Everything seemed to right itself in Cardinals land last season. Plattsburgh finished in first place, defeated Oswego in the SUNYAC Championships avenging the loss the year before, and made it back to the Frozen Four. Behind Plattsburgh, things may have been a bit skewed with a wild ending on the last weekend, but fans in Plattsburgh weren’t worried too much about that.
This year, they may have to worry about what’s behind them. Oswego looks to overcome some of its phasing-in period for a new coach, Potsdam wants to prove its second place finish was no fluke, and a resurgent Fredonia is looking to continue the upward movement. Meanwhile, Geneseo wants to avenge its playoff collapse, and Cortland and Buffalo State are ready to make some noise. Finally, Brockport is tired of taking up the rear, so it went out and performed a wholesale change.
Plattsburgh and Oswego should fight it out for first place in a battle worthy of their rivalry, and then meet in the championship finals. Meanwhile, if any of them falter, Potsdam or even Geneseo and Cortland could surprise fans and steal a bye. Otherwise, those three teams along with Buffalo State and Fredonia will be fighting for the remaining four playoff spots with Brockport perhaps acting as the occasional spoiler.
We always said how interesting the SUNYAC is because you are always fighting for something different depending on what position you are after. The coaches agree.
“Everybody is trying to secure a playoff spot,” Cortland coach Tom Cranfield said. “Once you do that you’re trying to get home ice in the first round. And once you do that you’re trying to get a bye. Every game we play against conference opponents is a battle, and I think that is what you are going to see all year.”
Plattsburgh State Cardinals
Coach: Bob Emery, 16th season overall and at Plattsburgh (350-101-35)
2003-4 overall record: 23-5-3
2003-4 SUNYAC record: 12-0-2
2003-04 SUNYAC finish: First
2004-05 predicted finish: First
Throughout last year, Plattsburgh coach Bob Emery never seemed happy with his team. Despite that, they lost only five games, went undefeated in SUNYAC play, knocked off Oswego in the championship round, and made it all the way to the national semifinals. Not bad for not being happy with your team.
Even now, Emery hasn’t changed his tune. “We were overachievers last year,” he told the Press Republican. “We were supposed to be rebuilding and maybe some of the teams overlooked us.”
Overlooked or not, this year’s team will be just as solid this year, if not more so. Five of the six defensemen return as well as all their top two goaltenders.
Craig Neilson will be looked upon to stop the puck again this year, and if he should ever run into a problem, Tony Seariac is quite able to back him up. Newcomer Chris Brogan may also get a chance to prove himself.
Those returning defensemen will be helping out the strong goaltending position as well as adding some offensive punch. They include Brett Gilmour, Anthony Lecesse, Bryan North, Doug Carr, and Jayson Barnhart. The only freshman defenseman is Jamie Wright.
Up front, the Cardinals have five incoming freshmen, with Mike Baccaro, Joe Gori, and Jason Beliveau all having been big time scorers with their junior teams. They will add punch to an already prolific offense that includes David Friel (24 goals), Paul Kelly (29 points), Bryant Wilson (21 points), Ryan Busby (28 points), Justin Joy (28 points), Ben Kemp, Conor McDonough, Dave Young, and Justin Rafferty.
Now consider this, if the crackdown on obstruction and interference calls does indeed occur, Plattsburgh’s potent power play will have a field day against most teams.
Except for an exhibition game, Plattsburgh does not have any warm-up contests before going right into conference play with a game at Potsdam. It will be the start of another opportunity for the team to not make their coach happy. That’s exactly what the rest of the league is afraid of.
Oswego State Lakers
Coach: Ed Gosek, second season overall and at Oswego (19-9-3)
2003-4 overall record: 19-9-3
2003-4 SUNYAC record: 9-4-1
2003-04 SUNYAC finish: Third
2004-05 predicted finish: Second
If a first year coach led his team to a second place tie in his conference and then to the league championship final round stretching it to three games, many would consider that a successful debut.
The problem for Ed Gosek is that he took over a team that competed in the national final, leading going into the third period. Those were tough standards to equal, but all things considered, Oswego has to be happy with the job Gosek did his first year. The Lakers got off to a great start, slumped in the middle of the season, and except for a final weekend stumble, finished strong.
Despite some heavy losses to graduation, this year could be better as the team and the coach are now used to each other. Second place and quite likely a run to topple Plattsburgh at the top are likely scenarios for Oswego.
