Chaos theory is all about finding patterns in a seemingly random situation.
The 2004-5 SUNYAC season may have seemed very chaotic, but in the end plenty of patterns existed. If it isn’t Plattsburgh in the top spot, it’s Oswego finishing first. Geneseo fails to get the job done in the final weekend. Fredonia’s great first half start is negated by a second half slide that moves them from first to third. Cortland finishes sixth as Brockport and Buffalo State do not make the playoffs.
The key drama on the final weekend took place in the three northern most schools — Plattsburgh, Potsdam, and Oswego. The Lakers laid claim to first place by shutting out Fredonia, 4-0, in a game dominated by the home team. A pair of goals by Gary Bowman and single tallies by Tony DiNunzio and Ryan Woodward along with 30 saves by Ryan Scott did the deed.
Meanwhile, in Plattsburgh, the Cardinals were handing Geneseo a 2-1 defeat. All the scoring came in the second period as Ben Kemp and T.J. Cooper scored sandwiched around a Mitch Stephens goal. Brett Walker made 33 saves.
Geneseo was still in the driver’s seat since they held the tie-breaker against Oswego. All the Lakers could do was win and hope. They handled their end of the bargain, beating Buffalo State, 5-3. However, Oswego needed a strong third period to put away the Bengals. Oswego took a 2-1 first period lead on goals by Trevor Gilligan and Bowman with Jason Sirois scoring between them for Buffalo State.
The Bengals tied it up in the second on Sean Burke’s goal. Jean-Simon Richard gave Oswego a lead, but just 11 seconds later Matt Samson tied it up at three heading to the third period. There, Oswego took control, outshooting Buffalo State, 20-5, scoring twice thanks to Don Patrick and Woodward. Scott made 25 saves for the win.
This clinched at least second place for Oswego. Now came the hoping part as the Lakers rooted for Potsdam to beat or tie Geneseo. The Bears made Oswego sweat it out in a dramatic overtime moment.
The first period saw an offensive onslaught. Just seven minutes into the game, and it was 2-2. Thirteen minutes in, and it was 3-3. Each time Geneseo scored, only to have Potsdam tie it up. The same thing happened in the second period as each traded a goal making it 4-4. Then, nothing more.
Into overtime and Potsdam had to win in order to grab home ice in the first round. A loss or tie didn’t matter. Meanwhile, for Geneseo, if they lost, they would finish third. If they tied, they would finish second, and a win would give them first. Potsdam seemed to be the hungrier of the two as they outshot the Ice Knights, 7-1, in the extra period. Plus, for the last 1:29, Potsdam pulled their goaltender, desperate for the winning goal, not caring if they lost the game.
Neither team got a goal in that nail biting ending. So, when all was said and done, Oswego took first place, Geneseo getting only one point on the final weekend, went from first to second, and Fredonia, despite beating Cortland the final game, finished their drop from first all the way to third. And, with Potsdam tying, Plattsburgh, despite having an uncharacteristic poor season, ends up hosting a playoff round anyway.
Patterns amongst chaos.
It’s time for me to select my picks for the top awards of this year’s season. Unlike my colleague, Scott Biggar, I will follow the league rules of only considering conference games.
Player of the Year. This is the toughest pick of them all. There are a few candidates to consider. You have to nominate the top scorer, Potsdam’s Ryan McCarthy (14-13–27), but most of his output came near the end of the season. There are a slew of Oswego players who could easily split the votes in the real balloting — Jocelyn Dubord, Andy Rozak, Don Patrick, and Ryan Woodward. I’m going to nominate one of them — Rozak. He may only have four goals, but his 20 assists and his dazzling plays with the puck is a joy to watch. You can’t go wrong with any of them, but I have to whittle it down somehow. The other two to consider are Jay Kuczmanski (Geneseo) and Matt Zeman (Fredonia). Kuczmanski led his team to a very successful year. Zeman, on the other hand, did not shine in conference play (5-10–15) as much as he did out of conference, and he all but disappeared down the stretch (zero points against Buffalo State, Geneseo, Brockport, and Plattsburgh) before he got hurt.
