SUNYAC Season Preview

Patterns are meant to be broken.

For the third year in a row, after years of relative stability, a number
of coaching changes occurred in the SUNYAC.

In Potsdam, Aaron Saul replaced Glenn Thomaris, who left the school.
Earl Utter left Morrisville and took a job coaching the women’s team at Cortland,
another SUNYAC school. Brian Grady replaced him. Speaking
of Cortland, Tom Cranfield took a different job within the athletic
department, and an experienced veteran, Joe Baldarotta, was hired.

However, one pattern was broken — Geneseo was not among the
schools that changed coaches. Chris Schultz becomes the first returning
coach for the Ice Knights in four years.

Oswego has been following a pattern in recent years. You know it: win
the SUNYAC regular season title, get upset at home in the conference
playoffs, miss out on a chance to go for the national championship, and
have disgruntled fans call for the head of coach Ed Gosek.

However, that pattern, too, was broken. After completing the first two parts
of the above pattern, Oswego this time got an at-large bid to the NCAA
playoffs. They then ran the table and brought home the national
championship. I predict fan forums will be much quieter this year. . . .

Speaking of Oswego winning the national championship, it is the third
title won by a SUNYAC team in the past 16 years
(Plattsburgh in 1992 and 2001). ECAC West fans love to crow about how
their league is better than the SUNYAC. Yet, during that time span, the
number of national championships their members have won is exactly zero.

Then, there is my personal pattern. Every time a Division III national
championship final has gone to overtime, I have been in attendance.

However, the pattern was broken last year. While Oswego was scoring the
winning goal in overtime in Wisconsin, I was sitting at home in New York.

As for the upcoming season, expect the pattern of Oswego and Geneseo to
continue to be the top contenders. Plattsburgh certainly cannot be
counted out, but they had to do some more rebuilding than anticipated.
Fredonia will be difficult to predict, but they certainly will always be
tough to beat.

Speaking of rebuilding, Brockport will continue the momentum of the
massive effort begun four years ago. Meanwhile, Cortland
and Potsdam will undergo some major rebuilding efforts this year, but
are probably a year away from seeing results. Morrisville will be
entering the SUNYAC and will struggle as they continue to make the
transition from a junior college program.

And Buffalo State will continue to improve by leaps and bounds.
They have added a lot of depth to their team. Thus, expect them to move
into the realm of top contenders in the SUNYAC.

It used to be the North Country trip to Potsdam/Plattsburgh was the most
feared trip in the SUNYAC. That pattern may be broken as the most treacherous voyage may now be the long bus ride to the far western reaches of
New York State, where offenses may be left behind.

One pattern that is sure to continue is another exciting, close year of
SUNYAC hockey that’s bound to go down to the last weekend of play to
determine playoff spots and seeding.

So, without further ado, my predictions:

Oswego State Great Lakers

Coach: Ed Gosek, fifth season overall and at Oswego (78-25-11)
2006-7 overall record: 23-3-3
2006-7 SUNYAC record: 11-1-2
2006-7 SUNYAC finish: First
2007-8 Predicted finish: First

“When we had our exit interviews and end of year meetings, we asked them
to come back with three things: keep in shape, stay focused, and return
humbled and with humility.”

It is no surprise that Oswego coach Ed Gosek spoke those words. Though
he was talking about his players, it is as close to a self-description
as you will get out of Gosek.

No one has ever doubted Gosek exudes class. What some — or to be more
accurate, what some impatient fans who forgot what all the previous
great coaches failed to do — doubted was whether Gosek could lead the
Lakers to a national title. Well, you can’t doubt that either after
Oswego won two thrilling overtime games on the championship weekend to
take home the golden trophy.

“They’re self motivated,” Gosek said of his players maintaining focus
for a new year. “They got a little taste of it. With that taste, I
think they liked it. They want to have another successful season. They
know it’s going to be tough to repeat.”

It will be easier knowing virtually the entire team returns. The losses
are minimal in numbers, but not in talent.

“We didn’t lose numbers, but we lost quality,” Gosek said. “[Ryan]
Woodward was another coach, an extension of the coaching staff. When
someone needed to be called out, he was willing to do it. Sometimes,
it’s better when it comes from a fellow player than the coaching staff.”

Defenseman Ryan Koresky and forward Trevor Gilligan also graduated.

