This Week In The SUNYAC: Dec. 15, 2006

Midseason Report

Just like that, the first semester is done. And with that, we can get an early look at how right and wrong the preseason predictions were.

Not too much of a surprise at the top of the order where Oswego and Geneseo sit one-two, respectively, though I picked the Ice Knights to finish third. The Lakers completed the Fall undefeated for the first time in their history. However, like any team with high aspirations, Oswego coach Ed Gosek is not totally satisfied.

“We’re pleased with the no lose part,” Gosek said. “But, there have only been a few games where we played well for all three periods. I think the players understand that and try to improve. They are not complacent.”

So, what are the areas the team needs to improve on? “Special teams. We need to continue to improve there,” Gosek said. “Chemistry — try to finalize some of our line combinations for the stretch run.”

Three players certainly have some good chemistry. Brendan McLaughlin has 14 goals and 17 assists for 31 points, Ryan Ellis also has 17 assists along with 10 goals, and Garren Reisweber has 12 goals while Peter Magagna has 13 assists.

Just imagine what happens if Oswego makes those improvements.

Geneseo has been a little bit of an enigma. You can’t argue with a second place standing and a one-goal loss to Oswego is nothing to be ashamed of. They also split with Neumann who has proven to be a very good team this year and beat Plattsburgh. However, they continue to struggle against ECAC Northeast teams, losing to UMass-Dartmouth and Curry.

Most importantly, Geneseo has done better than I expected considering the constant coaching turnover every year. I guess by now, it’s considered business as usual. Derek Jokic continues to be the guy in net with a 3.09 GAA and .908 save pct. Mitch Stephens has not slowed down a bit, getting an amazing 30 assists in the first 15 games. Mike MacDonald has 11 goals followed by Trent Cassan with nine and Mathieu Cyr with 8.

What is a surprise at the top is the team that is missing — Plattsburgh, who I had finishing second. The Cardinals certainly have had a roller coaster season so far. They went a stretch of five games without a win, including getting just one point in four straight conference games. Yet, they beat Middlebury the first time they played them and lost by a goal the second time, they barely lost to Norwich, and they tied Oswego. The pollsters still believe in them, as they have them ranked 15th in the nation despite a 5-5 record. And, despite the fact that right now they are in the playoffs by just one point.

Their coach, Bob Emery, also believes in his team: “The only thing I don’t like is the most important thing and unfortunately that is the results. I thought we played well enough in every game to win. We had some frustration early in the year that caused us to grip sticks harder and not play loose, and that effects how you play.”

The goaltending has struggled, though Emery doesn’t blame them. Though he acknowledges there were some goals they should not have let in, he concedes that no one would be noticing if his team were scoring more goals like they should. No one has double digit goal totals, as the scoring is spread out amongst the entire team.

At the bottom of the order, no surprise seeing Cortland in last, as we had them picked just one spot higher. However, the Red Dragons do seem to be on the verge of something bigger. At least, that’s how the season started thanks to the discovery of goaltender, Ben Binga. However, with his meltdown in the last weekend of conference play came the team’s meltdown, culminating in Binga sitting home while Cortland got embarrassed by Castleton State as none of their remaining three goalies could do a thing to stop the onslaught. Binga has to now ask himself, is this a team sport or an individual sport?

Like the top, there is a surprise in who is not on the bottom — Brockport. Not only are they not on the bottom, they are kind of not in the middle either, sitting tied for third place, though only one point ahead of two other teams. The Golden Eagles are a classic glass half full, half empty scenario.

Take the last weekend of SUNYAC play. On the one hand they came away with two points on the Western New York swing which is nothing to sneeze at. However, they had solid leads in both of those games — one very late — that they couldn’t hold onto. So, do you praise them for coming away with two points on that road trip or do you bemoan the fact they blew two victories?

Coach Brian Dickinson seems to have the proper perspective for his team:
“We’d like to be a little better than 5-6-4. But, the reality is we’ve made significant strides in our program. The guys have bought into what we want to get accomplished. Day in and day out we ride them hard; we’re well conditioned. We have our moments were we’re not very good, but we seem to be able to weather the storm.”

Fredonia and Potsdam are right where I expected them to be and Buffalo State almost is. As expected, Fredonia has been trying to find a goaltending solution while Potsdam’s goalies have struggled to be consistent.

It looks like the Blue Devils are going to settle on Pat Street who has played in most of their games with a 2.92 GAA and .910 save pct. Neal Sheehan has been doing most of the scoring with 8 goals and 9 assists, Matt McKeown has seven goals, and Steve Albert has 11 assists. Those are overall numbers. In league play, Fredonia has the most anemic offense, scoring only 14 goals in seven games.

Meanwhile, the Bears have been getting no help from their netminders with a miserable 5.09 GAA for Vince Cuccaro and 4.02 GAA for Rob Barnhardt. To be fair, they have at times been let down by defensive mistakes. The freshmen have helped out in scoring as two lead the team: Luke Beck (6-9–15) and Connor Treacy (6-8–14) followed by familiar names, seniors Ryan McCarthy (5-6–11) and Adam Gebrara (6-4–10).

