This Week in SUNYAC

Early Indicators?

In the past, my preview column was due after the SUNYAC Challenge was played. One would think it would be an advantage to see some of the teams play before making my predictions. However, the results of the SUNYAC Challenge were many times misleading, and relying on those games caused my predictions to be out of whack.

At least, that was the excuse I always used before. I may need to find a new way to explain my lack of accurate predictions this year.

Nonetheless, I no longer read too much into what happens in the SUNYAC Challenge. For instance, two years ago, Cortland swept both of their games, and looked good doing so, but they wound up finishing next to last. Meanwhile, Buffalo State lost their two games and ended up hosting their first ever playoff game. Not much of an indicator from those results.

Last year, Cortland looked very poor in their two losses, but turned it around and made the playoffs. Buffalo State looked very good despite losing to Manhattanville and then beat Cortland. Yet, they had an off year compared to the season before despite making the playoffs.

Understandably, then, I’m not reading too much into this year’s results. However, there are some indicators we can glean from the action this past weekend.

Cortland split their games, defeating Fredonia, 5-2, (Patrick Palmisano, Jarrett Gold power play, Greg Haney, Ryan Markell power play, Bryan Elfant empty netter) and losing to Geneseo, 4-1 (Markell shorthanded). They played very well on Friday outworking Fredonia the entire game, but got sloppy on Saturday as their power play, despite extensive time with the man advantage, went nowhere.

“I thought we got outworked tremendously today,” Cortland coach Joe Baldarotta said after the loss. “That’s not our style.”

It’s not, but the Red Dragons will probably suffer some inconsistency early in the season as all the new players learn how to gel and understand Baldarotta’s style and strategy.

Fredonia was the team that got outworked by Cortland in the 5-2 loss (Bryan Ross, Alex Morton power play). However, the next day the Blue Devils looked strong, defeating Buffalo State, 2-1 (Bryan Goudy, James Muscatello). The brightest spot for Fredonia is their freshman goaltender, Kody Van Rentergem. He made 23 saves in the win.

“He’s solid,” Meredith said. “He’s very composed. He’s a very smart goaltender. He just has a lot of poise.”

Van Rentergem isn’t a big guy (5-10, 160) but he plays his position and cuts down the angle so well, he appears larger than he is.

“We’ve always been fortunate to have good goaltenders,” Meredith said. Indeed they are, and combined with Pat Street will bode very well for the Blue Devils.

Buffalo State played typical Buffalo State hockey — close, tight games usually decided by one goal. Unfortunately, they were one goal short each time in identical 2-1 scores against Geneseo (Jason Hill) and Fredonia (Corey Park power play). Both games, the Bengals scored the first goal in the first period. Like last year, the hockey gods seemed to conspire against them.

“I thought we played a lot better this afternoon than we did yesterday afternoon,” Buffalo State coach Nick Carriere said on Saturday. “We got a lot of chances. We’re hitting crossbars. We’re hitting posts. The [winning] one was just a dribbler off one of our defenseman and off the goalie’s shoulder and in.”

Geneseo won the Challenge with two victories. First, they beat Buffalo State, 2-1 (Sebastian Panetta on the power play, Jeff MacPhee), and then scored three power-play goals en route to a 4-1 win over Cortland (Dan Brown and Jonathan Redlink scored twice each). The Ice Knights at times looked the Ice Knights of old. They moved the puck well, got creative on the power play, and used their speed to overwhelm Cortland.

Jeff Pasemko got the job done in net making 19 and 21 saves, respectively.

There are different perspectives on the approach to the SUNYAC Challenge, and perhaps that is why the results should be taken with somewhat of a grain of salt.

“It’s a nice measure of our league and to get a feel of our league,” Carriere said. “It isn’t hard to get up for a SUNYAC opponent even if it doesn’t count as a league game.”

Geneseo coach Chris Schultz said, “The reason we are in the SUNYAC Challenge is we want to play teams we are familiar with.”

“You want to get games under your belt,” Meredith said. “It was a good learning experience for us.”

“There’s a lot of questions,” Baldarotta said. “And I’m sure the other coaches have a lot of questions. Do these games really count? Do you want to show your style and strategy now before the conference games?”

One indicator we can definitely come away with is every time Buffalo State and Fredonia match up, we’re bound to get a close, tight, exciting contest.

“These two teams are pretty good rivals,” Meredith said. “They play each other tight. Both teams have very good goaltenders. How many one goal hockey games have we played against Buffalo State?”

Lacking Mental Toughness?

Two years ago, when Oswego won the national championship, they did it by winning two overtime games on the championship weekend, and lost only one extra session tilt in six tries the whole season. Since then, there’s been a disturbing trend.

They have played in four overtime games without winning a single one, losing half of them. Granted, their latest overtime lost was an exhibition game against the USA Under-18 Team.

In that championship season, they won seven one goal games decided in regulation when you count empty-net goal games as one goal contests. They didn’t lose a single non-overtime one goal game.

Since then, they’ve lost four virtual one goal games in regulation (again, counting empty- net goal games as one goal games), and won four of them.

