Most USCHO writers provide their midseason reports, reviews, and rewards in their last column before the holidays. Me? I’m doing it in my first column back from the holidays. Why? No reason except I sat down in front of the computer realizing I have no idea what I was going to write about. I was able to come up with three.
Best Team: No doubt, it’s Oswego. Some people were concerned–perhaps overcritical–when the Lakers got off to a relatively slow start, losing to Utica and Elmira, after defeating Carleton in an exhibition game and Utica, to start out at 2-2. Since then, Oswego ripped off an eight game winning streak before dropping a tough overtime game to Geneseo literally in the last second, then bounced back for three wins in a row.
It was no surprise to Oswego coach Ed Gosek that his team started out slowly. “At the beginning, we were not very good,” he concedes. “We were trying different things. Giving people opportunities. Using different lines. We’re a young team. In the past, we were spoiled with a lot of upperclassmen.”
Oswego is now 12-3 overall and sit in first place in the SUNYAC at 6-1. The Lakers are averaging over five goals a game while giving up just over 2.5. They have the best power play at this point (29.2%) along with the top four overall scorers in Ryan Woodward (17-14–31), Ryan Ellis, Jocelyn Dubord, and Brendan McLaughlin. As if that isn’t enough, they have the top three freshmen scorers–Ellis, McLaughlin, and Peter Magagna. Don’t let all that offense fool you. When you have Ryan Scott in net with a league leading .912 save percentage, you can win the close ones, too.
The Lakers have a tough schedule to start out the new year with. After taking another week to rest, they host Hobart then hit the road for games against RIT and Hamilton. Afterwards, they resume conference play for the remainder of the year with five of those seven games on the road.
It might not be easy for Oswego in the second semester, but look for them to end up on top of the heap before the playoffs begin.
Most Surprising Team: Another easy pick. It’s Buffalo State. No one quite knew what would happen to the teams with new coaches, especially those at the bottom of the pack. For the Bengals, it’s a case of getting better and better as the weeks go by.
Buffalo State is not only in a strong playoff position at the midway point with a 4-3 conference record tied for fourth place, they are six points ahead of the first non-playoff spot. With seven games left, barring a complete collapse, the Bengals will be seeing the second season.
As they grow, they have had some stumbles. They beat Brockport twice, split with Cortland, defeated Marian on a Wisconsin trip, and lost tough overtime contests to Geneseo and Fredonia. However, they also got blown out by St. Norbert, 6-1, and even worse to Oswego, 10-1.
Their highlight so far came after their lowlight. After dropping two games to Neumann, in which they were completely outplayed, they did the near impossible–defeating Plattsburgh and Potsdam on the road. That was followed by a split with Lebanon Valley for a 7-8 overall record. Sean Burke is third in conference in overall goals with 12.
Their second half schedule is light. They play two at Johnson and Wales and then play entirely within the conference with five of those seven games at home providing them an almost sure bet of holding onto a playoff spot.
Buffalo State coach Nick Carriere knows what is like to slump in the second half of the season. “Being at Fredonia where they have had some second half slumps, I know how that happens,” he said referring to his years as an assistant coach there. “It’s a hard thing. We’ll focus on our conditioning efforts. Work hard on that. We’ve concentrated on that since September. When we get back, we have a pair of games against Johnson and Wales, and then we got Fredonia and after that the conference schedule starts with successive weekends. Everything happens really quick.”
Who knows, if their conditioning efforts pay off, maybe the first round of the playoffs will be held in Buffalo.
Most Disappointing Team: This is a tie between Brockport and Potsdam. Both for the same reason. They both had huge recruiting classes the year before, and this year, with a full season of adjustment to the college game under their belts, expected to have the rebuilding strategy pay off. This had not been the case.
If it wasn’t for Cortland’s dismal season, Brockport would be in last place. Instead, they are one point ahead of the Red Dragons with their only conference win coming at Cortland. Brockport has one nonconference victory against Southern New Hampshire. That’s it in the “W” column as they are 2-11-1 overall.