Returning are now five seniors and 14 juniors. If a team was ever set
up to repeat, this is it. Just take a look at those upperclassmen. It
all starts with goaltender Ryan Scott who like Gosek quieted his critics
with a great playoff run.

The team’s top five scorers (Brendan McLauglin, Ryan Ellis, Peter
Magagna, Garren Reisweber, and C.J. Thompson) from last year all return,
all of whom got double digit goals, with McLaughlin on top scoring 24
goals and 31 assists in 29 games.

And, if anyone knows how to grab a game by the horns and single handedly
win it for his team, it’s Reisweber who scored the goal that sent the
town of Oswego into delirium.

Defensively, Oswego returns Rich Zalewski, Francois Gagnon, Tyler Lyon,
Tyler Laws, and Mike Novak.

Gosek isn’t going to rely on his incoming freshmen, but they still can
contribute when called upon. They include forwards Chris Laganiere,
Josh Chamberlain, Tyler Sgro, and Joe Hall and defenseman Stephen
Mallaro. They also have senior forward Joel Kitchen who transferred in
from Canisius College.

“We’re going to need time to see how they do,” Gosek said. “They can
all play. We expect returning players to lead the way. What you get
out of the new players is a bonus.”

The season starts out tough: a home-and-home with Elmira, home games
against Plattsburgh and Potsdam, and on the road at Geneseo and Brockport.

“Our schedule is a tough schedule,” Gosek said. “You start out with
those six games, and it will quickly tell us where we stand.”

With determination, humbleness, and humility — and a ring — Oswego
already stands mighty tall.

Geneseo State Ice Knights

Coach: Chris Schultz, second season overall and at Geneseo (16-10-0)
2006-7 overall record: 16-10-0
2006-7 SUNYAC record: 10-4-0
2006-7 SUNYAC finish: Second
2007-8 Predicted finish: Second

Stability returns to Geneseo. After three different head coaches in
three years, Chris Schultz is sticking around for a second season.

However, he is going to have to deal with a huge change in his lineup.
All-American Mitch Stephens, the leading scorer for the Ice Knights all
four of his years, graduated. As did linemate Mike MacDonald, second in
points last season. Those are two huge pair of skates to fill.

Other graduates include Tyson Terry, Mark Schwamberger, Brett Bestwick,
and Steve Jordan, all players who were major contributors to the
explosive recent success seen at Geneseo, which included two consecutive
SUNYAC championships.

Good thing for Schultz he does have a number of top players who are
still wearing the Geneseo sweater. They include double digit goal
scorers Trent Cassan and Mathieu Cyr as well as Sebastian Panetta, Casey
Balog, Dan Brown, and Phil Rose. They also add transfer Kevin Galen, a
huge addition as he was the third leading scorer for Plattsburgh last year.

They also have a lot of talented blueliners returning such as Chris
Kestell, Steve Sankey, and Jeff MacPhee. Added to that corps is Casey
Smith, another transfer from Plattsburgh.

Perhaps the most important returnee is Derek Jokic who has more than
adequately carried on the strong goaltending set by Brett Walker, being
named to the first team All-SUNYAC last year.

As for the freshmen, Allan Charbonneau will add size to the defense. Up
front, Andrew Rygiel will most likely play on the line with Cassan and
Cyr. The top newcomer may be Daniel Sullivan who scored 89 points in just 55
games last year for the Ottawa Jr. Senators.

The early schedule may be in Geneseo’s favor. They open up with two
tough games at Neumann, but they are non-conference affairs.
Afterwards, they have a home-and-home against Morrisville. Then, they
get into the heart of SUNYAC play with four games that are certainly not
gimmes, but at least they — Buffalo State, Fredonia,
Oswego, and Cortland — are all at home. –.

If Geneseo jumps out to a good start, they will prove to themselves and
everyone else they are capable of regrouping after losing last year’s strong
graduating class.

They will also show that stability behind the bench does have its

Buffalo State Bengals

Coach: Nick Carriere, third season overall and at Buffalo State
2006-7 overall record: 12-12-2
2006-7 SUNYAC record: 6-7-1
2006-7 SUNYAC finish: Fourth
2007-8 Predicted finish: Third

Buffalo State made a major step forward last year in Nick Carriere’s
second year behind the bench. They hosted their first ever home playoff
game that gained so much attention the president of the school attended
amidst perhaps the largest crowd in Bengals’ hockey history.

