This Week in the SUNYAC: Jan. 13, 2005

The SUNYAC Makes A Statement

This is the time of year when many of the SUNYAC teams square off against their ECAC West rivals in non-conference play. For the oldtimers, it brings back memories of the old NYCHA. For today’s fans, it is an opportunity for conference bragging rights.

This past week, eight games were played between the conferences, and the SUNYAC made an impressive statement, going 7-1 in those contests. All but two of those games were on the road, and if you count Potsdam’s game which was played at Massena as not being home, then only one game was played in a SUNYAC barn. Overall, the SUNYAC now leads the ECAC West, 20-10-5.

Our pick last week for Game of the Week was just one of the highlights for the SUNYAC. Plattsburgh went into Ritter Arena and persevered in a see-saw battle for a 5-4 win over RIT. The Tigers scored first, but Plattsburgh came back with two goals by Shane Remenda and T.J. Cooper for a 2-1 first period lead. RIT came back with two power play goals to retake the lead in the second. Paul Kelly knotted the game before the third period.

Kelly got his second of the night, shorthanded, to give the Cardinals a 4-3 lead. David Friel added an empty netter, but the game wasn’t over as RIT got it back with their goalie still pulled. RIT continued to put pressure on Craig Neilson in the waning seconds, but Neilson hung for the win, making 24 saves on the night.

The SUNYAC wasn’t done shocking RIT in its own arena. Fredonia came into Rochester and also scored five goals against the Tigers, en route to a 5-3 victory. Jim Gilbride gave the Blue Devils the early lead, but RIT tied it up on the power play. Thirty-three seconds later Matt Zeman scored a shorthanded goal. He got another shorthander to give Fredonia a 3-1 first period lead.

Fredonia made it 4-1 on a Joe Muli goal. RIT then mounted a comeback scoring one at the very end of the second period and another early in the third. Fredonia stayed tough as Rick Cazares turned aside the RIT threats. Muli clinched the game with an empty netter. Cazares made 22 saves.

“For Plattsburgh to come in here and win and us to come in here and win, I think it’s great for our league,” Fredonia coach Jeff Meredith said after his victory. “Obviously, the SUNYAC coaches are biased, but we think we have a real strong conference. A conference, depth wise, rivals any in the country.”

That depth delivered more victories for the SUNYAC against the ECAC West.

Seventh place Buffalo State notched two of those victories, both against Lebanon Valley on the road. The first night score was 5-2, after being down 2-1 after one. Sean Burke got two goals while Brian Janke, Sean Castagna, and Greg Prybylski got one each. Sean Sheehan made 21 saves.

The second victory was a 3-2 score. This time the Bengals jumped out to a 3-0 lead on goals by Mike Ansell, Jeff Mok, and Josh Magnuson, then hung onto win. Sheehan made 32 saves.

Lebanon Valley was the victim of another SUNYAC team, this time on the road, losing to Cortland, 7-5. This game saw huge momentum swings. Cortland led 2-0 on goals by Mike Caruso and Tim Earl. Lebanon Valley then scored the next three times for a 3-2 first period lead.

The teams traded goals in the second period, with Earl getting his second for the Red Dragons, allowing Lebanon Valley to continue to lead by heading into the third. Cortland then scored four unanswered goals. Earl got his hat trick, Jason Perry scored twice, and Kyle Colleti got the other one. Matt Meacham made 20 saves.

Geneseo finished making Lebanon Valley the SUNYAC whipping boy with a 4-2 win over the Flying Dutchmen.

Potsdam’s Glenn Thomaris defeated his old team, Elmira, 7-4, in a game that nearly saw a repeat of the wild comeback the Soaring Eagles made last year. Potsdam took the 2-0 lead on goals by Mark Stewart and Adam Gebrara. After Elmira scored, Gebrara got his second while shorthanded, then Mark Hathaway scored followed by a Ryan McCarthy tally for a 5-1 lead.

Then, Elmira scored the next three goals, bringing back memories of last year’s game. Potsdam reversed the momentum with a goal by Ryan Mattison and a clincher by Greg Lee. Vince Cuccaro made 34 saves.

Even when the SUNYAC lost to the ECAC West, they still made a statement. That’s because last place Brockport gave first place, undefeated, ranked #2 in the country Manhattanville quite a scare while succumbing, 2-1.

“Every coach works hard. Every team works hard,” Meredith said. “That’s one of the things that makes our league so strong. You just can’t take anybody lightly.”

After Mark Digby gave the Golden Eagles an early 1-0 lead, the Valiants reversed that before the end of the second. Brockport was unable to tie it up in the third period despite outshooting Manhattanville, 17-9. They even had a 6×4 advantage in the final minute after Manhattanville took a cross-checking penalty and Brockport pulled their goalie. Shots were even at 34 apiece as Andy Reynolds made 32 saves.

There is always a lot of bantering about who has the best league in the country. That is one argument that is unending. However, this past week certainly seemed to make it very clear that the SUNYAC is the best conference in New York State.