Buffalo State has not played up to the expectations set last year. Currently, they are out of the playoffs, but with such a tight grouping, they can still very easily make a solid run in the second half. However, Sean Sheehan needs to improve his numbers (4.04 GAA and .885 save pct.) and though Jason Hill has been a great asset in scoring (9-15–24), the Bengals are going to need a lot more offensive power to pull them back to last year’s level.

Morrisville got their feet wet in NCAA Division III hockey during the first semester. They have held their own. They’ve only let up five or more goals in four of their games, and never have let up double digit goals. That’s more than can be said for other SUNYAC teams. And, they even beat a future conference foe, Brockport, 2-1.

The Mustangs are letting up a lot of shots on goal, and only the great play of Cody Williams (.914 save pct.) and Travis Moore (.908 save pct.) is saving them at times. However, they work hard, never let up, and most importantly are learning what it takes to play at this level and what type of players they are going to need to recruit in the future.

SUNYAC Short Shots

Oswego got 55 shots against Johnson and Wales and went 3 for 8 on the powerplay in their first game, a 9-1 win, as three players got a pair of goals (Ryan Ellis, Rich Zalewski who also got three assists, and Brendan McLaughlin) … In the 15-0 Oswego blowout over Johnson and Wales with the first goal coming 11 seconds into the game, the Lakers got 53 shots on goal, went 7 for 12 on the powerplay, and had two players with hat tricks (Matt Whitehead and C.J. Thompson), Peter Magagna with a pair of goals, and Tony DiNunzio got five assists … Half the goals in Buffalo State’s 4-2 victory over Lebanon Valley were shorthanded as the Bengals got two of them … Buffalo State scored their two non-shorthanded goals 34 seconds apart … D’Arcy Thomas got two goals in Buffalo State’s 7-4 win over Lebanon Valley … Neumann outshot Fredonia in overtime, 5-3, but the teams had to settle for a 5-5 tie as the Blue Devils went 3 for 10 on the powerplay … Geneseo had trouble getting started coming out of the locker room as they let up a goal 15 seconds into the first and 32 seconds into the second in an 8-2 loss to Curry as Chris Kestell scored both goals … Plattsburgh scored the first six goals of the game in their 6-2 win over Williams … Geneseo wrapped up its 8-3 win over Skidmore by scoring their final two goals 28 seconds apart … Brockport outshot Morrisville, 41-15, but needed a shorthanded goal to put the game away, 3-1.

Game of the Week

Only two teams are in action over the break, both hosting tournaments. Both very good tournaments.

Plattsburgh is hosting their traditional Cardinal Classic with a solid field consisting of their first day opponent, Connecticut College, Babson and Neumann. Nobody is under .500 and two teams (Plattsburgh and Neumann) are ranked nationally. It will not be easy for anyone to come away with two wins from that field.

“We always strive in the past to have the toughest non-league schedule, and this year seems to be the toughest,” Emery said. “Connecticut College is better. Neumann is better. Babson is doing well. That makes our tournament very tough.”

“Connecticut College likes to play a strong defensive game and try to hang around and be there at the end,” Emery said about the team he faces Friday. “We played them a couple of years ago [in the first round of the Cardinal Classic]. We were lucky to come away with the win [in overtime].

“We’re going to have our hands full.”

Oswego is putting on what they hope will be an annual holiday tournament, the Pathfinder Bank Oswego Hockey Classic. They, too, have a solid field consisting of New England College who plays the host, Elmira, and St. Thomas.

It is because Oswego has a rare East-West crossover in this tournament that it gets my nod for the Tournament of the Week, though you can’t go wrong no matter which one you attend.

“I give our booster club credit,” Gosek said. “We used to have a tournament, but that fell by the wayside. They really wanted to do it right. First, it’s nice for the college to have a tournament in our new Campus Center. Second, it’s nice for the community. We got four quality teams. They’re quality programs, and that’s what we wanted to get for this tournament.”

Schools usually arrange their own tournaments, so they get the easier opponent the first night. However, don’t bet on New England College (4-3 and received some votes in the national poll) being a pushover.

“Tom Carroll always does a great job preparing his teams,” Gosek said. “Every game against them always seems to be close, one-goal games, and I expect the same thing this year.”

On The Periphery

On September 27, 1907, race car driver Lawrence Smelzer was killed competing in a 24-hour race at Morris Park, N.Y. Afterwards, two women showed up to retrieve his body.

Both claimed to be his wife.

Life is full of surprises. This season has certainly seen its share of some very interesting surprises, which of course has made it a whole lot of fun, even if coaches and prognosticators no longer have much hair left.

Hopefully, during this holiday season, the surprises won’t be as shocking as you open your presents.

Have fun, enjoy family and friends, be safe, and I’ll see everyone in the new year.

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