Unfortunately, it ended in bitter disappointment after a thrilling
double overtime fight.

“Last year we had a good year and that left the guys hungry, losing in
our own rink in double overtime with so many opportunities to win,”
Carriere said. “I think that still sticks pretty deep in our guys
stomachs. As we begin to understand in Division III what it takes to
win some games, our guys get hungrier and hungrier.”

They lost just two top players to graduation from last year, third
leading scorer Mike DeMarco and goaltender Sean Sheehan. However,
Sheehan is a major loss as he was responsible for stealing many games
for Buffalo State throughout his career.

Entering this year, netminding will be the biggest question mark.

“We haven’t figured that out,” Carriere concedes. Kyle Gunn-Taylor has
the inside edge, but “Travis Moore will have an opportunity, and we’ll
see how it goes.”

While goaltending might be a question mark, albeit an important one, the front lines will not be. Returning are Jason Hill, D’Arcy Thomas, Johnny Duco, and Travis Whitehead. Add to that talented forwards Nick Petriello and Kerry Barchan as well as Utica College
transfer Nick Lynch.

“Those two [freshmen] guys right there compliment goal scorers on their
lines,” Carriere said. “We are a little deeper than we were last year
in scoring.”

Joe Curry, Shareef Labreche, and Paul Gagnon will help fill out the
lineup. Defensively, Jeff Mok, Mike Ansell, and Cody Cole will be the
key components.

The Bengals have been heading in the right direction ever since Carriere
took over. As he continues to bring in his players and fine tune his
system, it may be time for Buffalo State to be competing amongst the
leaders in the league.

“We have some little nooks to work out,” Carriere said.

Those little nooks may translate to large crowds being a regular
presence. And the president of the school just may want to get herself
a permanent seat.

Plattsburgh State Cardinals

Coach: Bob Emery, 19th season overall and at Plattsburgh (397-133-42)
2006-7 overall record: 14-8-6
2006-7 SUNYAC record: 6-4-4
2006-7 SUNYAC finish: Third
2007-8 Predicted finish: Fourth

There was a lot of sister kissing going on last year at Plattsburgh.
They had six ties, the most in Bob Emery’s 18-year tenure as head
coach. One reason for so many deadlocks is not being able to convert when it

“We want to try and take advantage of our goal scoring opportunities,”
Emery said of the improvements he wants to see. “Territorially, we do
well, but we have to finish off the chances we get.”

For Plattsburgh, all those lost points resulted in a disappointing third place finish, once again out of a bye position for the third year in a row They easily got past Brockport and Geneseo in the playoffs before losing to streaking Fredonia in the finals.

Another reason Plattsburgh did not attain the success most expect was
subpar goaltending.

“Second, get the timely saves,” Emery said of the other improvement goal
for this year. “Stats can be misleading as far as goaltending is
concerned. You have to get the right save at the right time.”

Chris Molinaro returns in net, but Karl Helgesson, a disappointment last
year, does not. Dennis Harrsch, who saw very limited action last season is also back.
Freshmen Simon LeBlanc and Bryan Hince will be given an opportunity to
grab the number one slot.

Most of the team returns for the Cardinals as they lost only two players
to graduation, Ryan Busby, the second in team scoring last year, and
Shane Remenda. However, also gone was their leading scorer, Pier-Luc
Belanger, who did not return to school after his stellar freshman year
and Kevin Galen who transferred to Geneseo.

That means Nick Rolls, Riley Hill, and T.J. Cooper are some of the
players who are back.

“We have a well balanced team,” Emery said. “No superstars. The
closest we have to an All-American is Nick Rolls.”

The freshmen line of Eric Satim, Kyle VanDermale, and Ryan Clarke have
been impressive in preseason.

Losing some top players and dealing with another young team could cause
some stumbling during the season.

“In the past, when we had a young team, and this year we have a young
team, playing tough games early on the road has hurt us,” Emery said.
“But, if you can get off to a good start and head home, the pressure is
off, and it’s an advantage.”

The first three games start out easy and at home — Morrisville twice
and Potsdam. But then, they play five tough ones on the road: Oswego,
Cortland, Buffalo State, Fredonia, and Elmira.

