This Week in the SUNYAC: Jan. 20, 2005

Mirror, Mirror On The Wall

Who’s the greatest goaltender on our team?

That’s a question Oswego’s coaching staff has had to ponder all year. Freshman Ryan Scott and sophomore Brett Leonhardt have alternated all season. Not much in their stats separates them. Overall in the SUNYAC, they are second and fourth in goals against average, one-two in save percentage, and Leonhardt is 7-1-2 with Scott at 5-2-1.

Does Oswego want to continue this tandem or go with one goalie the rest of the way? Coach Ed Gosek was honest. “I don’t know,” he said. “It’s a good question.”

Oswego always seems to have this dilemma with their goaltenders, a dilemma most teams would love to suffer. However, in most cases, the situation tended to work itself out by this time of the season, and a clear number one emerged to lead the Lakers down the stretch.

“We’ve been looking for a reason,” Gosek said. “Leonhardt’s played well when he has to. And Ryan has played well also. I wish I had an answer. I’m not going to lie to you, I don’t really know what the right thing to do is. We’re pleased with both of them.”

Gosek, looking for help from anyone, asked, “You got any suggestions?”

The Lakers home-and-home series with RIT saw, naturally, both goalies get a start. Scott played the first game in Rochester and won, 5-2, making 34 saves. Oswego jumped out to a 4-0 lead on goals by John Duco, Tony DiNunzio, Ron Patrick, and Jean-Simon Richard, with two of them coming on the power play. After the Tigers tried to claw their way back into the game with a pair of goals, DiNunzio’s second of the night in the third period clinched it.

The next night in the Romney Fieldhouse once again saw the visiting team win as Leonhardt took the loss, 5-3, making 27 saves. The teams initially traded goals as Andy Rozak tied it at one and Jocelyn Dubord tied it at two. Oswego fell behind 4-2 before Dubord scored on the power play. RIT clinched it midway through the third.

Other Key Match Ups

First place Fredonia beat first place Utica, 4-3, in overtime. Kraig Kuzma scored the first two Fredonia goals sandwiched around two Utica tallies. After Utica took the lead in the third period, Matt Zeman tied it up with an extra attacker with eight seconds left in the third period. Jim Gilbride got the winner in overtime. Rick Cazares needed only 18 saves for the win. Fredonia’s record now stands at 13-1-1.

Plattsburgh beat Curry, 4-1. Shane Remenda scored first, and after Curry tied it up, the Cardinals got three unanswered goals by Rick Janco, Joe Gori, and T.J. Cooper. Craig Neilson made 27 saves.

Brockport scored an impressive 3-2 victory over Elmira. Chris Cantara got the Golden Eagles on the board first in the opening period. Elmira scored two second period power play goals to take the lead. Brockport didn’t cave in and midway through the third tied it on a Chris Koras power play goal. Mark Digby scored the game winner with 1:05 left. Andy Reynolds needed to make 34 saves to get the win.

Elmira didn’t fare much better against Geneseo, as the Ice Knights won 5-1, despite being outshot, 39-22, thanks to Brett Walker making 38 saves. Geneseo jumped out to a 3-0 lead on goals by Mathieu Cyr, Dan Schofield, and Trent Cassan. Elmira broke the shutout, but Mitch Stephens and Mike MacDonald continued the Geneseo scoring.

However, Geneseo couldn’t beat Hobart earlier in the week, losing 4-3 in overtime. MacDonald gave Geneseo a 1-0 lead after one. Hobart then came out quickly in the second period scoring 25 seconds and 1:24 into the period. MacDonald’s second of the night tied it at two after two. Again, Hobart came out quickly, taking the lead 14 seconds into the third. Stephens tied it up, but the Ice Knights couldn’t hold on in overtime. Derek Jokic got the start and made 31 saves.

The upset of the week was actually a tie. Cortland knotted up Utica, 1-1, after overtime, despite being outshot, 45-16, including 5-2 in the extra period. The Red Dragons took a 1-0 lead late in the first period on a Kevin Watters goal. Matt Meacham took over the game turning aside Utica shot after Utica shot, ending up with 44 saves. It appeared Cortland would pull out the win until they shot themselves in the foot. Nate Gagnon was called for a holding penalty and eight seconds later Nate Graves was called for boarding. Utica took advantage of the two-man advantage, tying the game with 1:19 left.

Potsdam’s mini-streak came to an abrupt end with a pair of 4-2 losses at the hands of Manhattanville. In the first game, Potsdam came back from a 2-0 deficit with a pair of goals by Greg Lee before succumbing. The second night saw the Valiants jump out to a 3-0 lead before T.J. Sakaluk and Lee scored late in the second period, but the comeback fizzled. In the useless stat category, both nights Manhattanville was whistled for 13 penalties for 34 minutes while Potsdam got called for 11 with 22 minutes.

Down The Homestretch

With the exception of four games, all of which are played in the upcoming week, it is conference match ups from here on in. Four weeks left in the regular season, and the remaining half of the SUNYAC schedule will be played. Strap yourself in, and enjoy the ride.

