SUNYAC Season Preview

It wasn’t too long ago when the SUNYAC was stacked with talented goaltenders. Netminders like Brett Walker, Rick Scott, Craig Neilson, Sean Sheehan, Matt Meacham, Ryan Venturelli, Tyson Gajda, Greg Van’t Hof, and Ben Binga.

Now, there are a plethora of questions concerning goaltending for many teams. Plattsburgh lost Bryan Hince to the pros. Oswego is still searching for a solid replacement for Ryan Scott. Ditto for Geneseo after Brett Walker and Derek Jokic. Cortland, Buffalo State, and Potsdam haven’t really been able to settle on a go to guy.

“Everybody knows it comes down to good goaltending,” Geneseo coach Chris Schultz said. “The first thing a coach does is build from the net out, and this year our league lacks a lot of experience in net.”

“Part of it is recruiting,” Plattsburgh coach Bob Emery said. “Part of it is attributed to the kids and how hard they work and how hard they try to improve. It’s an educated guess. You evaluate the kids with what you see. Sometimes it works out and sometimes it doesn’t. I’ve been on both ends.”

Oswego coach Ed Gosek agrees: “Just because they put up the statistics and played well in juniors and prep school, it doesn’t mean they are going to play well in college. It’s not like forwards and defensemen where you can bring in 12-16 guys and see who comes out. You can’t bring in six goaltenders, so if you missed on your evaluation, you’re stuck.”

The three teams that seem to be sitting well with this position are either programs not noted for success or didn’t even make the playoffs last year.

The best goalie heading into this SUNYAC season very well may be Todd Sheridan of Brockport. The Golden Eagles rode him last year to one of their most successful seasons in school history. Fredonia has Pat Street and Kody Van Rentergem and Morrisville has Caylin Relkoff, two teams that ironically did not make the playoffs last year.

This potentially means 2009-10 could be wide open. Even with superior talent on the ice, inconsistent goaltending could mean enough strange results translating to some surprising standings.

“We all understand, you can have a great team and average goaltending, and you’re not going anywhere,” Gosek said. “On the flip side, you can have an average team and great goaltending, and go places. If your goalie isn’t in the 92-94 save percentage range by the playoffs, you’re not going too far.”

Thus, don’t be surprised if this predicted order of finish turns out to be complete malarkey.

Plattsburgh State Cardinals

Coach: Bob Emery, 21st season overall and at Plattsburgh (446-140-44)
2008-9 overall record: 25-5-0
2008-9 SUNYAC record: 14-2-0
2008-9 SUNYAC finish: First
2009-10 Predicted finish: First

Quick Take: The biggest shock last season was Plattsburgh getting bounced in the NCAA quarterfinals when most expected them to hoist the trophy in Lake Placid. Then, over the summer, another shock occurred: standout goalie, Bryan Hince, left after just two years to turn pro.

Suddenly, the team that had no issues in net has no answers in net. The Cardinals may have to rely even more so on their talented squad in front of the net.

“I know the name of the game is to keep the puck out,” Plattsburgh coach Bob Emery said. “We’re looking for good solid team defense. Not just in our own end. We also have to possess it in the offensive end. The more we possess it offensively, the less time the puck is in our own end. We have to carry the puck, make plays, and don’t turn the puck over.”

Empty Lockers: Besides Hince, Plattsburgh also lost other talented players such as their leading scorer Joey Wilson (24 goals, 17 assists, 41 points), Riley Hill (14-18-32), Nick Rolls (5-24-29), Ward Smith, Eric Greene, and Ryan Burke.

The Core: “We have four really big guys who have a lot of experience and have played together for a long time,” Emery said. “Dylan Clarke [16-23-39], Eric Satim [11-18-29], Phil Farrow [12-26-38], and Andrew Willock [6-8-14]. Hopefully, their leadership will play a role in helping the young guys learn what our program is about.”

New Gear: All eyes will be on the freshmen goaltenders Raphy Rossy, Josh Leis, and Ryan Williams.

“We’re very unique in that we have three guys fighting for one or two spots,” Emery said. “We don’t know how we are going to play it, whether we are going to go with one guy or split the duties between two.”

Other players to keep an eye on include forwards Patrick Jobb, Ian Delong, Matt Bessing, Chris Wieland, and Jared Docking and defensemen Paul Puglisi, Zach Hepler, and Cody Adams.

“The new kids are playing well in practice,” Emery said. “But to us a good lead is about four to five games. We look for consistency. It’s one thing to play well for a game, but we want them to be competitive in every game.”

