This Week in SUNYAC

The Red Dragon Is Breathing Fire

If the SUNYAC season were to end now, Cortland would be hosting a playoff game. Not just in the playoffs, but hosting the first round.

This from a team that hasn’t had a winning season (which they currently do at 11-9-2) since 2001-2, the same year they last hosted a postseason game. To top it off, since December, the Red Dragons have lost just once (8-1-1), and that defeat was when first place Plattsburgh scored with 45 seconds left in the game.

When Joe Baldarotta took over, the team was coming off an 8-14-3 season, finishing next to last in the SUNYAC at 3-8-3. They started out slowly, going 3-8-1, as the players and coach needed time to adjust to each other.

“I didn’t have anyone here who was my own guys,” Baldarotta said. “I had to work with what I had. It took me quite awhile to figure out what type of style we were going to play. Were we going to be a finesse team? A skilled team? A tough team? An energetic team? We’re still not the most skilled team, but I know we are playing the style of game that is meant for us.”

That style is a hard working team that never gives up. Seven of the 11 victories have been come from behind wins. In some cases, Cortland has been down by a lot.

Against Buffalo State, they were losing 3-0 and won the game 5-3. They were down 3-1 to Lebanon Valley before winning 5-3. Castleton was leading 2-0, but Cortland won 4-3. Potsdam had three chances to put Cortland away, leading 3-0, 4-2, and 5-3, but the Red Dragons escaped with a tie. This past weekend, Brockport scored first, but Cortland won 4-2. And in perhaps the most dramatic come-from-behind win yet this season, Geneseo led 4-2 when Cortland scored four unanswered goals, including two shorthanders, to win 6-4.

“That’s been happening to us all year,” Baldarotta said. “Everyone was telling us when I got here we were the bottom of the SUNYAC. But, what I didn’t want was to ever give up on a hockey game. It’s a never say die attitude our guys have. I love it. I truly believe that in the games we lost, it was just a matter of running out of time.”

Leading the way for Cortland is the reliance on junior goalie Mike Mistretta, who offers a steady performance in goal over the more emotional Ben Binga. Mistretta has played in 18 games this year with a 3.25 GAA and .897 save pct.

Up front, three players have double digit goals, Jarrett Gold (12-10-22) who’s a freshmen, Frank Rizzo (10-9-19), and Barry McLaughlin (11-7-18). They are also the team’s top three scorers. Behind them is defenseman Gerard Heinz who has 18 points thanks to 15 assists.

Cortland has to maintain their hard work and believe they are in every game.

“The good teams like Plattsburgh, Oswego, and Fredonia, have something that we don’t have. They can play poorly and still rake up the points. We don’t have that. We want to be the hardest team anybody can play.”

What they do have is currently a fourth place position, the last spot for home ice, tied with Buffalo State. The Red Dragons currently have the tie-breaker, but the two teams face off this Saturday in what will arguably be the biggest game for Cortland in years.

“I’m looking right at us,” Baldarotta said. “I don’t care about anybody else. I’ve never asked for help from other teams, because you never can expect it. I would love to have a home ice [playoff] game. I don’t really care who’s behind us or in front of us. We just have to worry about winning. We’re going to have to play everybody else anyway if we want to keep winning.”

First, Cortland has to face Fredonia to start their last regular season road trip of the year. Fredonia’s coach Jeff Meredith is very aware of Cortland’s success.

“They are on fire,” Meredith said. “Joe is obviously doing a great job there. Everybody is looking at Cortland and saying, gee, that’s the story of the league right now.”