Fredonia, obviously, is in the driver’s seat. Some are still waiting for the second half collapse, but as I noted in an earlier column, you may not want to hold your breath. Things are different for the Blue Devils this year. Perhaps the talent isn’t as great, but this team is looking more and more like the great Fredonia teams of the 1980s.

How does coach Jeff Meredith think this team compares to those title years? “These guys really, really like each other a lot and enjoy each other’s company,” he said. “Those guys did back then, too. Another thing is our depth is good now. And we have guys willing to play roles much like we did then, and they are accepting roles. That’s a lot of having a successful group — having guys buy into things.”

Fredonia opens up the second half hosting Buffalo State. They don’t do much hosting in the second semester, but they don’t have to make the North Country trip in the dead of winter. After they host Plattsburgh and Potsdam, first place could come down to their game at Oswego on February 11.

Oswego has lost only three games this year, but two of them are in conference. Even more importantly, one is against Fredonia, which will go a long way towards a potential tie-breaker. Being two games behind first, it seems Oswego has to run the table for a chance at first place.

Coach Ed Gosek tends to agree. “That’s the way we looked at it,” he said.

The Lakers have set themselves up for such a scenario. “I think one thing that has really helped us is getting three weeks off at Christmas time,” Gosek said. “A lot of teams come back early. Last year we were in the Norwich tournament and it was coming off when we were struggling at home against Potsdam and Plattsburgh right before the break. This year we purposely had the 14 games the first semester, and we only have 11 the second semester. We can focus in a little bit more. We can really concentrate on what we want to do. We can settle on small short term goals to finish out.”

They can do that mostly at home. “They are all home except Geneseo and Brockport,” he said. “We feel good playing at home.” They will have to, especially when they play Plattsburgh and Oswego in their attempt to run the table.

Speaking of Plattsburgh, which is on a five game winning streak, they are now starting to come around. Most of their games are on the road, however, and they must grab the four points against Potsdam and Cortland before facing Oswego to have any chance at moving up in the standings.

Geneseo has been a bit inconsistent recently, but their first half conference play was strong, and after the Brockport game, they are home up until the final weekend. Every weekend they will have a key game — Fredonia then Oswego then Plattsburgh. It will be like a final exam for the Ice Knights every week.

Potsdam has been playing strong recently, and if teams don’t pay attention, the Bears very well may be home in the play-in round. Brockport is also a team that can only be taken lightly at your own peril, and could very well play the spoiler role.

A joyride it will be for the next four weeks.

SUNYAC Short Shots

Fredonia’s Matt Zeman’s 2.13 points per game is second in the nation … Geneseo’s Mike McDonald’s eight power plays is tied for first in the nation … Oswego unleashed 50 shots on net in a 4-0 victory over Hamilton … Plattsburgh let up just 13 shots in their 4-2 win over Wentworth … Cortland’s 6-3 loss to Hobart resulted in seven power-play goals including all of Cortland’s scores … With two games left between the two conferences, the SUNYAC leads the ECAC West, 25-17-6.

I Don’t Get It

The game winning goal stat is perhaps the most useless stat in hockey. At least the way it is recorded now, it makes absolutely no sense. Even baseball, which has never met a stat it didn’t like, got rid of the game winning RBI years ago, and they even did a better job calculating it.

When someone scores a game winning goal, that tells me they did it in the clutch, under pressure, and rose to the occasion. However, the way it stands now, you never know the circumstances.

A team could take a 9-0 lead in the first period. Then, the opposing team could turn things around, and score eight goals in the next two periods. Guess what? The guy who scored that ninth goal back in the first period when most thought it meant nothing, gets credited with the game winner. That skater could have been some fourth liner who finally got some playing time because the game appeared to be a blowout. He probably got kidded for the goal on the bench. Sure, it shows that every goal counts, but it is not a game winner.

The player who fights through three players, rushes towards the net, and bangs one home with seconds left in overtime, scored a game winner to be lauded.

Here’s my rules for a true game winning goal. It must be scored in the third period or later. No exceptions. It may preclude important goals in 1-0 games, but in the first two periods, you don’t know it’s going to be a 1-0 game. The goal must be the final lead change without being surpassed later in the period. So, if the goal makes it 4-3 and the team wins 5-3, then the fourth goal is a game winner. However, if the goal makes it 4-3, the team takes a 6-3 lead, and it winds up 6-5, then nobody gets credited with a game winner.

Make the game winning goal stat a true measure of the players who come through in the clutch.

Otherwise, I don’t get it.

Game of the Week

We got plenty of time to pick conference games, though the Potsdam at Plattsburgh game would be the pick if we went that route. Therefore, let’s go with one last non-conference match up — Middlebury at Plattsburgh. This is another non-conference game that has loads of history between the teams. Middlebury has faltered a lot recently, and Plattsburgh is playing well, but be assured when they clash at Stafford, they both will be playing hard.