You can do whatever you want with some stats and certainly if you are blowing teams out. That has to count for something. However, you can’t help but wonder if the Lakers since winning it all no longer has that same ability to get down and dirty and do what it takes to win a close contest.

This season started out the same as last year, a one goal loss to Elmira. They had nearly half the game to tie Elmira. Oswego originally took a 2-1 lead after letting up a power-play goal on tallies by Erek Selleck and Ryan Ellis, only to let up two more power-play goals, losing 3-2.

Two years ago, the team relied heavily on a very talented sophomore class. So often, we see teams rest on their laurels, expecting the opposition to lay down and/or games to be handed to them based on prior success. Is this what has happened to Oswego?

Maybe it’s just circumstances, but last year’s team seemed to have some grit missing from the year prior. Will this year be the same?

Game of the Week

In any normal start to the season, a Plattsburgh-Elmira showdown would easily be the game of the week, especially when they are ranked second and third, respectively, in the preseason poll. The game itself is enough to select it. Then, you toss in the official dedication of the newly renovated Stafford Ice Arena, and it should be a clincher.

“The rink looks great,” Plattsburgh coach Bob Emery said. “The players really love it. Other than the walls and ceiling, it’s a brand new facility. The community is excited.”

Other notable games include a home and home series for Buffalo State against Hobart, Fredonia playing at Utica twice, and Neumann at Geneseo for two. All have the potential to be good measuring sticks for the SUNYAC teams against their ECAC West rivals.

“Sound defense,” Schultz said is the key for his Geneseo team. “We have to make sure we’re taking care of our end of the ice.”

However, this is no ordinary week, for there are a pair of games that probably will garner more interest from the entire Division III hockey community than any other games this early in the season. They are, of course, Adrian at Potsdam.

Potsdam took the trip out to Michigan last year to help Adrian begin their program, and played to a split. The Bulldogs are returning the favor this weekend. Little did any of them know what would transpire between then and now.

Adrian, of course, accumulated an amazing record for a first year program, 26-3, and received national recognition when Mitch Albom pleaded their case on ESPN. However, they did not get selected to the NCAA playoffs, nearly causing the USCHO message boards to meltdown.

On the flip side, there was the criticism that Adrian played a cream puff schedule, being they were in the MCHA, a league with a number of below sub par teams. However, they did split with Neumann (the loss by a single goal), no slouch there, as well as beating the US Under-18 Team, which many good teams couldn’t beat.

Meanwhile, Potsdam, which started out very slow, turned things around by the end of the year. This season, the Bears are looking for a breakout season, and some pollsters agree.

Now, Adrian possibly has the competition their critics have been screaming for. Potsdam is looking to see if they can get off to a fast start against possibly one of the country’s elite teams.

“They’re a very good team, no question about that,” Potsdam coach Aaron Saul said. “Are they an elite team? You can’t tell after one season. But they are very good. I’m sure it will be the most looked at Division III games in the country. It should be a good test to start us off.”

Little did each team know the collision course they were on when they first met last year. Little did each team know the activity on the message boards these games would create. Little did each team know Division III fans would be passionately taking up sides to a pair of games on the first weekend of the season.

Hopefully, Potsdam will be adding a server or two to their
, because they may experience extreme overload with the number people trying to listen in.

On The Periphery

What did you do over the summer? One thing I did was try hot soft pretzels far and wide.

I had a business trip to Fort Wayne, Indiana in August. I decided to drive since I can’t stand dealing with the airline industry anymore. While there, I took some personal time, and drove to Inver Grove Heights, Minnesota to visit my brother. On the way, I stopped overnight in Madison, Wisconsin, then met my nieces at LaCrosse as they are starting to visit colleges.

While at my brother’s, we attended the Single A St. Paul Saints game. If you are ever in the area, make sure to attend a Saints’ game. It is the quintessential minor league baseball experience. All you need to know is the team is owned by Bill Veeck’s son and Bill Murray to know what type of crazy antics take place between innings.

Though I usually avoid pretzels at larger sports gatherings because they tend to be cooked too quickly and thus not really cooked at all, I took a gamble. After meeting Al Franken in the walkway campaigning for the U.S. Senate, I bought a pretzel. I was pleasantly surprised. It was quite good.

When I got back to Fort Wayne, I went to see their Single A baseball team, the Fort Wayne Wizards. It was dollar night — dollar beers, hot dogs, and soda. Though the pretzels were at their regular price, I still got one. It was excellent. Right up there with a Brockport pretzel. Next year, the Wizards move into a brand new downtown stadium. We’ll have to give their pretzel a try if I make my way back out there during baseball season.

A couple of weeks later, I was in New Jersey for business. Naturally, I looked up where their Single A team, the Newark Bears, were playing. Alas, they were on the road. Thus, my whirlwind taste tour of Single A baseball pretzels came to an end.

All told for that Midwestern trip, I put 2,257 miles on the rental car. That’s over 1,100 miles per pretzel. Well worth it for a good hot soft pretzel.