That first month of play and how well they convert their chances and get
the timely saves will go a long way in determining the type of season
Plattsburgh attains.

Fredonia State Blue Devils

Coach: Jeff Meredith, 20th season overall and at Fredonia
2006-7 overall record: 15-10-5
2006-7 SUNYAC record: 5-7-2
2006-7 SUNYAC finish: Fifth
2007-8 Predicted finish: Fifth

Predicting what Fredonia is going to do is like figuring out whether
Paris Hilton is going to wear underwear. You just never know.

They finished fifth last year, losing four of their final five regular
season games including the finale against Buffalo State at home,
causing them to lose home ice in the playoffs. Then they turned around
a few days later and beat Buffalo State in double overtime, shocked
Oswego in overtime, and stunned Plattsburgh in regulation time to win
the SUNYAC championship. All on the road.

“The thing to do is to work to be better every day,” Fredonia coach Jeff
Meredith said about keeping the playoff run momentum going. “Obviously,
we hit our stride at the right time.”

Fredonia lost a lot of key players — Kyle Bozoian, Scott Bradley, Kraig Kuzma, Joe Muli, Wil Barlow, and Don Jaeger — which could cause them to get off to
a slow start.

“We lost six guys that were big parts of our program that played 600
games,” Meredith said.

At least the Blue Devils’ top scorer last year, Neal Sheehan, returns
brining over 100 career points to the table. Steve Albert, Colin
Sarfeh, Bryan Goudy, and Matt McKeown also return.

Some of the new players they will have to rely include Jordon Oye,
possibly their top freshman. Andrew Hess, a 6’6″ forward, will start out playing with veterans James Muscatello and Adam Haberman.

“That’s a pretty strong line,” Meredith said.

Alex Morton and defensemen Chris DeBruyn and Steve Rizer will make

The goaltender situation is completely opposite. Last season, four
freshmen competed for the job.

“It’s settled where a year ago it was not,” Meredith said of the job in
front of the net. “I think it’s strong. We got Pat Street and Kevin
Amborski, two guys that can win hockey games, and they did last year,
Kevin down the stretch and Pat Street early in the year.”

“We got some things to teach them,” Meredith said of his young team. “I
think the way to top it is to just get better every day, understand how
hard we have to compete in this league.”

Expect Fredonia to get off to a slow start but finish strong and give
anyone they face in the playoffs fits. If that turns out to be wrong . . .
well . . . start deciding on Paris Hilton’s wardrobe.

Brockport State Golden Eagles

Coach: Brian Dickinson, 13th season overall (75-200-29) and 10th
season at Brockport (61-152-23)
2006-7 overall record: 7-12-7
2006-7 SUNYAC record: 3-5-5
2006-7 SUNYAC finish: Sixth
2007-8 Predicted finish: Sixth

Four years ago, Brian Dickinson had a plan.

“We almost hit rock bottom,” he recalls. “We basically gutted the
team. We went out and got 18 freshmen that year that we thought would
turn us around. We have 12 of them left.”

After the first year for that huge recruiting class, Dickinson took a
sabbatical for a year, and it set the plan back. He returned last
season, and was rewarded with Brockport’s first playoff appearance in a
very long time.

Now, those 12 left are entering their final year.

“To our seniors credit I think the light went on last May before we
left,” Dickinson said. “They all understand that they got 25 games
left, and if they don’t make the most of it they will look back and say
did I really let a good opportunity to help turn that program around
slip by.

“We really got to feed off the leadership of our seniors. If they just
continue to work hard, they have the talent to compete with a lot of
teams especially in our league. Our schedule is set up with eight of
our first 11 at home and five of our first seven league games at
home. Hopefully, we can generate some excitement here on campus and get
more people in the seats. Certainly, when we have a better than average
crowd, our guys feed off that and have had success over the last year,
and hopefully we’ll build off of that.”

A key senior to watch is Chris Koras who was last year’s leading scorer
with only two goals but 19 assists.

“Koras is a monster this year,” Dickinson said. “He’s focused. He
wants to get physical. He wants to get it done. He worked really hard
over the summer. When they see him working hard and taking the body and
doing all the little things, they all follow, and we’ll need him to
continue that.”