SUNYAC Short Shots

Pat Street made 30 saves and lost the shutout with 1:22 to go as Fredonia upset Plattsburgh, 3-1 … Matt Nichols scored twice as Cortland defeated Brockport, 4-2 … Jeff Aonso scored in overtime to give Fredonia a come from behind 3-2 victory over Potsdam … Geneseo’s Trent Cassan scored two power-play goals within 26 seconds but it wasn’t
enough as Cortland scored four unanswered goals to win, 6-4, with Patrick Palmisano notching two of them … Plattsburgh took a 3-0 lead and never looked back beating Buffalo State, 5-2 … Nick Lynch and Tyler Soehner each got a pair of goals as Buffalo State beat Potsdam, 5-1 … Rich Zalewski got two goals and two assists to give Oswego a 4-0 lead, and then the Lakers barely hung on for a 5-4 win over Geneseo … Oswego pounded Brockport, 9-2, with Ryan Ellis getting the hat trick as well as two assists, Peter Magagna scored a pair of goals, and Brendan McLaughlin added four helpers.

Game of the Week

Three teams. Three games. One spot.

That’s the story of this weekend as Potsdam, Geneseo, and Brockport are fighting it out for the last playoff spot. Those three teams all play each other for the final three games of the final two weekends. Destiny is in each one of their own hands.

Meanwhile, Cortland and Buffalo State both need to be concerned they don’t fall into a slump and drop behind two of those teams

First, let’s look near the top of the standings. This year, the upper half is settling out a bit earlier than in the recent past. Despite losing their first league game, Plattsburgh is still three points up in first place and they already own the tie-breaker against Oswego.

Oswego is also three points ahead of Fredonia; they play each other on Saturday. Despite the importance of the game, Fredonia is realistic about the ramifications.

“The defending national champions are three points ahead of us with three games to play,” Meredith said. “I don’t know how much of a chance we have moving up. We just want to play well. The thing with the SUNYAC is just get in. And hope you’re playing at your best at that time.”

The key Cortland at Buffalo State game was mentioned above. So, let’s get into the two games of the week as Potsdam travels to Geneseo and Brockport.

The Bears hold the edge, one point up on the Ice Knights and three ahead of Brockport. However, Potsdam is slumping as injuries are taking a toll. After stunning Manhattanville, Potsdam has not won a game, going 0-4-1. Worse, some of those games were heartbreaking collapses. Can Potsdam put all that behind them?

“It’s nice being in the driver’s seat controlling your own destiny,” Potsdam coach Aaron Saul said. “If we win out, then we’re in, and if we don’t, then we get knocked out. We knew at the beginning of the season, we may be in this situation, and we’re happy we are. We’ve been up and down all year, so now we have to get it done.”

“The players they have up front are very talented,” Saul said of Geneseo. “I feel they can score at any time. It’s going to be a very difficult game.”

“No different than playing everybody else,” Geneseo coach Chris Schultz said of Potsdam. “Expecting an up and down game. We’re looking more towards what we’re doing. We can’t worry about whether they break down. We have to worry about not breaking down.”

If Potsdam survives Geneseo, they will be sitting pretty, but that won’t make things easier the next night against Brockport.

“Obviously, their record doesn’t show how good they are,” Saul said. “I think they are an extremely good hockey team. It could be their last chance for their seniors to make the show, so they are going to be a scary team to face.”

The wildcard for these teams is Plattsburgh. All three have to play the Cardinals one more time, and whether any of them can steal a point or two could ultimately decide who gets in the playoffs.

“Everybody loves to play Plattsburgh,” Schultz said. “Our guys always look forward to going up against them just because they are traditionally a good team. Everybody loves to play good teams. If we can somehow pull one out against Potsdam, and then back it up against Plattsburgh the next day, then we’ll be in good shape heading into the playoffs.”

It may be a cliché, but Schultz is correct when he said, “The old one shift at a time. You can’t think about the scenarios. The only thing you can worry about is yourself, and that’s the approach we’re taking.”

On The Periphery

After the Super Bowl was over, my father-in-law, exactly one week before his 89th birthday, called me. He had no rooting interest in the game. Yet, he was excitedly talking about the amazing fourth quarter.

“Gee, I’ve never seen anything like that! That was something else!”

We hear all the time about the bad side of sports — the drugs, the cheating, the criminal activity — that we sometimes forget about the good side.

If a soon to be 89-year-old man can still get as excited as a little child after watching a sporting event, you’ll be hard pressed to convince me that sports do not have their proper place in our society.