The Final Month
From January 23 to the final contest on February 21, there are 40 games left on the SUNYAC composite schedule. Of those 40, three are non-conference games and one is an exhibition. Thus, this is the final push to the regular season crown and playoff spots. No more breaks. No more excuses. No more second chances. It’s now or never.
The standings have essentially broken into three categories: Plattsburgh, the fight for second between Oswego and Geneseo, and the battle between five teams separated by two points. Then there is Morrisville, just itching to play spoiler.
However, that does not mean a second place team, being only four points back, cannot think about overtaking Plattsburgh. Nor does it mean one of those five teams fighting for spots fourth through eighth cannot think about going for a bye position. Overall, the standings are still close enough for anything to happen, so no one can relax.
So far, a lot has happened this year. Looking back at our preseason picks, a lot of those happenings is not what we expected. Plattsburgh is playing as we anticipated. So is Oswego, sort of. But certainly not Geneseo.
“There’s a lot of variables that goes into a team that wins,” Geneseo coach Chris Schultz said at the end of the fall semester. “Team chemistry — guys in the room that get along, have the same goals. When you win games it’s easy to get along. When you lose games, that’s when guys start pointing fingers. Being able to get off to a great start has helped the team build a great chemistry.”
Two teams obviously not performing like we expected are ones we also originally picked for home ice in the first round of the playoffs. Instead, they are both currently out of the playoffs. Fredonia and Potsdam will need to adjust based on what they have discovered to be their strengths and weaknesses in the first half of the season.
“It’s no secret we’re struggling to score goals,” Fredonia coach Jeff Meredith said. “You have two options. One is to try and score more and that’s not easy. Two is to buckle it down in your end, and that’s what we’re working on.”
In conference play, Fredonia scores 2.88 goals per game while letting up 3.12, which is also their overall defensive stat. Overall, on offense the number goes down to 2.31, the lowest in the league. However, the Blue Devils hope their non-conference schedule has them ready for the final push.
“We just finished playing six non-league games against pretty good teams,” Meredith said. “We did that to prepare ourselves for league play.”
Potsdam coach Aaron Saul also knows what needs to be done:
“We definitely have to be better in our own end. We have to cut down on our penalties. Most importantly, we need to cut down on the quality chances against us. We haven’t been letting up too many shots, but we’ve been letting up a lot of quality shots.”
Considering how little Potsdam scores in conference contests (2.75 goals per game, only beating out Morrisville, as well as having the second worst power play at 13.0%), they will definitely have to do even better in their own end, which is currently performing at the middle of the pack, allowing 3.38 goals per game.
On the flip side, Brockport is doing much better than predicted. Despite not having great statistics, they have only lost to one team (Cortland) whom they probably would consider a team they could beat. If you remove the blowout losses to Plattsburgh and Oswego, you realize their stats aren’t so bad after all. Which is why they sit in fourth place.
Buffalo State and Cortland are currently exactly where we predicted. Well, technically tied for fifth, but in the fifth and sixth spots. Buffalo State does have one huge positive that can help them in the second half — they have the best power play in conference games, a staggering 32.1%, and the second best penalty kill at 83.3%. That equates to a league best combined special teams (58.6%) and best special teams net of +11 which includes a league best three shorthanded goals.
Morrisville may be virtually out of a playoff spot, but they are one team no one wants to face. A tie against Oswego, a win versus Hamilton, and close losses to Manhattanville and Geneseo (in overtime), indicates a team you can’t take lightly.
Let the second half commence.
SUNYAC Short Shots
Jesse Adair and Cory Park scored two goals each and Nick Petriello notched three assists in Buffalo State’s 7-2 win over Johnson & Wales … The next night, Joel Sheppard scored the Bengals’ first two goals en route to a 4-1 victory over Johnson & Wales … Potsdam’s Todd Hosmer got two goals and an assist while Connor Treacy got three assists in an easy 8-1 win over Western New England … The next day, it was Anthony Proteau who got two goals and an assist as the Bears won again versus the same opponent, 7-2.
Patrick Palmisano and Jarrett Gold each scored two goals, but Cortland lost to Plymouth State, 5-4 … The next day Ryan Markell scored a pair, but Cortland lost again by one goal to Plymouth State, 4-3, in overtime … Brockport fired 53 shots, six in overtime, against Framingham State but had to settle for a 5-5 tie with Justin Noble scoring twice … Brockport beat Framingham State, 5-3, the next day thanks to two goals in a 1:41 span early in the third … Ryan Silveira scored the overtime winner for Brockport’s 2-1 win over Western New England … Brockport has an eight game unbeaten streak (6-0-2) … Conversely, Fredonia has an eight game winless streak, losing their last seven.
Game of the Week
Since we are now coming down the stretch of league play, I’m going to ignore the Plattsburgh at Middlebury game. No doubt, this game is most likely the one most fans will be talking about, but it is a non-conference affair, and it is time to pay attention to those contests that have so much on the line.
For this weekend, there is probably no game that epitomizes having so much on the line as the Potsdam at Fredonia match-up. This year has been disappointing for these two teams with results below expectations. Right now, neither team makes the playoffs as they are tied for seventh place. Thus, this game could go a long way in determining whether one of them makes the postseason or not.
However, with the standings so tight, Fredonia’s coach Jeff Meredith does not consider it a do or die situation.
“We’re two points out of fourth place,” he said. “How many years has our league come down to the last game? Pretty much every year it comes down to the end. We’re just looking to be playing our best hockey. And if that’s good enough, amen.”
On the other hand, Potsdam’s Aaron Saul does consider this weekend a must have weekend.
“You always go into a weekend wanting to win both,” he said. “For us, it is definitely a huge weekend. Probably the biggest weekend of the year. It’s always hard to come away with four points on the Buffalo-Fredonia trip, but we definitely need to this year. We want to come out of this weekend around fifth place.”
A good runner up choice is the Potsdam at Buffalo State game for the very same reason. The Bengals are just one point ahead of the Bears. Thus, Friday’s contest could also be just as important as Saturday’s game in determining which team ultimately makes the playoffs one month down the road.
On The Periphery
With much fanfare, anticipation, and historical significance, we have a new president. We all know the political ramifications as the press and media have been talking about that ad nauseam.
The important question to readers of this column is will the president be a good thing for our beloved sport of hockey?
President Obama is a big sports fan. So was President Bush. Unlike Bush, Obama never owned a professional team. Obama’s interests do not appear to be in hockey. Spending a lot of his childhood in Hawaii and Indonesia will tend to do that. We know he’s a big basketball fanatic, always engaging in pick up games. We also know he is a fan of the Chicago White Sox, and he would love to see a genuine college football playoff system.
But, I’ve never seen him wear a Blackhawks sweater nor attend a hockey game, especially not a college game like John Kerry did at the Frozen Four during his campaign four years ago. And, of course, we all know he is not even close to the hockey mom mentality of Sarah Palin.
So, it appears that despite this change in power bringing on significant changes to this country’s and world’s political and economic landscape, when it comes to hockey, there will be no effect at all.