They have no scorer in the top 30, let up 4.86 goals a game while only scoring 2.57, have a meager 13.1 power play pct. and only kill off 73.5%. Their only highlight is goaltender Devin Ramasawamy who sits third overall with a .895 save pct., a number attributed mainly due to a large amount of shots given up because he has a 4.46 GAA.
It doesn’t get any easier for the Golden Eagles. They return this year hosting Lebanon Valley and Hobart. They travel to Suffolk and Nichols which could bring some good news before starting the second half of conference play.
Potsdam brought in just a few new players this year, relying heavily on their past roster to get them back to the elite of the SUNYAC. So far, it hasn’t worked. Inconsistent goaltender and some of the worst defensive giveaways and lapses have resulted in a disappointing 3-8-4 overall record, and more importantly just 2-4-1 in conference play placing them in the last playoff spot, only three points ahead of Brockport.
The Bears have had their moments, tying Geneseo twice (but those were the nonconference match ups) and beating Norwich. Their top players Ryan McCarthy, T.J. Sakaluk, Pat Lemay, and Mike Taylor have continued to shine, and the Bears continue to be very strong on the power play (27.2%).
However, they let up 4.33 goals per game. Neither Vince Cuccaro nor Rob Barnhardt have been able to prove they can carry the team in net. They have shown greatness at times, but those times are all too few.
To make matters worse, Potsdam has a “bear” of a schedule in the second semester. They host number two in the nation Manhattanville twice and play the US Under-17 Team in an exhibition game. Plus, their last four conference games are on the road.
If Brockport should end their disappointing results and Potsdam does not, the Bears could find themselves out of the playoffs.
SUNYAC Short Shots
Plattsburgh won their own Cardinal Classic by easily beating Skidmore, 8-1, with eight different goal scorers then beating Trinity, 4-1, with four different goal scorers … Plattsburgh then got hammered by Norwich, 7-3, where once again they spread their goal production to one per person … Potsdam put themselves in a hole by letting up the first two goals to New England College in a 21 second span. After falling behind, 4-0, they mounted a comeback, with three straight goals (a shorthanded and power play tally by Ryan McCarthy and a power play goal by Pat Lemay) before losing 6-3.
Game of the Week
It’s January which means there are a slew of SUNYAC vs. ECAC West matchups. This week, we see five of them. Brockport and Cortland both host Lebanon Valley while Oswego and Brockport both host Hobart and Fredonia travels to Utica.
I’m going with the Hobart at Oswego game for no other reason than it matches up the highest ranked combination. Oswego is currently number four in the USCHO.com poll while Hobart is number seven.
Having said that, there are two other games worth keeping an eye on. I personally am very curious to see how the Fredonia at Utica game turns out, and Plattsburgh at Babson could be a very interesting and exciting contest.
Life Is Good
While down in Asheville, N.C. for the holidays, I took my three nieces ice skating. Being in North Carolina, despite the Carolina Hurricanes located two hours away, one wouldn’t expect too much from the local populace when it comes to ice sports.
Asheville did at one time have a professional hockey team. When my parents first moved there, they had the Asheville Smoke who played in the UHL. That team went defunct after four seasons and after a two-year hiatus were replaced by the Asheville Aces in the Southern Professional Hockey League. That lasted just one year, as they went under before this season.
Yet, despite this small town’s inability to support professional hockey, surprisingly they love their skating. During the holiday week with school out, the Civic Center had no less than six public skating sessions per day. And they were packed. The one I went to had to stop letting people in, and the line waiting for the next session was extraordinarily long.
To make matters worse, the rink is tiny. They claim the sheet of ice measures 185×85, but it appears smaller than that. If you were able to skate, you didn’t have much room to stretch your legs out. Nonetheless, it was encouraging to see this southern town enjoy their ice skating.
The only drawback was the lack of a hot soft pretzel anywhere in the area.