SUNYAC gets new look

You can’t tell the coaches without a scorecard.

Three teams sport new men at the helm, and the teams affected range from the champion to the non-playoff entities. After guiding Geneseo to their second SUNYAC title in school history, Brian Hills decided to join his friend, Wayne Wilson, at RIT as an assistant coach helping to guide that team in its Division I transition. Former Ice Knights star, Jason Lammers, was tabbed to take over the squad.

Meanwhile, the two teams that did not make the playoffs decided to change direction. One planned it a bit better than the other. Buffalo State’s Jim Fowler decided early in the off-season to take other opportunities within the institution. The Bengals looked down the Thruway and hired Fredonia’s assistant coach, Nick Carriere.

Brockport, however, made their change about as late as you want to. Brian Dickinson also took another opportunity within his school, and left with very little time to pick a coach, the Golden Eagles decided to promote assistant coach James Eccles as the interim head coach.

What does it all mean? The easy way out is for me to tell you in March. However, I don’t think my editors will allow me to do that. So, instead, I’m given the annual opportunity to make a fool of myself.

Coaching changes for teams that have struggled usually work out for the best, at least in the short term. Thus, I see one of those teams making the playoffs while the other continues to be left out. In the long term, those coaches will still have to struggle with the same hurdles their predecessors had to deal with — recruiting, motivating, strategy, and how much support they get from their school.

The last time a championship team changed coaches was when Oswego won the title in 2003 and George Roll went up to Clarkson handing the reins over to Ed Gosek. The Lakers didn’t repeat, but they were competitive despite some stumbles. The same will occur for Geneseo.

Speaking of Oswego, they will finish in first place again. This time, they will win the conference playoffs as well. But, Plattsburgh, Geneseo, Fredonia, and Potsdam will make their lives miserable along the way.

Oswego State Lakers

Coach: Ed Gosek, third season overall and at Oswego (37-15-6)
2004-5 overall record: 18-6-3
2004-5 SUNYAC record: 11-3-0
2004-5 SUNYAC finish: First
2005-6 predicted finish: First

Normally, losing a top flight goalie, especially after just his sophomore season, can be devastating for a team. Not so for Oswego. That’s because, despite standout Brett Leonhardt transferring to Neumann, Oswego had an even better goalie in Ryan Scott, the SUNYAC Rookie of the Year.

Scott kept getting stronger and stronger throughout his freshman campaign, and despite stumbling in the semifinals of the league playoffs to arch rival Plattsburgh, he helped lead Oswego to a first place finish. The Lakers only lost six games overall last year, but just four in the regular season.

If Scott continues to display that top form, then the rest of the league will continue to see Oswego at the top of the standings.

Granted, the Lakers lost a lot, including six of their top nine scorers from last year. However, coach Ed Gosek has a reputation for bringing in top talent, and with 16 incoming players, that reputation will be tested.

Helping to fill that offensive gap will most likely be forwards Brendan McLaughlin, Peter Magagna, Derrell Levy, and Garren Reisweber. Despite the losses, there will be a solid core of returning forwards. They are captain Jocelyn Dubord, Trevor Gilligan, Ryan Woodward, C.J. Thompson, and Johnny Duco. And let’s not forget about Tony DiNunzio, who was simply a pleasure to watch last year, and just as easily could have beaten out his teammate for SUNYAC Rookie of the Year honors.

On the blueline, four players return-Bryan Gent, Ryan Koresky, T.J. Manasterski, and Tyler Rivers. The newcomers to keep an eye on are Tyler Laws, Rich Zalewski, and Mike Novak.

As always the Lakers face a formidable schedule as they play 11 games against teams ranked in the top 15 last season.

A lot of times, sports is about the intangibles. Oswego has a huge intangible this year. It’s their last season in the venerable Romney Field House. There is something special about this old warhorse, and though they will be looking forward to moving into the brand new, and gorgeous, rink being built, what better way to say goodbye to Romney than a SUNYAC championship.

Plattsburgh State Cardinals

Coach: Bob Emery, 17th season overall and at Plattsburgh (368-114-35)
2004-5 overall record: 18-13-0
2004-5 SUNYAC record: 7-7-0
2004-5 SUNYAC finish: Fourth
2005-6 predicted finish: Second

When things aren’t going well for Plattsburgh, which is not often, they always seems to find a way to salvage a season. Last year they finished at .500 in the league and yet nearly won it all.

“We played better in the playoffs then we did in the season,” coach Bob Emery explains. “The key in hockey now is so much emphasis on the goalie. The year before, we had the hot goalie, and we won the championship. Last year, no question, Geneseo had the hottest goalie in the league, and they won the championship.”