Key Question: Isn’t it obvious? Whenever Plattsburgh had a solid goalie, they were able to play their style without any care, allowing them to dominate. However, when the goalie situation was shaky, they were unable to play their style of game no matter what the talent was on the ice, and they struggled.

Plattsburgh always reloads, but they need that one key ingredient. They will be tested throughout the year as they play as usual a tough schedule.

“Our schedule pretty much stays the same,” Emery said. “We like it that way. The tough schedule makes you better at the end of the year. And that’s where it counts. It’s not how good you are at the beginning of the year, but how good you are at the end.”

Mark Your Calendar Game: Nov. 7 versus Oswego.

How can you not pick the best rivalry in SUNYAC, and one of the best in Division III? With huge goaltending question marks for both these teams and this game coming so early in the season, it may provide a foreshadowing for which team could end up on top of the league.

Oswego State Great Lakers

Coach: Ed Gosek, seventh season overall and at Oswego (114-39-14)
2008-9 overall record: 18-8-1
2008-9 SUNYAC record: 11-4-1
2008-9 SUNYAC finish: Second
2009-10 Predicted finish: Second

Quick Take: At least based on Oswego standards, the Lakers have fallen short recently, missing out on the NCAA playoffs the past two years after winning the national championship. Their Achilles heel continues to be Plattsburgh.

Despite losing the large class that was the heart of the national title in their sophomore year, Oswego will continue to be stocked with talented, fast skaters who can put the puck in the net. They will still be solid defensively, but there is still a talent gap between them and Plattsburgh.

Oswego has not beaten Plattsburgh in their last 10 meetings (0-9-1), last winning on Feb. 3, 2006, and have never done so in their new Campus Center Arena.

Empty Lockers: Gone are Ryan Ellis (13-16-29), Brendan McLaughlin (8-20-28), Mark Lozzi (16-9-25), Matt Whitehead (9-10-19), Garren Reisweber (9-9-18), Derrell Levy, and Peter Magagna. Those are just the seven of the top nine scorers last year. There’s also Rich Zalewski, Kyle McCutcheon, Mike Novak, and Francois Gagnon, all defensemen.

That’s a whole lot of firepower, talent, and defense to lose and make up.

“Big effect on the coaching staff,” Oswego coach Ed Gosek said. “It’s not healthy to bring in a large number of kids. We want to get that number down to six to seven every year. It’s a more manageable number for that rotation.”

The Core: Their third and fifth leading scorers from last year — Eric Selleck (13-13-26) and Chris Laganiere (6-14-20) — are back.

“Selleck, the [SUNYAC] Rookie of the Year, we are expecting to help lead the way,” Gosek said. “Our three seniors [Neil Musselwhite, Brad Dormiedy, and Tyler Lyon] are not vocal, but they lead by example. Very good in the classroom. Very good in the weight room. We don’t want them to change. Be who you are, we tell them.”

New Gear: It is the performance of the 14 incoming freshmen and transfers that will play a major role in how far this team goes.

Justin Fox (34-40-74 in two seasons and ECAC East Rookie of the Year) and defenseman Kevin Huinink both come in from Salem State.

Newcomers include Jon Whitelaw, Ontario Junior Hockey League (OJHL) Player of the Year, Luke Moodie, OJHL scoring runner up, Paul Rodrigues, OJHL scoring leader the year before, Chris Ayotte, Chris Brown, Tyler Leimbrock, Chris Muise, and Matt Singleton.

“The new guys bring youthful energy and excitement,” Gosek said. “I think that energy revitalizes our returning group. They’ve been very good as far as attention to detail and work ethic. They’re clones. All decent skaters, good hockey sense, all good speed, all decent hands.”

Key Question: Goaltending will determine whether they can overcome Plattsburgh and return to the NCAAs.

“Probably will go with Paul Beckwith, our returnee, even though Kyle Gunn-Taylor has the most college starts when he was with Buffalo State,” Ed Gosek said.

Those are Oswego’s choices since Tim Potter, a transfer from Clarkson last year who Gosek went with down the stretch, decided not to return. They also have freshman Dan Jones in the mix who had a solid junior hockey career.

Mark Your Calendar Game: Jan. 8 versus Adrian.

If there was national TV coverage of Division III hockey, this would be one of the highest rated games in history. Everybody in D-III, both east and west, have been talking about this game since it was first announced.

Brockport State Golden Eagles

Coach: Brian Dickinson, 16th season overall (105-241-36) and 13th season at Brockport (91-193-30)
2008-9 overall record: 14-10-3
2008-9 SUNYAC record: 7-7-2
2008-9 SUNYAC finish: Fourth
2009-10 Predicted finish: Third

Quick Take: Brockport for third place? Why not?