Other key seniors will be Gordon Pritchard, Steve Seedhouse, Rick Gates,
Jason Dolgy, Chris Brown, Tony Marinello, and Steve Wowchuck. Also,
don’t forget Dave McNab who transferred from Plattsburgh halfway through
last season. In goal, it will mostly be sophomore Todd Sheridan with
senior Greg Van’t Hof called upon often to provide Sheridan a rest.

Though the Golden Eagles will rely heavily on their upperclassmen, there
are a few freshmen that could contribute such as Gentry Zollars and
Justin Noble.

“Gentry is a great fit. I really like what he brings,” Dickinson said.
“Justin is a natural goal scorer out of the Midwest Junior League that
we hope once he adjust to the speed of our game mentally will produce.”

Dickinson’s long range plan panned out last year. Now, he hopes he can
take it to the next level. They have 25 games left to make it reality.

Potsdam State Bears

Coach: Aaron Saul, first season as head coach
2006-7 overall record: 5-19-1
2006-7 SUNYAC record: 3-10-1
2006-7 SUNYAC finish: Eighth
2007-8 Predicted finish: Seventh

Last season was a huge disappointment for Potsdam which resulted in a
last place finish. Glenn Thomaris left and the school hired Aaron Saul,
who was an assistant coach at Potsdam before holding the same job at
Elmira. Saul then brought in another former Elmira player, Darcy
Pettie, to be his assistant coach.

Saul cleaned house in Potsdam. Some players did not make the cut from
training camp. Twelve freshmen are on the team as only four seniors — Greg Lee, Lance Smith, Vince Tarantino, and Rob Barnhardt — were kept.

“They’ll have to show the way for the young guys, how to compete and
play every night,” Saul said.

Three of the new players are transfers, all forwards: Lindsey Boulter
(Northland), Nick Carelli (Morrisville), and Peter Vaisanen (Neumann).

As for the freshmen, keep your eye on forward Fraser Smith, as he may be
the best of the lot. Add in Spencer Noyes, Kevin MacLellan, and Colin
MacLennan and those four will make an impact right away.

The forwards will be led by returning veterans Connor Treacy, the team’s
second leading scorer last year, and Luke Beck. Missing of course is
Ryan McCarthy who graduated last year, as did Adam Gebrara. Pat Lemay
did not return. That’s a trio that will be sorely missed.

Defensively, it will be mostly returning players who see the playing
time. Smith and Tarantino will anchor the defense with Steve
Cornelissen and Jeff Zatorski playing significant roles. Four freshmen
will round out the blueliners.

All of this is moot if Potsdam doesn’t solve their goaltending woes,
which was the worst in the league last year.

“Our goaltending is probably the position we improved the most,” Saul said.

Thanks to Thomaris who left behind Rick Miller, a prized recruit. He
had to sit out last year due to his junior hockey participation. If he
lives up to his anticipated potential, Potsdam’s fortunes could take a
quick reversal this year.

The Bears will have to overcome an unfavorable schedule. They open the
season on the road for the first seven games, five of which are SUNYAC
contests. Then, after returning home for a pair against Morrisville,
they head back on the bus to the Babson Tournament.

“Definitely a tough task,” Saul admits. “But with many new faces, it
gets a team to know each other better when they are all together on the
road. I think we need that for a young team.”

Surviving that stretch will be hard enough, never mind trying to avoid
falling into a big hole.

“We have nowhere to go but up,” Saul said. “Our goal is just to put
Potsdam back on the map and make the playoffs and hopefully surprise a
few teams along the way.”

Anything can happen. But only if the goaltending improves.

Cortland State Red Dragons

Coach: Joe Baldarotta, 16th season overall (265-171-38) and first
season at Cortland
2006-7 overall record: 8-14-3
2006-7 SUNYAC record: 3-8-3
2006-7 SUNYAC finish: Seventh
2007-8 Predicted finish: Eighth

Last season, Cortland started out with some promise thanks to a 3-0
start. This was due to the standout play of freshman goaltender, Ben
Binga. However, it was soon discovered that Binga had a hot streak, and
this sort of hot streak was not conducive to providing the team with a
hot streak.

At the end of the season, coach Tom Cranfield decided to turn his
interim assistant athletic director job into a permanent one and stepped
away from the bench. Cortland then surprised everyone by hiring a big
name: Joe Baldarotta from Wisconsin-Stevens Point. Baldarotta’s
reputation as well as a national championship in 1993 instantly raised
Cortland’s status.