There could be one major obstacle — their lack of experience in goal. Gone are Tyson Gajda and capable backup Sebastien Matte. In their place are second year man Brett Leonhardt (who only played in three games last year for a total of 129 minutes) and two freshmen, Matt Wolf and Ryan Scott. If this group starts out slow, second place will be in jeopardy.
Also gone are standouts Joe Carrabs, Matt Vashaw, Mike Lukajic, and Rob Smith. That may make it appear there is no hope for second place, but a solid corps returns as well as new recruits that will make this Ed Gosek’s team instead of George Roll’s team.
On defense, Mark Strzoda (21 points), Justin Perron, Kevin Tracey, and Tony DuFour are more than capable of leading the effort. Tyler Rivers and T.J. Monastersky are two freshmen who look to make a mark.
A lot of scoring punch may have been lost to graduation, but there is still plenty of talent on the forward lines such as Don Patrick (50 points), Ryan Woodward (38 points), Andy Rozak (32 points), Jocelyn Dubord (15 goals), Jean-Simon Richard (23 points), Sean Kotary (22 points), and Gary Bowman. Newcomers to keep your eye on include Tony DiNunzio, John Duco, C.J. Thompson, and Bryan Fitzgerald.
If the goaltending question is answered, there will be plenty of more wins in what may be the final full season at the Romney Field House.
Potsdam State Bears
Coach: Glenn Thomaris, 17th season overall (296-149-18) and third season at Potsdam (25-27-4)
2003-4 overall record: 11-14-2
2003-4 SUNYAC record: 9-4-1
2003-04 SUNYAC finish: Second
2004-05 predicted finish: Third
This is the toughest pick. Potsdam could easily finish anywhere from second to sixth. That’s because the Bears lost a lot, and we mean a lot, from last year. Gone are All-American and the nation’s leading scorer, Chris Lee, who’s power play quarterbacking will be impossible to replace. Potsdam’s superb goaltender, Ryan Venturelli, also graduated. Then, to make matters worse, SUNYAC Rookie of the Year, Myles Palliser, transferred to Wisconsin-Superior.
They have also gained a lot with some key new recruits, but will they live up to their billing?
“We have a whole lot of new guys playing,” Potsdam coach Glenn Thomaris said. “Twelve new guys in the lineup. Everybody has to come together in a hurry.”
One key newcomer is goalie Brian Barnhardt who will try to make Maxcy Hall fans forget about Venturelli. Helping him out will be Warren Sly and his puck handling skills, and Ben King.
Up front, the freshmen who will most likely make an impact are Pat Lemay, who has speed and a nice shot, and Kevin Tessirt, who is a natural goal scorer and strong along the boards and in front of the net.
Potsdam may have lost some key players, but it also has a lot of talent returning. Up front, the speed of Greg Lee (no relation to Chris) and Adam Gebrara should cause havoc to opposing defenses. Phil Aubry is a big power forward. Topping the list, now that Palliser did not return, is Ryan McCarthy (ten goals last year) who will be a key player for the Bears. Ryan Mattison, Chris Brusa-Toi, and Corey McAllister should also contribute.
Mike Taylor (leading returning scorer with 24 points which includes 21 assists), Ryan Trimble, and Vilis Abele all return to the blueline and all possess good puck handling ability.
Thomaris said, “We think we got some very mobile and good skating defensemen that can handle the puck. We got good young forwards that can score. The things we were looking to do this year was to improve our team speed and add more team skill to the lineup. I think we’ve done that. It’s just a matter of getting playing time and experience for that to come to the top.
“If we can play solid and everybody starts to feel comfortable with themselves we can give SUNYAC a run for the money.”
That’s the key. If so, they will fight for a repeat bye and prove last year wasn’t a fluke. If not, they will be traveling in the play-in round.
Geneseo State Ice Knights
Coach: Brian Hills, fourth season overall and at Geneseo (35-35-10)
2003-4 overall record: 14-7-5
2003-4 SUNYAC record: 8-4-2
2003-04 SUNYAC finish: Fourth
2004-05 predicted finish: Fourth
By all accounts, Geneseo had a successful season last year. It finished 14-7-5 overall, its first season over .500 in three years, and fourth place in the conference just one point out of second.
However, the Knights most likely look back on last year as a failure because they were beaten in the first round of the SUNYAC playoffs by Fredonia and their season came to a premature end.
