This Week in the SUNYAC: Nov. 4, 2004

We’re Back

Division III college hockey coverage on took a hiatus of sorts last year for various reasons which aren’t worth talking about at this time. Now, we’re back. And, it’s going to be more than you have ever experienced anywhere in the world. The national column of course remains, there will be regional columns covering every area of the country, a new weekend wrap-up column, the usual game recaps, features, and of course this SUNYAC column.

I’m happy to be back covering the SUNYAC on a weekly basis. I hope you are, too.

Like A Dog Chasing His Tail

The SUNYAC Challenge was held for the fourth time, completing its cycle, with Cortland as the host, Fredonia, Buffalo State, and Potsdam, squaring off in a preset schedule. The results proved nothing. Or, perhaps they foretold a lot.

Each team played one very impressive game. Each team played one unimpressive game. Each team went 1-1.

Potsdam beat Fredonia, 7-4, who in turn beat Buffalo State, 6-2, who in turn beat Cortland, 7-5, who in turn beat Potsdam, 6-3. In some bizarre tournament scoring method, Fredonia was declared the champion, but that’s besides the point.

The point is, four SUNYAC teams did battle, and seemingly no conclusion can be drawn. However, the conclusion could just be that we are in for one humdinger of a season where any team is capable of beating anyone on any given night. Now that is the sort of chaos to look forward to.

When I asked if that is what we can expect this year to Cortland’s coach Tom Cranfield, he said, “I would think so!”

As for the SUNYAC Challenge, there are doubts whether the tournament will continue. It was originally set up to help teams who were having trouble scheduling games. However, not everyone is happy with playing extra games against conference opponents, and now that the ECAC West has expanded, the opportunity to schedule cross-conference teams is a bit easier.

However, having said that, the very next weekend SUNYAC teams went at it again in games that did not count for points. Fredonia once again beat Buffalo State, 6-3, in the Buffalo State All-Sport Invitational and Cortland defeated Brockport, 6-4, in the Lebanon Valley College Tournament championship game.

Getting Things Started

There was one game that did count in the SUNYAC standings. North Country rivals Plattsburgh and Potsdam got conference play started early at Maxcy Hall. For the Cardinals, it was as early as you can get — it was their first regular season game (they played one exhibition contest).

Plattsburgh picked up where it left off last year, beating the Bears, 3-1, with all the goals coming on the power play. Paul Kelly and David Friel gave Plattsburgh the 2-0 lead before T.J. Sakaluk cut the lead in half. Kelly’s second of the night in the third period sealed the victory. Craig Neilson made 17 saves for the win while freshman Rob Barnhardt was kept busy in the loss making 31 saves.

The SUNYAC season kicks off, and Plattsburgh is in first place. Tell us something we haven’t heard before.

Where They Left Off

SUNYAC play really kicks off in earnest this weekend. In fact, those are the only games on tap this week. There are two very interesting match ups.

Last year, Geneseo saw its season end at the hands of Fredonia, when the Blue Devils won the play-in round, 1-0-1. They face each other on Friday to kick off their respective SUNYAC seasons. This time the game is held at Fredonia. Meanwhile, Potsdam’s season was stopped in the semifinal round by Oswego, two games to none. They, too, play each other on Friday, again in Potsdam, which kicks off Oswego’s conference season.

Coaches may tell you that these circumstances don’t matter, and the job on hand is simply to take one game at a time, for each game is just as important as the next one. However, anyone who has ever played sports knows that’s a bunch of hooey. You always remember who ended your season, and wait all year for a chance to redeem yourself. Geneseo and Potsdam will be looking to do just that, which should make these games exciting ones to watch.

Near Perfection

The SUNYAC vs. ECAC West battle is always a fun one to keep track of. Both conferences consist primarily of New York schools (only Lebanon Vally and Neumann are not) and many of their hockey histories are so intertwined, going way back to the NYCHA. Some of the biggest games fans circle on the calendar are not necessarily conference match-ups. Plattsburgh vs. Elmira, Plattsburgh vs. RIT, and the home-and-home Oswego vs. RIT series are all anticipated with great fervor.

However, for SUNYAC fans bragging about their conference, it’s often been a sore point as the ECAC West consistently accumulates a better record against the SUNYAC.

Perhaps, this year will be different. That’s because up until the final day games were played before this column was written, the SUNYAC was El Perfecto against the ECAC West. This added up to nine victories and three ties. This included Fredonia tying ECAC West champion, Hobart.

However, on Saturday, the SUNYAC suffered two losses at the hands of the ECAC West. That still leaves the current seasonal total at 9-2-4 in favor of the state schools. There are still a lot of crossover games left, but perhaps this is the year the SUNYAC grabs the Empire State bragging rights.