Plattsburgh will once again rely on Craig Neilson, now a senior, for their goaltending needs. Ready to help him out will be freshman Chris Molinaro, who could make his mark early if Neilson falters.

Though there are a lot of new players, and standout Paul Kelly graduated, a lot of solid players are also returning. For the forwards, they include Ryan Busby, David Friel, Ben Kemp, Justin Rafferty, Jordan Smith, Shane Remenda, Bryant Wilson, and T.J. Cooper. Look for Mike Thomson, Deryk Whitehead, Kevin Galey, and Matt Raymond amongst the newcomers to make a contribution.

The Cardinals lost a bit more on defense as only four key blueliners return-Bryan North, Anthony Leccese, Jamie Wright, and Rick Janco. Shane McGarry and Nick Rolls will be relied onto fill the gaps as well as Ryan Burke.

Emery stays away from predicting which of the newcomers will make an impact. Or, for that matter which of the returnees he expects to lead the way.

“It’s just a matter of working hard and rolling four lines and six defensemen,” he says.

One item Emery will commit to is the team’s goal. Which for Plattsburgh is always the same each year.

“Our goal is to win the SUNYAC regular season and get home ice throughout the playoffs,” he says. “It’s hard to win the championship on the road.”

It’s also hard to win without a hot goaltender. If Neilson is back in top form and the Cardinals don’t struggle during the regular season, the road to the SUNYAC championship will go through Stafford Arena.

Geneseo State Ice Knights

Coach: Jason Lammers, first season as head coach
2004-5 overall record: 18-7-4
2004-5 SUNYAC record: 10-3-1
2004-5 SUNYAC finish: Second
2005-6 predicted finish: Third

It would be logical for a new coach taking over a championship team to be a bit nervous. The pressure to repeat cannot be escaped, adding stress to an already stressful transition to a new job. However, that doesn’t worry Jason Lammers. In fact, he appears to relish the situation.

“Our goal is to win the championship,” Lammers says matter of factly. “That’s what we’re here for. That’s our goal.”

The first order of business will be to replace goaltender Brett Walker, who at times single handedly carried the team. Again, Lammers is not worried.

“I have high hopes for the goalies this year,” he said. “[Freshman Jeff] Pasemko and [Derek] Jokic will be fighting for a starting spot.”

Sophomore Jokic saw playing time last year, appearing in nine games with a 3.07 GAA and a .891 save pct.

Though Geneseo will be hard pressed to replace the likes of Jay Kuczmanski and Chris Tarr, they return the rest of their top ten scorers, all of whom scored at least 20 points last year-Mitch Stephens, Mike McDonald, Brett Bestwick, Trent Cassan, Michel Bond, Dan Schofield, Mathieu Cyr, and their top scoring defenseman, Matt English. Couple that with the other returning defenseman Nick Onody, Steve Sankey, Eric Lawler, and Steve Jordan and it really might come down to whether Geneseo fills the goaltending role appropriately.

With all that firepower returning, it is no wonder Lammers is looking for an exciting season. “We look to have a high tempo, offensive team that’s looking to go right away,” he says.

The newcomers should help plug the remaining holes. Casey Balog will be a force for Geneseo at forward while Tyson Terry, a transfer from Wisc.-Superior, has a good understanding of the game. Brandon French may be small, but the forward packs a lot of skills. Chris Kestell and Sean Hayden will help out on the blueline.

“There’s a high standard set here,” Lammers says. “As an alum and defending champions, there is pressure.”

Okay, Lammers acknowledges there is some pressure. However, solve the hole left by Walker and Kuczmanski, and Lammers will indeed brush off the pressure like lint off a jacket.

Fredonia State Blue Devils

Coach: Jeff Meredith, 18th season overall and at Fredonia (249-180-39)
2004-5 overall record: 16-6-4
2004-5 SUNYAC record: 9-3-2
2004-5 SUNYAC finish: Third
2005-6 predicted finish: Fourth

The Blue Devils always seem to be the most unpredictable team in the league. Pick them near the top and they finish near the bottom. Pick them near the bottom, like I did last year, and they finish near the top. Almost at the very top. So this year, I’ll just pick them in the middle.

“Last year we were two points out of first place,” Coach Jeff Meredith lamented. “And we finished third.”

“We have high expectations of ourselves,” he continued. “Last year whet our appetites. We were disappointed how it ended, but that motivated us to work harder in the off-season.”

With some of their top heavy hitters returning, including forward Matt Zeman and goaltender Rick Cazares, Meredith took a different approach to his recruiting.

“We worked at pinpointing our incoming class,” Meredith says. “It’s one of the smallest recruiting groups in Fredonia’s history, but we felt we didn’t need any others.”

That class includes just three forwards (Shawn Walker, Richard Boyce, and Bryan Goudy) and three defenders (Kurt Hogard, Jeff Sylvester, and Colin Sarfeh).