The goaltenders to consider are Brett Walker (Geneseo), Rick Cazares (Fredonia), and Ryan Scott (Oswego). I’m going to do something controversial here, and not consider Scott because initially he split duties with Rob Leonhardt, while Walker and Cazares carried their team’s load all the way.
The fact that Walker only lost one league game tells me all I need to know to make my pick. Geneseo built their team the past four seasons around him, he matured every year, and in his senior year, he stood tall every game. Most of the goals he let up were when his defense completely failed him. He hardly ever let a bad goal in, and never let one in when his team most depended on him.
Rookie of the Year. There are three candidates for this award. The top two rookie scorers, Oswego’s Tony DiNunzio (6-14–21) and Potsdam’s T.J. Sakaluk (12-9–21), and freshman goalie, Ryan Scott. I don’t consider Cazares because even though he is technically a rookie in the SUNYAC, a Division I transfer in my book cannot be considered.
Out of the forwards, I lean towards DiNunzio for two reasons. One, Sakaluk came into a situation where a lot of new guys were recruited. By default, he was going to get a lot of playing time, and a decent player is going to put up the numbers. DiNunzio on the other hand had to crack a loaded lineup. To do so and shine gets a lot of credit in my book. The other reason is even though Sakaluk is an excellent goal scorer, DiNunzio has the ability to take over a game. With his strong skating, mastery of the puck, and super shot, Oswego has no concerns if they give him the puck on a last minute rush with the game on the line.
Earlier in the year, this was an easy pick because Scott hadn’t settled in yet. Even though Scott is destined to be one of the top goalies the next three years, I’m going with DiNunzio as my pick. If for no other reason, he is just great fun to watch.
Coach of the Year. One week ago, this one was easy. It appeared Geneseo’s Brian Hills finally got the monkey off his back, and would win a SUNYAC regular season title after an extremely impressive victory over Oswego. However, once again the team didn’t finish the job. And, I never give this award to someone who doesn’t finish the job. Even though Oswego lost twice to Geneseo, they were the most consistent team throughout the year, and in the second half of conference play, only lost one game. A lot of that credit has to go to the coach, so Ed Gosek is my pick.
My Not So Serious Awards
Best Banner. This one goes to a sign hanging at the Ira S. Wilson Arena. It’s even funnier if you say it out loud: LAX Chicks Love Ice Knights.
Funniest Moment. This award also occurred at Geneseo. During the Oswego game, Geneseo’s Brett Bestwick lined up an Oswego player for a crushing check. The Laker moved out of the way just in time causing Bestwick to fly head first into the penalty box. His own penalty box, no less.
Oddest Stat. No question Brett Walker has been one of the most dominant goaltenders the past four years and one of the best Geneseo ever had. Arguably, he is one of the top goaltenders in SUNYAC history. Yet, for all his accomplishments, he has never gotten a shutout. He has a few more playoff games to change that.
SUNYAC Short Shots
Brockport’s Steve Seedhouse, who entered the Plattsburgh game with just one goal, scored a natural hat trick in the first period in a span of 7:32 … Plattsburgh outshot Brockport, 51-16 … Potsdam’s Ryan McCarthy now has 23 goals … Plattsburgh is the only SUNYAC team to finish the regular season without a tie.
Cortland (5-8-1, 10-13-2) at Fredonia (9-3-2, 15-4-4)
Fredonia could very well regret falling out of the bye positions. It is very difficult to win three straight playoff series especially when you have to go up against one and possibly two teams that got to rest for a week. Oswego’s coach Ed Gosek knows all about that challenge from last season.
“We had some goals at the beginning of the year to finish first or second to get the bye weekend, and get ourselves in a position where we didn’t have to play three weeks in a row,” Gosek said after the win over Fredonia. “Last year our players know we had a tough series with Cortland, a physical battle with Potsdam, and then having to go three weeks in a row up to Plattsburgh and losing both games in overtime. The effort was there, we just didn’t have the jump. I think the guys realize how important it was to have that bye week.”
Fredonia may realize that this year. But first, they have to worry about the first round.