The hard task of raising Cortland’s performance as well as
respect on their own campus now begins.

“I’d love to get us some recognition somehow,” Baldarotta said. “We
don’t play in front of big crowds. I’d like to get us a nice fan base
that we’d like to be Cortland’s team and have them rally around us. I
think you do that by being a hard working blue collar team and have some
class. I think we’re starting to get that message across and our kids
are buying into that.”

Baldarotta’s system is going to be all about the team, not the individual.

“You know what, right now we have a real solid team as a team,” he
said. “I really don’t want to say too much about individuals right now.
I need them to first learn to play as a unit. We even took the names
off the jerseys so it is not as individual. We want to play as a team.”

That team is made up mostly of players returning from last year. The
biggest loss was Buddy Anderson, the team’s number four scorer last
year. Top returnees include top scorer Barry McLaughlin, Nick
Catanzaro, Gerard Heinz, Zach Dehm, Frank Rizzo, Frank Shackford, and
Nick Egan.

Only four freshmen are listed on the roster, defensemen Brent Fallon, Joe Leonard, and Justin Porpora and forward Jarrett Gold. Also new on the team is sophomore defenseman Craig Cole who transferred from Fredonia.

It will initially be a tough road for Baldarotta and the Red Dragons.
He did not have much time to bring in his own players, and he will need
to adjust to a new team not used to winning and a slightly different
style of hockey.

Even though Baldarotta did change hockey worlds by moving from east to west, he
did move from one diary state to another. Whether he prefers Wisconsin
or New York cheese, he does acknowledge there are some differences.

“There is a difference between western and eastern hockey,” Baldarotta
said. “I know there are little subtle nuances, and I have to learn the
differences. I’m really happy to be here. I really like it out here,
and I really like the way the kids are responding to me. It’s been a
really good experience.”

Wonder how he will feel the first time Binga blows up. . . .

Morrisville State Mustangs

Coach: Brian Grady, first season as head coach
2006-7 overall record: 7-10-0
2006-7 SUNYAC record: NA
2006-7 SUNYAC finish: NA
2007-8 Predicted finish: Ninth

Morrisville showed that success at the junior college level does not
immediately translate into success at the NCAA level. They had moments
during the season, but overall consistency was lacking which resulted in
a losing season. More importantly, only two of their wins were against
future SUNYAC opponents while three of those victories were against another
new program, Becker. A pair of victories against Plymouth State rounded
out the win column.

Transitions are never as easy as they appear. And, to top it off, their
longtime coach, Earl Utter, decided to leave before the transition was
completed, which means the players now need to transition to a new coach
who is transitioning to his first head coaching job.

“It’s a tough challenge in every way, shape, and form,” new coach Brian
Grady said. “The whole university is still in a phase moving from a
two-year school into a four-year institution. New programs are added
all the time. It seems like a new building is going up every year.

“Athletically, recruiting is going to be one of the biggest challenges
for us. We’re excited about it. We really pounded the pavement for the
first few months.”

The top recruit from that pavement pounding may turn out to be Rob
Sgarbossa. A lot will be expected from him offensively while he is also
a top defensive forward.

Dave Schultz is a big, strong forward with a powerful shot. Caylin
Reikoff may end up winning the goaltending duties especially since
Travis Moore did not return, though Brett Freese did.

A key skater returning is Evan Kernohan, who played forward in junior
hockey but has transitioned to defense for the Mustangs. The team’s
leading scorer from last year, Matt Damskov, is back along with Joseph
Herman, Andrew Alarie, Stefan Carnegie, Keith Williams, Brent Quinn, and
Samuel Forget.

“We have established the opportunity that the players are going to earn
their jerseys in practice every single day,” Grady said. “To this
point, I think we really established a great work ethic and intensity

This is the second year of Morrisville’s transition to the NCAA. This
means that they now will compete in the SUNYAC as a member, but will be
ineligible for the playoffs since they cannot compete in the NCAA
postseason. Ultimately, then, they are the de facto season long spoilers.

“We want everyone to leave the rink and say, ‘Man, that team plays
hard,'” Grady said. “We’re playing spoiler all year long. Our guys are
relishing the role of the underdog.”

Underdog spoilers during a transition. This could be interesting.