Along with Zeman, one of the nation’s top scorers last year, Kraig Kuzma, Jim Gilbride, and Neil Sheehan return to add firepower. Captain Tom Briggs, hampered by injuries last year, returns in top form, along with Kyle Bozoian. Oh, and be careful hoping you get a power play against Fredonia-they scored nine shorthanded goals last year.

The team will, however, miss their fifth leading scorer from last season, forward Chad Berman whose career after just one season came to an end due to a medical condition.

On defense, Fredonia lost more than up front. Chris Wells graduated and Brian Kolesar and Nick Malina left the team. Don Jaeger, Evan DiValentino, and Steve Albert return, but after that, Fredonia will be using freshmen and players who didn’t log many minutes last year to fill the gaps.

Rick Cazares will have to continue to play solid in net as he did last year after transferring from Michigan Tech. Even if he falters, Fredonia can call upon able backups in Rob Stanley and Simon Maignan.

“Ultimately, we want to win our league,” Meredith says. “However, you can’t get to that all in one shot. You have to break the season in pieces.”

How consistent those pieces are, an issue Fredonia has had in the past, will determine how predictable or unpredictable their season is.

Potsdam State Bears

Coach: Glenn Thomaris, 18th season overall (306-163-21) and fourth season at Potsdam (35-41-7)
2004-5 overall record: 10-14-3
2004-5 SUNYAC record: 6-6-2
2004-5 SUNYAC finish: Fifth
2005-6 predicted finish: Fifth

I know I sound like a broken record, but Potsdam’s season will depend on whether they take care of their goaltending situation or not. Rob Barnhardt is back, to try and make good on the expectations the team had, but he fell short on, when they brought him in last year.

Vince Cuccaro is back for his third season to help out Barnhardt if necessary, and newcomer Justin Summerfield joins the Bears after two years at Broome Community College.

The last two seasons saw coach Glenn Thomaris have a massive recruiting effort. The effect is seeing 19 players return for this season. On the top of that list is forward Ryan McCarthy, last year’s SUNYAC Player of the Year, and defenseman Mike Taylor.

T.J. Sakaluk, who made a case for SUNYAC Rookie of the Year last season, is back along with fellow forwards Pat Lemay, Adam Gebara, Greg Lee, Kevin Tessier, Chris Brussa-Toi, Corey McAllister, and Ryan Mattison.

Returning blueliners include Ben King, Ryan Trimble, Dennis Colterman, Nic Bibic, Warren Sly, and Vince Tarantino.

With a large returning class, there are only four new players on the Potsdam roster. The aforementioned Summerfield, forwards Dan Quartucio from SUNY-Morrisville and John Rorison, and defenseman Lance Smith, perhaps their most prized newcomer, a transfer from Division I Robert Morris University.

Potsdam has good size and speed, and the one comment most coaches say about them, is they do not allow much room on the ice for their opposition.

The Bears struggled at the beginning of the last season with so many new players, but they got stronger and stronger as the year went on including some big wins and ties against nationally ranked opponents. They also had a knack for some exciting comebacks.

Consistency is a key in sports, and Potsdam will have a consistency advantage over other teams when it comes to personnel. However, whether they have consistency in net will ultimately determine whether the Bears get to experience any home playoff games.

Brockport State Golden Eagles

Coach: James Eccles, first season as head coach
2004-5 overall record: 8-16-1
2004-5 SUNYAC record: 2-11-1
2004-5 SUNYAC finish: Seventh
2005-6 predicted finish: Sixth

Last year, 17 new players wore the Golden Eagles’ uniform. Fifteen of them return this year with another 10 newbies joining the squad. Now, add in new head coach James Eccles, and it’s a complete mystery what Brockport will do this year. However, Eccles knows what his strategy will be.

“Brian Dickinson started a good philosophy bringing in a whole bunch of new players,” Eccles says. “With fifteen returnees, I’m not going away from that philosophy. Hard and tough up front. Trap defense in the back.”

That philosophy may all come down to goaltending. Despite the brief success of first year player Greg Van’t Hof last year, he is ineligible this season, and last year’s regular starter, Andy Reynolds, graduated. Thus, it comes down to freshmen netminders, two of whom will be fighting for the starting position. Both are capable of that role while having two distinctly different styles.

Devin Ramasawamy is good down low with quick feet. Matt Mateja, at 6-4, likes the stand up style.

“We got two goaltenders that are starters,” Eccles says.

Other newcomers Brockport will be relying on are forward Aaron Boyer, a big goal scorer, and defensemen Craig Carlyle and Mike Gershon.