After just playing each other in the last game of the season, Fredonia and Cortland square off in the play-in round. After impressive victories over RIT and Utica, extending their unbeaten streak to 15, the Blue Devils went 2-3-3 overall the rest of the way, including shutout losses to Brockport and Oswego.
Their offense is what tailed off. During the unbeaten streak, they scored less than four goals only three times. During the downturn, they scored less than four goals in all but three games. On top of that, though Matt Zeman should return to the lineup, but the question is will he be 100%?
However, Fredonia still has their defensive system and even more importantly, they still have Rick Cazares, who within the conference finished with a 2.67 GAA and a .909 save pct. He played every minute in conference games.
Cortland also did not finish very strong — 2-5-2 overall down the stretch. However, they too rely on a very good goaltender, Matt Meacham. His spectacular game against Plattsburgh for a win and an equally strong game against Potsdam that nearly resulted in a win shows that he is very capable of stealing a win.
The question is, can he steal three points from Fredonia? Even though the Blue Devils did struggle this semester, the only team they handled with ease throughout the year was Cortland. They defeated the Red Dragons, 7-3 and 6-3.
Fredonia is going to be at home. Fredonia has the confidence. And, even if you consider the goaltending match up a push, Fredonia, even on a bad day, has more offensive power than Cortland. I just don’t see Cortland taking a two-game series from Fredonia, even if they are able to get one upset out of this weekend. Even that, however, is going to be tough as I see nothing but a Blue Devil sweep here.
Potsdam (6-6-2, 10-12-3) at Plattsburgh (7-7-0, 14-11-0)
Plattsburgh a .500 team? Yes. Potsdam feeling more comfortable on the road? Possibly. Two playoff teams with huge questions marks in the net? Definitely.
The North Country rivals square off in what could be described as an odd series. Even though Potsdam pulled out all the stops to avoid playing on the road, the fact is they have beaten Plattsburgh twice when not at home (3-2 in the PrimeLink and 6-5 in conference play). Plus, the Bears conference record on the road is 4-2-1 while they are 2-4-1 at home.
“We won a lot of road games this year, so we’re comfortable in our maroon jerseys,” Potsdam coach Glenn Thomaris said. “We beat them there when they were on a five-game winning streak.”
That defeat sent Plattsburgh spiraling into a five-game losing streak. However, the Cardinals know this is a new season. Thomaris knows that about his opponent as well. “They’re looking to wipe the slate clean,” he said.
Offense is not going to be a problem in this series. Potsdam is only one of two teams to score six goals against Plattsburgh, the only team to score six or more goals against Fredonia (they did it twice), and scored six goals against Geneseo’s Brett Walker. The Bears average a third best 4.07 goals a game in conference play.
Despite Plattsburgh’s struggles, they can still put points up on the scoreboard. “They can still score a load of goals especially if they get a good crowd raising the excitement in the place,” Thomaris said.
It’s defense and especially goaltending that is the big question mark this series. Potsdam brought in a lot of new players this year, and defense always takes longer to gel than offense. The Bears did improve as the year went on, but based on the results down the stretch, their defense still needs some work.
Plattsburgh’s coach Bob Emery hasn’t been thrilled with his defense either based on what he told the Press-Republican after the Brockport game. “We played bad defense in our own end,” he said. “Fortunately, we were able to generate a lot of offense and find the back of the net seven times. We need to play good defense in the playoffs and take advantage of our scoring opportunities.”
Then there’s goaltending, or lack thereof. Craig Neilson has not gotten the job done consistently this year and Tony Seariac will most likely not see any action. On the other end, the Bears were expecting Rob Barnhardt to come in and be the number one guy, but in his last game against Geneseo, he was pulled after letting in three first period goals. One has to wonder whether he will see any action as Vince Cuccaro has been stronger this year.
All their numbers are poor. Barnhardt ranks last in league play in GAA and save pct., Neilson ranks next to last in save pct., and Cuccaro is fifth in both categories.
Unlike the other series where two stellar goaltenders will do battle, this series will come down to who doesn’t get the poorer performance in net. It is the lack of consistency between the netminders that makes me believe this series has mini-game written all over it.