championship since 1991. Despite the time gap, the Great Lakers still have won the second most SUNYAC crowns with seven. Fredonia is the only other team to win it more than once — twice — while Geneseo and Potsdam each won the title once.

It didn’t look good initially for Oswego, as Plattsburgh took the first game, 5-3. The star was Curtis Cribbie who continued taking advantage of replacing an injured Craig Neilson in net since the start of the playoffs. The key to the game was Plattsburgh’s three second period goals to take a 4-2 lead they would be able to hang onto.

Oswego responded with force in the second game, jumping out to a shocking 5-0 first period lead, plastering the Plattsburgh net with 16 shots, and chasing Cribbie in the process. That lead grew to 6-0, when Plattsburgh, just as shockingly, nearly made a miraculous comeback, scoring four goals in just over a four minute span late in the second period. However, the Great Lakers patched up the hole in the dam, and hung on for a 7-4 victory.

Oswego knew they would have to play a full 60 minutes in game three if they were expected to take the championship. Oswego coach, George Roll, was proud his team did: “I thought our whole team raised their level.”

The final game was everything a hockey fan could ask for — back and forth with the winning goal coming on a rush with 1:57 left in the game. The final score was 5-3 to duplicate the first game score, but with Oswego the winner.

“I think the last two periods are the best two periods you are going to see in college hockey,” Roll said about that last game.

Despite their ninth straight year winning 20 games or more in a season, Plattsburgh did not get an at-large bid into the NCAA tournament, so they end their season 20-9-3, disappointing by Plattsburgh standards. And by coach Bob Emery’s standards.

“We ended the year with the same problem we started the year — mental toughness,” Emery said.

Oswego’s goalie Tyson Gajda understood the meaning of this win to the school and the Oswego community. “We haven’t won a SUNYAC championship in like 12 years,” he said. “So, you saw all the release of emotions out there.”

Roll will be looking forward to his second NCAA playoff appearance as the coach of the Lakers. Oswego, who now stands at 23-6-1, hosts Wentworth in the NCAA quarterfinals, this time just a single game, Saturday night at 7 p.m.

“It’s not so much how good we are on the ice,” Roll said, summarizing the season. “It’s the character we have off the ice that translates to the ice.”

Time For A Change?

What I am about to say will be considered heresy, especially after I just raved about the final series, but hear me out. I’m wondering whether the SUNYAC playoff format should change, or at least have the dates moved around.

One of the reasons this playoff format was implemented, including the three game final series, was to lean the odds towards the best team, and thus ensuring that the SUNYAC was well represented in the NCAA playoffs. Nothing wrong with that.

However, I now wonder whether this format truly benefits SUNYAC teams in the case of an at-large bid. If Plattsburgh had won the tournament and there were no other upsets (like Trinity beating Middlebury), there would have been a good chance that Plattsburgh would have competed in the play-in game Wednesday.

This scenario could also occur if the SUNYAC had an off year, and the champion was not ranked that high, thus playing on Wednesday. That means that after a potential three game series, the SUNYAC representative would have only two days’ rest before playing another playoff game.

Then, if they did win that, they would have just another two days rest, most likely on the road, against a tougher opponent in the NCAA quarterfinal round. Not exactly what you want your conference representative to have to go through.

There is the two-game with a mini-game format (and the three games in the finals) that also needs to be looked at. This was similar to the NCAA quarterfinal round, and in fact many other conferences were considering going to this format to better prepare their teams for the NCAA playoffs.

However, when the NCAA switched to a single game quarterfinal format, the other leagues left their tournaments the same, and only the SUNYAC continues with the multiple game playoff rounds. This may be a disadvantage to the SUNYAC teams after playing two, and sometimes three, weekends in a row with their format, as they may enter the NCAA first round with the thought that they have another game to play in case things don’t work out in the first day.

The only problem is, they no longer have the other game, as the first day is it.

Should the format of the SUNYAC playoffs be changed? Should the dates be changed to allow for more rest before the NCAA? Should it remain the same? Whichever is the right answer, it is food for thought.

I Leave You With…

Another year has gone by, and it has, as always, been a thrill. Usually at this time, I thank all you readers for making this worthwhile: the fans who come up to me during games complimenting and thanking me for my work, the coaches who graciously offer me their time even when I may not be so kind to their teams, and the new fans and parents I meet throughout the year.

This year, however, I’m going to do more than thank you all. I’m going to give you a gift.

By far, the most popular featured word this year was pretzel. I’ve had numerous people come up to me asking if I had a good pretzel lately. I even had a coach ask me after a game if I had a good pretzel that night. Folks have asked me recently whether I think Norwich, where the Frozen Four might be played, has good pretzels.

Thus, I leave you with the ten tips on how to enjoy a soft pretzel. That is my gift to the best readers at USCHO.

May your offseason be filled with dreams of championships for your favorite team … and the perfect hot pretzel.