Just The Opposite
Just as predicted — one series is an easy sweep and the other series goes to a thrilling mini-game.
The only problem is the series outcomes were the exact opposites of the prediction. The Cortland-Fredonia series, the expected easy sweep, went to overtime in the mini-game, while the Potsdam-Plattsburgh series, expected to have a mini-game, was never really a contest.
Plattsburgh’s coach Bob Emery got his boys to play a defensive style and work as a team, something they haven’t done for much of the year, and completely smothered the Potsdam offense. The Bears scored one lone goal which came so late in the second game it was barely even a consolation prize.
The much maligned Craig Neilson posted 114:22 consecutive minutes of shutout hockey as Plattsburgh swept into the semifinal round with 6-0 and 4-1 victories.
The defensive strategy meant that Plattsburgh took a little while before scoring, but once they did, they couldn’t be stopped. Anthony Leccese got the first one late in the first period. Then, seven minutes into the second, it was already 4-0 thanks to goals by Justin Rafferty, David Friel, and Bryant Wilson. Conor McDonough and Rafferty scored third period goals to wrap it up. Neilson made 23 saves.
Plattsburgh did lose something in this game — Paul Kelly, who went down hard after a goal and separated his shoulder. He sat out game two, and is day to day for the semifinal series.
The next night saw a steady stream of Potsdam players to the penalty box. Twenty-one penalties in all were called on Potsdam, giving Plattsburgh 14 power plays, though they would only score on one. That power play goal by Dave Young led off the scoring late in the first period.
Jordon Smith made it 2-0 early in the second period. Despite Plattsburgh outshooting Potsdam by huge margins, they only maintained that 2-0 into the third period. Ryan Busby essentially clinched the game with a shorthanded goal. Mark Stewart finally scored a goal for the Bears. Friel added an empty netter afterwards. Neilson only needed to make 18 saves. Vince Cuccaro started both games for Potsdam.
Plattsburgh coach Bob Emery summed up the series. “We took care of our scoring chances, something we haven’t done all year,” he said.
Silencing His Critics
There was quite an uproar leading into the playoffs when the All SUNYAC team was announced and Matt Zeman was on the first team. Many felt it was an undeserved selection due to his poor stats within conference and his second half performance.
When it comes to playoff time, that’s when you really get the true measure of a star. Matt Zeman put to rest a lot of the criticism he received when he single handedly helped Fredonia get past Cortland in the play-in round. He did more than just score 4 goals and 2 assists. It was the moments when those contributions came that mattered most.
In game one with the Blue Devils down 2-1 and killing off a penalty, Zeman scored an unassisted shorthanded goal with one minute left in the first period. Then, at 1:18 of the second period, he scored to give Fredonia the lead. The game was effectively over at that point. Jim Gilbride scored an insurance goal late in the period and Rick Cazares shut Cortland down the rest of the way en route to making 27 saves.
Steve Albert initially gave Fredonia the lead on the power play before Jeremy Nau and Kevin Watters, the later while shorthanded, put Cortland briefly in the lead.
Saturday night, Zeman assisted on the initial goal scored by Chad Berman past the halfway mark of the game. Cortland jumped into the lead on goals by Tim Earl and Matt Schallice. All three tallies were on the power play.
Zeman tied the game early in the third, but this time the momentum didn’t work. Schallice gave the lead back to Cortland only to have Gilbride tie it back up 17 seconds later. However, Tom Girard finally gave Cortland the lead for good with 2:07 left in the game.
To the mini-game they went and Cortland’s Barry McLaughlin scored 52 seconds in. As the game wound down, it appeared Fredonia’s second half collapse would be worse than most people expected. However, the man everyone was slogging on came to the rescue. Zeman, seemingly with a cape on his shoulders, took the puck, weaved through the defense and put it in the net unassisted to save Fredonia’s season with 12 seconds left.
Fredonia needed less than two minutes of overtime to win the series on a goal by Joe Muli. Assisted by … who else … Matt Zeman.
Plattsburgh (7-7-0, 16-11-0) at Oswego (18-4-3, 11-3-0)
The matchup so many were hoping for — the biggest rivalry in the SUNYAC. Plattsburgh vs. Oswego. Bagels and tennis balls.