Fit To Be Tied

Out of four of those ties, two were produced by the Oswego-Elmira home and home series. The first game, a 3-3 score, was in the Murray Athletic Center. After Elmira scored the first goal past the midway point of the second period, Andy Rozak, Tony DiNunzio, and Ryan Woodward all scored third period power-play goals to give the Lakers an apparently solid lead with just 3:34 left. However, Elmira quickly scored a shorthanded goal and then another shorthander late to steal a tie.

The two teams traveled north to the Golden Romney Field House the next night where they played a 2-2 tie. Once again, Oswego had a two-goal lead on scores by Jocelyn Dubord and Rozak. Once again, the Soaring Eagles came back to tie it up. This time, though, there were no shorthanded goals.

Break Up The Golden Eagles!

Like I stated in the season preview, Brian Dickinson made a wholesale change to the Brockport lineup, bringing in 17 freshmen and a transfer. The “in with the new, out with the old” strategy seems to be paying off. The Golden Eagles opened the season at 3-0, scoring eleven goals while letting up just five. This is just two short of their total win mark a year ago.

They finally lost to Cortland, but they bring a winning record into SUNYAC play. When was the last time that could be said about Brockport?

Granted they played Neumann twice, but they did play Lebanon Valley, who has been known to hold their own against top competition. Besides, it’s so much easier to carry momentum right from the get go than the opposite. Just ask the New York Jets.

I Don’t Get It

There are a lot of things in life I don’t get. I don’t get why we drive on parkways and park on driveways. I don’t get reality TV shows. I don’t get why people think most of today’s pop stars actually have talent.

I also don’t get a lot of stuff in sports. I don’t get the prevent defense. I don’t get the NBA. I really don’t get the WNBA. I don’t get why soccer players exaggerate injuries. I don’t get why the owner of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway destroyed his crown jewel.

Of course, there are things in hockey I don’t get either.

I had my first experience — if you can call having an operation without anesthesia an experience — with the new point of emphasis rule in calling penalties at the SUNYAC Challenge. I don’t get it.

In four games of hockey, I saw 119 penalties called. If you saw a boxscore with about 30 penalties, you would assume it was a rough and tough old time hockey game. Not at all. All were minor penalties, all were for limited contact, and all served to take the excitement out of the game. There’s more contact allowed in synchronized swimming. The game has become nothing more than a power play crapshoot. Just substitute a penalty shot contest and call it a day.

Fans were furious. I heard one fan say, “I hate college hockey!” Here’s the greatest version of hockey completely turning off the fans in a year where there is no NHL.

Players were furious. They were telling the penalty box operators how much this game is no longer any fun. I overheard one person say there is no way players are going to stick around. They’ll go back to junior hockey. Coaches told me they will never be able to convince athletes to play college hockey. And, on the Division I level, you can kiss goodbye getting the elite hockey players because it will be the worse training ground for the pros.

Coaches were furious. “I didn’t think the game was all that bad, to make such a drastic change in the way the game is called,” said Fredonia coach Jeff Meredith. “I make my living doing this, and it’s not quite as fun as it used to be. I got a quarter of my bench just sitting there watching this hockey game tonight. How fun is that for that kid?”

“It’s very difficult to get everybody in the game. That’s the hardest part about it,” said Potsdam coach Glenn Thomaris.

And this reporter was furious. The game has turned into a “Mommy, he touched me!” affair. I sat disgusted wondering what the phone number is to I’ll become a basketball correspondent before I waste anymore time with this unmitigating disaster.

And one has to wonder what the referees were thinking. It’s hard to imagine they could be happy with the circumstances (though, ironically, it actually makes their job easier — call everything, and you never have to worry about what not to call).

Now, I’m the first one to complain when a game becomes nothing more than a clutch and grab affair. That can get downright frustrating. However, that doesn’t mean you completely change the nature of the sport. Cutting down on the obstruction is one thing, but scaring the refs so much that they call every piece of contact is ludicrous.

Maybe things will settle down. Perhaps the coaches and players will adjust. Possibly, the refs will back off as the season progresses, though that would just make the whole ordeal even more painful since we had to endure something for nothing.

But right now, they have taken an exciting game with some problems and turned it into the most unexciting game by over-correcting those problems.

I don’t get it.

Game of the Week

Eight months ago Oswego traveled to Potsdam for the SUNYAC semifinals, won, then the following week took a trip to Plattsburgh, and lost in the finals. This weekend, that scenario repeats itself to kick off conference play — Oswego travels to Potsdam for a Friday game then continues on to face off against Plattsburgh on Saturday.

It is the second game that is our selection for this week. The two rivals look to renew hostilities once again. Oswego would like nothing more than to start things off getting a leg up on the Cardinals. Meanwhile, Plattsburgh would like to continue its unbeaten streak in regular season SUNYAC play (assuming they do not overlook Cortland the day before) by sending the Lakers back home with their heads hanging. Again.

Tennis balls, anyone?