Look for Geneseo to once again have a strong season, most likely ending up with home ice in the first round and possibly making a strong run for a bye. The main reason will be their mainstay the past three years — goalie Brett Walker. Walker continues to get better and better each year, coming off a .903 save percentage season and a 3.11 GAA. Freshman Derek Jokic will get some ice time as Geneseo prepares him as the heir apparent.
One thing’s for sure, Geneseo will not have a problem scoring goals. Seven of the top eight scorers return for another year, including their top two, Mitch Stephens (28 points) and Jason Kuczmanski (27 points). Chris Tarr, Kris Heeres, Michel Bond, Mike MacDonald, and Brett Bestwick are the others.
Then, as if that isn’t enough, Dan Schofield transfers in from Plattsburgh and freshmen Trent Cassan and Mat Cyr are sure to contribute. Cyr already contributed in a big way in his first game, with four power-play goals against Neumann.
Even defensively they can expect offensive output, especially from Nick Onody. A lot of top veterans are returning including Jon Schnepf and Matt English. One new blueliner to keep your eyes on is Steve Sankey.
A productive offense, an outstanding goalie, and a supportive defense — the top of the SUNYAC better watch their backs for an ever approaching Geneseo.
Cortland State Red Dragons
Coach: Tom Cranfield, fourth season overall and at Cortland (29-45-9)
2003-4 overall record: 10-16-1
2003-4 SUNYAC record: 5-9-0
2003-04 SUNYAC finish: Sixth
2004-05 predicted finish: Fifth
This team is loaded … with experience. Twenty of the 27 players on the roster are juniors and seniors, split evenly at ten each. Even two of their key new people are not freshmen, but junior transfers. This experience should help Cortland avoid the collapse (six game losing streak and nine losses out of ten games) that closed out their season after opening at 5-1.
One of those key new players will be looked upon to help solve the inconsistency in goal that Cortland suffered last year. Matt Meacham arrives on campus from Skidmore College where he was a two-year starter, Rookie of the Year, and Most Valuable Player in his sophomore year.
If Meacham can’t get the job done, Cortland still has Jason Lojewski. “We haven’t discounted Lojewski,” Cortland coach Tom Cranfield said. “I think he will be given an opportunity to show us what he has.”
Another key newcomer is defenseman Mike Caruso who transfers in from New England College. “We’re looking at him being an offensive defenseman,” Cranfield said.
Up front, look for the line of Matt Schallice (who transferred in the year before from Division I Niagara University), Tim Earl (last year’s team leader with 33 points), and Kyle Coletti to do the most damage to opposing goaltenders.
There may be only three freshmen on the team, but the Red Dragons are looking for great things from Barry McLauglin.
“Barry McLaughlin is one of the best kids on the ice for us,” Cranfield said. “I think he’s going to get the opportunities to show us what he’s got.”
Of course, there are key returning players as well. Seniors Jeremy Nau and Jeff Lovier will anchor the defense while junior Joe Giar will help keep the crease clear. Up front, besides the line we mentioned, Nate Gagnon led the team last year with seven power-play goals and Kevin Watters was second best in assists.
Cranfield identifies a different key for success. “Being positive,” he says. “In the end you want the guys to be able to compete hard and have fun doing it. And if you can do that, you produce an atmosphere were you can win a lot of hockey games.”
Cortland is capable of playing with anyone. They are also capable of losing to anyone. But a positive attitude and plenty of experience could have them fighting for a home ice playoff spot.
Buffalo State Bengals
Coach: Jim Fowler, ninth season overall and at Buffalo State (52-133-13)
2003-4 overall record: 7-18-0
2003-4 SUNYAC record: 3-11-0
2003-04 SUNYAC finish: Seventh
2004-05 predicted finish: Sixth
The team that could surprise the most is Buffalo State. The reason is simple — a lot of key players return, and the Bengals also acquired some top notch talent with transfers.
Forward Sean Burke comes in after two years in Plattsburgh. Before college, he played for the Couchiching Terriers where he put up a lot of points.
Defensive transfer Clay Lewis comes in after one year at Division I Canisius. Both Burke and Lewis will have an immediate impact for the Bengals on the scoreboard.
The goaltending situation looks very bright for Buffalo State. Both senior Adam Horvath and sophomore Sean Sheehan, who split duties last year, are back for another year. Though Sheehan may get the nod early, look for the two to trade off between the pipes.
Guys who can light up the lamp are back in abundance — Mike DeMarco (31 points), Morgan McElman (21 points), Mike Zalewski (11 goals), and Greg Prybylski (11 goals) along with Josh Magnuson, Sean O’Connell, and Sean Castagna.
