This Week in the SUNYAC: Dec. 16, 2004

Last week, we looked at how the top teams in the standings are faring at the midway point. This week, we’ll take a look at those teams sitting in the bottom half. Then, we’ll take a hiatus, returning with a column on January 6. Everybody have a great and safe holiday season.

An Ominous Sign

As I pulled in to park at the Utica Memorial Auditorium to cover the Potsdam at Utica game, the lot was empty. Not a single car to be found. At first, I thought, gee, they don’t attract many fans to Utica games. Then, I saw the sign in front of the arena stating the game was moved to Hamilton College due to technical difficulties.

When I finally did make my way 20 miles south to Clinton (note that in the game report, there is no description whatsoever for the first three goals; that is because I arrived in the rink about eight minutes into the game), I was surprised to see there actually was a very good crowd there to see the game.

In some ways, that is a metaphor for the Potsdam season so far. At times, their parking lot has been empty. Other times, they have been successful.

“We got a lot of young guys in key areas for us and leading our team,” Potsdam coach Glenn Thomaris said. “We have to keep riding the roller coaster — you’re going to have some good games and some stinkers with a lot of young guys.”

The Bears have beaten Plattsburgh (in a nonconference game), nearly beat Hobart, tied Utica, sent Norwich to overtime, and gave Fredonia their only loss so far. On the other hand, they lost to Cortland twice, got smoked by Oswego, and let up nine goals against Geneseo.

Thomaris likes to look at the positives. “Wins and losses are not where we wanted to be,” he admits. “But from the goaltender out, I think we are getting better and better and the experience should pay off down the stretch for us. They know what they have to do to win some games and, hopefully, they come out ready to do that in January.”

He has a point. Slow starts have plagued the Bears all season, but lately they at least have found ways to recover from them. Against Brockport, they scored five unanswered goals in the final 21 minutes to win 5-3. In the Geneseo game, they constantly came back from three goal leads before finally succumbing. And, in the Utica game, they were down 2-0, 4-1, and 5-2 before coming away with a 5-5 tie.

The times that Potsdam has come out strong right from the opening faceoff have produced their best results — the aforementioned win against Plattsburgh and the overtime loss versus Norwich.

The problem is indeed a young team, goaltending that hasn’t quite lived up to expectations yet, and some terrible penalties at the wrong times. However, the team is improving each game even if the results don’t show it. The question is, will they improve enough to salvage something out of the season, or will this whole year go down as a rebuilding experience?

“Very pleased with the effort for the most part,” Thomaris said. Perhaps he was putting on a game face. Or, perhaps he sees a way to turn an empty parking lot into a full one.

The Numbers Tell The Story

This is for you number geeks. In league play, Cortland has won 42% of their games. They have scored 42% of the goals scored in their conference games. Overall, Cortland has won 46% of their games. They have scored 45% of the total goals. In this case, numbers don’t lie.

Even their results in conference games have had a symmetry to them. They lost, won, lost, won, lost, won, and lost. In fact, their last two games were by the same score, a 7-3 win over Buffalo State and a 7-3 loss to Fredonia.

The Red Dragons were a team of transfers this year, and the big addition has been goaltender Matt Meacham, a transfer from Skidmore College. He has certainly been given the starting role, playing in 11 of the team’s 13 games, but his numbers haven’t been spectacular — 4.91 GAA and a .875 save pct. This places him slightly below the middle of the pack, which when you look at the team numbers, makes sense.

Mike Caruso, a big defenseman who transferred in from New England College, was expected to help out on the offense, but has only scored two goals and one assist. Matt Schallice, from Niagara University, is helping out as expected, getting six goals and eight assists.

However, it’s no surprise the leading scorers so far are all seniors: Nate Gagnon (6-14–20), Tim Earl (11-7–18), and Kevin Watters (10-8–18).

Cortland is right in the thick of it in fifth place, two points behind Plattsburgh, and four points behind second, but only two points ahead of Potsdam and three points ahead of being out of the playoffs. As long as Meacham can up his game a bit and the team can reverse some of that symmetry in numbers to their favor, they should at least make the playoffs, and could possibly grab home ice in the first round.

Struggling To Reach First Goal

At the beginning of the season, Buffalo State coach Jim Fowler said, “Our first goal like every year is to make the playoffs. That’s our biggest goal, our long term goal,”

It was looking good for Buffalo State to reach that goal when in their first two games in the SUNYAC season they tied Brockport and beat Geneseo leaving them at 1-0-1. Then, they dropped the next five conference games, but only one by more than two goals. However, with only a season opening win against Cortland in the SUNYAC Challenge, the Bengals are a disappointing 2-10-1 overall.

Offensively, their top players are getting the points. The problem is, there are only a few of them scoring. Sean Burke leads the team with nine goals and eight assists for 17 points. He is tied with Greg Prybylski (6-11–17) who are followed by Mike DeMarco (7-9–16). After that, it drops off quite a bit.