Matt Zeman Makes A Statement

Matt Zeman of Fredonia hasn’t gotten much attention. Fans and media always seem to be talking about someone else.

Last year in his rookie year he was overshadowed by Myles Palliser of Potsdam. Yet, Zeman led the Blue Devils in goals (15), assists (24), and points (39) as a freshman. He was also second on the team with six power play goals.

This year, he leads the SUNYAC in overall scoring and is tied for first in the nation with 29 points on 12 goals and 17 assists. Yet again, people are talking about other players such as the Oswego powerhouse of Andy Rozak, Jocelyn Dubord, Don Patrick, and Ryan Woodward.

Mark Digby of Brockport stole the early headlines when he was the surprise leading scorer in the nation at the beginning of the season. Paul Kelly of Plattsburgh has gotten plenty of attention with his league leading seven power play goals.

Meanwhile, Zeman was on a team that nobody wanted to believe was real while the talk was centered on the defensive style of the Blue Devils. That missed the true makeup of this year’s squad and the offensive capability of Zeman.

In the RIT game, Zeman made a statement. Now, everybody is taking notice.

He scored two shorthanded goals anticipating the play perfectly, springing himself on breakaways, and finishing by making the RIT goaltender look like a pee-wee. He also got an assist. All in the first period.

“Matty is a guy who has that sense about him,” Meredith said. “When he is killing penalties he kind of has a sense of where to go, where the puck is going to end up. Both of those shorthanded goals he just read that play perfectly, ahead of the play actually. He kind of knew where that puck was going to go.”

The Rocky River, Ohio, native almost scored a third shorthanded goal. However, it came right at the end of a shift. Running out of gas, he couldn’t outskate the defense this time, and passed the puck instead.

Zeman has three shorthanded goals, second in the nation in that category. People are now talking about Matt Zeman. And most likely other teams have as well especially when they have a power play.

SUNYAC Short Shots

Tim Earl’s hat trick came on an even strength goal, a power play goal, and a shorthanded goal … Fredonia now has a 14 game unbeaten streak and an 11 game winning streak against Division III teams … Plattsburgh is 5-1 in its last six games … Potsdam is now 4-1-1 in the last six games … All the goals in Brockport’s 3-1 victory over Johnson & Wales came in the second period … Geneseo scored two goals within 16 seconds in the second period in its 4-3 loss to Wentworth … Plattsburgh’s 5-4 win over Williams, despite going into overtime, took only two hours to play … Tony DiNunzio of Oswego and T.J. Sakaluk of Potsdam are the leading freshmen goal scorers with eight … Fredonia has nine shorthanded goals while Potsdam has eight.

I Don’t Get It

Plattsburgh scores an empty net goal, taking a 5-3 lead. There is 1:16 left in the game. RIT fans begin to stream out. Eleven seconds later, RIT gets the goal back. RIT fans stop streaming out. For the final 1:05, RIT peppers the Plattsburgh net, cannot find the tying goal, but the game ends with great excitement.

I don’t get why fans leave a game early. Never have, never will.

Concerned about traffic? I’ve seen fans leave games early in Podunk where the only traffic is the cow path back to the barn. Don’t want to deal with getting out of a crowded parking lot? You would deal with it if there was overtime. This game almost ended up in overtime which you would have missed trying to avoid the crowded parking lot.

Then there are the fans who leave early no matter what the score is. You see it at professional games all the time. This is even sillier. With the cost of pro sports, why would you rip yourself off? I always wonder if an event was only a few minutes long — like say the Kentucky Derby — would these fans still leave early to avoid the rush?

I’m reminded of one of the greatest comebacks in sports history which happened to be a college hockey game. Back in 1993, Colgate scored four goals in the final three minutes, the last two coming in the final 27 seconds, to tie Brown, and then went onto win in overtime. I wonder how many fans left that game before this miraculous comeback. I wonder how many of them are still kicking themselves.

I don’t get it.

Game of the Week

If you thought there were a lot of interconference games between the New York State leagues last week, there are a whole heck of a lot more SUNYAC vs. ECAC West games on the card this coming week. Thirteen in total! This week will be a real statement for someone. A chance for the SUNYAC to continue their domination. A chance for ECAC West to seek revenge. Or, anticlimactically, a chance for a bunch of split results.

There are three pairs of games with one of them being a home and home and a slew of solitary contests. Buffalo State hosts two against Neumann while Potsdam travels to Manhattanville for two games. RIT and Oswego play their annual home and home series.

It is the latter series that I am picking as the games of the week. This weekend series between RIT and Oswego has really turned into a highlight of the season, and it is a shame it will be coming to an end when RIT moves up to Division I. Forget the conference bragging rights angle. These two teams need victories for themselves. Oswego is 10-2-3 overall, but two losses in the SUNYAC has some wondering about the Lakers, so they would like nothing more than to make a solid statement by beating RIT two times. Meanwhile, RIT is desperate for a win to turn around a slide that could get ugly.

A very close runnerup is the Utica at Fredonia game. What better way to decide which league is best then another contest between each conference’s first place teams.