Eventually, with all this influx of new players, Brockport is going to have to rely on veterans. They no longer have forwards Mark Digby and Brian Bauman and defensemen Brian Sargent, Ryan Shannon, and Ryan Marvin. Thus, they will have to turn to Chris Koras, the team’s third leading scorer last year, Ian MacLean, Ricky Gates, Gordon Pritchard, and Chris Brown.

“It’s a very young, aggressive team with a lot of energy,” Eccles says. “I’m going to use that to our advantage.”

That advantage and the effect a change in coaches tends to have should lead Brockport’s return to the playoffs after a long absence. That’s what Eccles would like to see, though he is setting his goals in a stepped pattern.

“Split with Manhattanville this weekend is our first goal,” he says. “Top five in SUNYAC by Christmas is our second goal. SUNYAC playoffs are our ultimate goal.”

Cortland State Red Dragons

Coach: Tom Cranfield, fifth season overall and at Cortland (29-45-9)
2004-5 overall record: 11-14-2
2004-5 SUNYAC record: 5-8-1
2004-5 SUNYAC finish: Sixth
2005-6 predicted finish: Seventh

With ten players graduated and the need to replace 13, the Red Dragons brought in 16 new recruits. The one characteristic that stands out amongst this incoming class is size.

“We’re really happy with the kids we brought in,” coach Tom Cranfield says. “We’re going to be a young, bigger, tougher team than last year.”

Bigger may be an understatement. How about defenseman Mike Egan listed at 6-5, 220 lbs. He, along with fellow blueliner Patrick Baumann, are products of the New York Applecore program. Cortland will be looking for these two to make an immediate impact. Another new big, tough defender is Drew Reynolds at 6-2, 195 lbs.

Want size up front also? You got it. Adam Lehman is 6-0 and 220 and is considered tough as nails but capable of putting the puck in the net. Lehman as well as Nick Catanzaro and Zach Dehm, a transfer from Division I Sacred Heart University, are the forwards that should make their presence quickly known. Another large forward, who also is from the Applecore program, is Chris Corso who stands at 6-2, 205 lbs.

However, despite all that size and new muscle, the biggest player of all will be returning goaltender, senior Mike Meacham. Without Meacham, all that size in front of him might not mean a thing.

“He’s our go to guy,” Cranfield says. “He’s phenomenal. It will be battle for who backs up Meacham.”

That battle will include junior transfer Cody Williams from SUNY-Morrisville.

Cortland did lose a lot, including last year’s top three (and top six out of seven) scorers, and even with a large class coming in, they will have to rely on the returning veterans such as captain Matt Schillace, Barry McLaughlin, and Mike Caruso. A tall order if they want to get back into the playoffs.

“Our goal since I came into the league is to make the playoffs, and then to host the first round,” Cranfield says. “We believe we have the guys to do it.”

However, he added, “We’re still hesitant to say what we got until we get a feeling on the new guys.”

Time will tell. And size may matter.

Buffalo State Bengals

Coach: Nick Carriere, first season as head coach
2004-5 overall record: 5-17-3
2004-5 SUNYAC record: 1-10-3
2004-5 SUNYAC finish: Seventh
2005-6 predicted finish: Eighth

While Brockport’s James Eccles may be keeping things status quo, Nick Carriere makes no secret that a new era dawns at Buffalo State.

“New culture, new blood,” Carriere states. “We’re doing everything brand new. We’re starting from a new beginning from everything to strength and conditioning to the practices we hold.”

Carriere saw that new attitude from his captains. “Already seen a lot of leadership out of them this year,” he says. “Since day one, they have been in my office this year. That showed me a lot. Showed me this year was important to them.”

It may be a new era for the Bengals, but they will be relying on a lot of veteran talent. The team’s top five scorers from last year return-Sean Burke, Mike DeMarco, Greg Pybylski, Sean Castagna, and Sean O’Connell. the team’s third leading scorer last year, returns as the captain this year.

Starting goaltender Sean Sheehan returns, and he will be helped in front of him by Jeff Mok, Brian Nicklas, Castagna, and O’Connell. Freshman Aaron Allor should prove to be an adequate backup to Sheehan.

There will be help from newcomers, and it’s a defenseman they may rely on the most. Cody Cole is strong and aggressive and will be one of the go-to guys as he possesses excellent offensive skills as well. Forwards Jason Hill, Paul Gagnon, and Jonathan Pietrangelo will be expected to contribute out of the starter’s blocks.

Carriere believes the devil is in the details. “All the little things are important,” he says. “We believe if we do all the little things right, everything else will fall into place.”

If they do all those little things right, they will reach Carriere’s ultimate goal.

“One of our longtime goals is to make the SUNYAC playoffs,” Carriere says. “We have the underdog status. We believe we can compete with anyone in this league by working hard.”

Nick Carriere plans on working to usher in a new era for Bengals’ hockey.