Just as many hoped or feared, depending on which side you are on, Plattsburgh put it all together for the playoffs. Expect more of the same in the second round? Probably.
“We’re always concerned about them,” Oswego coach Ed Gosek said. “Just like in the regular season, whenever we play each other, you throw the records out. They are always good, tight games.”
However, Plattsburgh’s opponent will be a lot different. Oswego is more talented, has greater depth, and possesses superior goaltending than Plattsburgh’s first round opponent.
Within conference, Oswego has the second, third, fourth, fifth, sixth and ninth leading scorers. Definitely depth there. They love setting plays up as they have the top four assist leaders. Jocelyn Dubord, Andy Rozak, Don Patrick, Ryan Woodward, Tony DiNunzio, Jean-Simon Richard. They will all make you pay if you aren’t paying attention. To the tune of 5.07 goals per conference game.
“Oswego’s forwards are as good as any forwards in the country,” Plattsburgh coach Bob Emery said. “And they have the best goalie in the league.”
Which is an asset if the Lakers are not scoring. They have a league leading 2.57 goals allowed thanks to the emergence of Ryan Scott with a 2.51 GAA and .920 save pct. On top of all that, this series is being played in the Great Romney Fieldhouse.
“It’s always better to be in front of your own crowd and in your own building,” Gosek said. “I’d rather be playing here than at Stafford.”
Does this mean Plattsburgh has no chance? Not exactly. Craig Neilson has come on strong at the end of the season into the playoffs.
“The playoffs are a different type of game. I think it will still come down to goaltending,” Gosek said. “Last year, Neilson outplayed Tyson [Gajda], and the year before that, Tyson outplayed Neilson.”
Neilson may have struggled this year (3.09 GAA and .866 save pct. within conference play), but down the stretch he didn’t let up more than one goal in a game he started. Offensively, Paul Kelly, as long as he is able to play, will lead the team not just even strength, but on the power play as well with six extra man goals.
“They’re the team to beat,” Emery said. “It’s going to come down to goaltending.”
Goaltending seems to be the word of the series. There is another word in this great rivalry — emotions.
Fredonia (9-3-2, 16-5-4) at Geneseo (15-6-3, 10-3-1)
Speaking of a goaltending series, how about Rick Cazares vs. Brett Walker? They finished two and three in conference play in both GAA and save pct. and one-two in winning pct.
Then, up front you have Matt Zeman vs. Jay Kuczmanski. Zeman may have played better out of conference, but don’t tell that to Cortland. Meanwhile, Kuczmanski was tied for sixth in scoring with nine goals and 12 assists for 21 points.
The supporting cast is nothing to sneeze at either. Kraig Kuzma has ten goals and ten assists, while Jim Gilbride, Neal Sheehan, Chad Berman, and Kyle Bozoian are all in double digit points for the Blue Devils. Geneseo has eight players in double digits. Besides Kuczmanski, there is Mitch Stephens, Mike MacDonald (11 goals), Brett Bestwick, Trent Cassan, Michel Bond, Matt English, and Chris Tarr.
They split their season series, each winning at home, 5-2 for Fredonia and 4-2 for Geneseo.
Both teams faltered down the stretch, finishing lower than they expected heading into the final weekend of play. They met last year in the play-in round also at Geneseo. Fredonia took that series winning one game and tying the other, 5-3 and 3-3. It was Fredonia’s first playoff series win since 1997. Now, Geneseo is looking for their first series win since 2002.
This is a tough series to call for one reason and one reason alone. Which of these teams will show up each night? It’s easy to say whoever does takes the win. But what happens if they both do or they both don’t show up?
Goaltending, Geneseo has the edge with Walker. Offensively, Geneseo has the edge by exactly a goal per game. Defensively, they are even. Power play, again Geneseo has the edge, 24.0% success rate compared to 17.2%. Killing penalties they are virtually even except for one key stat. Fredonia has seven shorthanded goals.
On paper and the fact they are playing home gives Geneseo the edge in this series. But, as last year and the end of this year showed, with these two teams, one never knows what kind of performance you will get.