Look for defenseman Jeff Mok to be the top freshman coming in while Mike Ansell (D), Ryan Conroy (F), and Marcus Hernandez (F) have the potential to also contribute.
“Our first goal like every year is to make the playoffs. That’s our biggest goal, our long term goal,” Buffalo State coach Jim Fowler said.
That may be a reasonable goal for the Bengals, who missed out on the playoffs last year. However, if the new talent makes an impact and the team gels early, Buffalo State may be adjusting its goals from merely making the playoffs to hosting the first round.
Fredonia State Blue Devils
Coach: Jeff Meredith, 17th season overall and at Fredonia (233-174-35)
2003-4 overall record: 13-13-3
2003-4 SUNYAC record: 6-8-0
2003-04 SUNYAC finish: Fifth
2004-05 predicted finish: Seventh
Fredonia in seventh place? Out of the playoff picture? After such a fine run in last year’s playoffs?
Admittedly, this pick is most open to arguments. The fourth through seventh place predicted teams could finish in any order. Somebody has to finish seventh, and we chose Fredonia. Not because Fredonia has fallen back from last year, but rather because the other teams have improved more so than the Blue Devils.
Out to prove us wrong will be outstanding forwards Matt Zeman (39 points with 15 goals), Kraig Kuzma (31 points with 20 assists), Kyle Bozoian (26 points), and Tom Briggs (25 points). And let’s not count out Max Catelin, Jim Gilbride, Wil Barlow, and Joe Muli.
Some newcomers to keep an eye on are Neal Sheehan and Chad Berman, both of whom should light up the light plenty of times.
Back on defense, Brian Kolesar offers the greatest offensive threat, while Chris Wells, Nick Molina, and Don Jaeger are also key returnees. Noah Hamilton, Steve Albert, and Evan DeValentino are freshmen looking to beef up the defense.
Fredonia has the capability of playing any one of three goalies. Expect the job to initially be Rob Stanley’s to lose. If he does falter, Simon Maignan and Rick Cazares will be waiting in the wings.
“We got eleven new guys,” Fredonia coach Jeff Meredith said. “One of the things they need to do is make the transition to the college game. They are working hard in practice, doing the right things. Now they have to do that for sixty minutes.”
They will get a good indication right from the start as they play a team they will have to beat out to make the playoffs, Buffalo State, three times in the early going, though only the third time counts for conference points.
If the Blue Devils respond well, then they will prove this prediction to be silly. If not, then their season will end early.
Brockport State Golden Eagles
Coach: Brian Dickinson, 12th season overall (68-188-22) and ninth season at Brockport (54-140-16)
2003-4 overall record: 5-20-0
2003-4 SUNYAC record: 1-13-0
2003-04 SUNYAC finish: Eighth
2004-05 predicted finish: Eighth
When you win just one league game and five overall, there is only one thing you can do — make wholesale changes. That’s exactly what Brockport’s coach, Brian Dickinson did.
The reason? Very simple. “We are looking to gain back some respectability,” said Dickinson.
This team is just the opposite of Cortland. Seventeen freshmen make up the roster. Even one of the upperclassmen is new to the team — Buffalo State transfer Ryan Marvin.
There is a lot the Golden Eagles need to improve. Their power play was only 10% efficient while they let up a man-advantage goal once every four times. Their goals against average was 5.66 by having their red light turn on 142 times.
Most of their returning players are the top forwards. Senior captain Mark Digby (team leading 20 points), Joey Connolly (18 points), Brian Bauman (17 points), and AJ Maio (16 points) all make another go of it for the Golden Eagles. Some of the key newcomers include Richard Gates, Jason Dolgy, Tony Marinello, Steve Seedhouse, John Gleason, and Geoff Schweikhard.
Seniors Ryan Shannon and Brian Sargent will lead a defensive corps made up of mostly freshmen and Marvin. Size dominates the new defensemen with Chris Brown, Erik Bentley, Steve Wowchuk, and Ian MacLean all six feet and over.
Goaltending is Brockport’s strongest asset. Andy Reynolds joined the team midway through last year from Division I Findlay University and quickly became the team’s number one goalie. He will share duties with freshman Greg Van’t Hof. Both are capable of stealing a game.
Brockport may have made wholesale changes, but this is definitely a case where the Golden Eagles have to prove themselves before they get back some of that respectability. Until then, they will remain our pick for last place.