These three are players I said to keep an eye on this year, but we also expected a few more to help light up the lamp, such as Morgan McElman and Mike Zalewski who only have two goals each this year.

As expected, Sean Sheehan has seen most of the action in net playing in 12 of the team’s 13 games. However, he has a 4.63 GAA (which is tenth in the league) despite a .889 save pct. (which is sixth in the league).

Fowler’s goal was to make the playoffs. I predicted it’s possible Buffalo State could surprise some teams by getting home ice in the first round. If the Bengals don’t turn things around quickly, neither one of those will come true.

Rome Wasn’t Built In A Day

Brockport will need more than a year to rebuild its program. Nonetheless, the Golden Eagles have shown some improvement after their massive housecleaning.

“On the surface, we’re disappointed,” Brockport coach Brian Dickinson said. “But in terms of where we want to be, we’re pretty much where we want to be in terms of the play from freshmen.”

That’s been the key for the Golden Eagles. They brought in 17 freshmen, so naturally they have to play them. In order to show something for that recruiting philosophy, it’s simply going to require ice time for the newbies and measuring success in ways other than in the win-loss column.

Four of their nine losses have been by two goals or less. They have led going into the third period three times, but failed to win.

The big bright spot for Brockport is Mark Digby who so far has surprised the Division III hockey world, at one time leading the country in goals scored, and currently has 13, still amongst the leaders.

“We need to find other scorers besides Digby,” Dickinson stated the obvious. The next leading goal scorers on the team, Ricky Gates and Chris [nl]Brown, have four each.

Dickinson listed a few other areas that need improvement: “Need to be more consistent in our own end. Goalies could be a little bit better.” Dickinson was quick to point out he is happy with his goaltending, it’s just that they need to be able to come up with that big save that can turn a game around or steal a victory.

If you do want to look at the win-loss column, they have already won or tied five games, the same as a year ago. Perhaps that’s why Dickinson is still comfortable with this year. “We played most teams fairly tough. It’s encouraging only a couple of games we were not a factor,” he said.

SUNYAC Short Shots

Fredonia’s comeback against Neumann in the first game started with Matt Zeman’s third period goal 13 seconds after Neumann took a 2-1 lead … Geneseo’s comeback attempt fell short when RIT scored the game winner with 54 seconds left … Sean Kotary’s empty net goal for Oswego against Hobart came with one second left … The only multiple goal scorer in a game this past week was Potsdam’s Greg Lee who scored twice against Utica … Fredonia’s unbeaten streak is now at 12 (11-0-1).

I Don’t Get It

I like geography. I always enjoy landing on the geography category when playing Trivial Pursuit. A number of years ago, our local paper used to print up a geography quiz every week in the Sunday edition. My wife would cut them out, and then when we took trips, would ask me the questions to help kill the time. I enjoyed that, particularly when I aced a quiz.

However, just because I may know a lot of geography trivia, it doesn’t mean I get it all.

One thing I don’t get is the placement of some New York schools. When I had to quickly make my way from Utica to Hamilton College, I knew that I needed to drive to Clinton, N.Y. Despite that knowledge, I don’t get why Hamilton College is not in Hamilton, N.Y., 21 driving miles away from Clinton.

I don’t get why Hartwick College is in Oneonta, N.Y. instead of in Hartwick, N.Y., 17 driving miles away. I don’t get why Union College is in Schenectady, N.Y. instead of Union, N.Y., 128 driving miles away. I don’t get why Hobart College is in Geneva, N.Y. instead of Hobart, N.Y., 123 miles away as the crow flies and 189 driving miles away.

I really don’t get why Clarkson University is in Potsdam, N.Y., and not in Clarkson, N.Y, 170 miles away, and that’s how the crow flies. It’s approximately 240 miles to drive from one to the other.

If you ever need to travel to a New York State private school, make sure you know exactly where it is located.

I’m just glad I cover the SUNYAC.

Game of the Week

Between now and the time I return with a column, there are only three games scheduled, and all involve Plattsburgh. Thus, there is no need to select a game of the week, but rather if you can attend any one of the only three games to be played, enjoy them.

Plattsburgh hosts its annual Cardinal Classic which this year features Connecticut College (which the Cards play the first night), Wesleyan and Utica. The semifinals are on Thursday, December 30. The year ends with the consolation and championship game the following day.

Last year was the first time Plattsburgh lost this tournament since 1996 when it lost to Army, 4-3, in the championship game. Last year, they didn’t make it to the championship game (losing to Babson, 4-1, in the semifinals), and that hadn’t happened since 1983.

Plattsburgh then comes back after New Year’s and hosts Norwich on the 4th. This game is particular interesting as these teams have played each other a lot in recent years in the Primelink Tournament, the national playoffs, and regularly scheduled nonconference games. It may not feel like a rivalry, but there is a lot of history between them.