This was a team that shocked the league last year when everyone thought they were in a rebuilding year. Instead, they hosted their first ever playoff game and produced the school’s first ever postseason victory. This was due mostly to the outstanding play of goaltender Todd Sheridan — overshadowed in the SUNYAC only by Bryan Hince — and the unselfish play of the team and the camaraderie built up over the season.

“I certainly hope Sheridan gives us a better than average chance to win hockey games,” Brockport coach Brian Dickinson said. “It’s certainly a strength of ours. We’ll give Josh Roarke and Oliver Wren some work, so they are ready to take over next year.”

Preparing for next year is fine, but right now Brockport comes off a season that created a lot of buzz on campus and record crowds down the stretch. They hope to continue that momentum this year.

Empty Lockers: Some key players have graduated including the third through fifth leading scorer from last year, Dave McNab (11-10-21), Tim Crowley (8-12-20) who is now the assistant coach at Potsdam, and Mike Gershon (8-9-17). Also gone are Aaron Boyer and Rick Stanek.

“Those guys definitely helped our leadership,” Dickinson said. “That’s the biggest thing. There’s no substitution for leadership.”

The Core: “James Cody is probably at the top of the list,” Dickinson said. “He was our leading scorer [11-13-24] as a freshman. I still think he flies under the radar. I’m really excited to have a guy like that, but I’m really excited about that whole line — Cody, Justin Noble, and Ray Tremblay. They really came along late last year, especially in the playoffs.”

Sean O’Malley, Jason Gorrie who came from Plattsburgh last year, Gregg Amato, and Tyler Davis return expecting to contribute.

New Gear: Mike Hayward, Adam Korol, Dan Galiani (younger brother of junior Tom), and Nick Panepinto should help out. The most intriguing freshman is Colby Spooner from the Aquinas Institute in Rochester.

“He’s a true freshman,” Dickinson said. “He has not looked out of place which is rare for a true freshman. Time will tell if he can pick up the speed of the game, but we are hoping we found a diamond in the rough.”

Key Question: Will Sheridan remain healthy? Last year was his healthiest at Brockport, but he did receive some dings near the end, resulting in sitting him out in the last game of the season which didn’t mean anything.

If necessary, will Dickinson be willing to lighten Sheridan’s workload even if it means sitting him in most if not all nonconference games, not worry about those results, just to make sure he is 100% for the games that matter to Brockport?

No matter how improved the Golden Eagles are, this team will only go as far as Sheridan can carry them. Thus, a well rested, healthy Sheridan is imperative at whatever cost.

Mark Your Calendar Game: Feb. 12 versus Geneseo.

In the past, this game often meant who got into the playoffs. Then, when Geneseo started to excel, this rivalry fizzled out. Now, it’s back as Brockport handedly beat Geneseo twice last year, one of the keys to their overall success. By the time they meet for the second time this year, a key top position could be on the line.

Geneseo State Ice Knights

Coach: Chris Schultz, fourth season overall and at Geneseo (38-39-1)
2008-9 overall record: 14-12-1
2008-9 SUNYAC record: 8-7-1
2008-9 SUNYAC finish: Third
2009-10 Predicted finish: Fourth

Quick Take: Geneseo returned to being a contender, but not without a topsy-turvy season.

“Last year, we got off to a really strong start, cooled off in January, and then got ourselves into a position for a home playoff spot,” Geneseo coach Chris Schultz said. “So, we had a dip in the middle there. We need to be like a good performing stock — steadily improving, consistently on the rise, so we are winning our last game.

“We got to have that competitive edge no matter who we play, whether it’s the top team in the country or someone we are expecting to beat.”

Geneseo will be tested early with a nonconference pair at Neumann and then the North Country trip against Plattsburgh and Potsdam. This is a team where constant coaching changes finally caught up with them. Now, with some consistency with Chris Schultz, the Ice Knights moved back up the standings, and will be looking to continue to seek out a home playoff berth.

Empty Lockers: The third and fourth leading scorers, Casey Balog (9-9-18) and Kevin Galan (11-6-17), from last year have graduated along with a trio of defensemen: Casey Smith, Sean Hayden, and Chris Kestell. Jeff Pasemko, who shared goaltending duties, also graduated.

“The class as a whole, in terms of leadership, they did a very good job,” Schultz said. “I don’t think any one player is going to be missed more than another. It’s the presence they had in the locker room that is going to be missed.”

The Core: The top two scorers, however, do return as seniors, Sebastian Panetta (7-16-23) and Dan Brown (10-12-22), along with Phil Rose, a solid two-way player.

“Jeff McPhee is our top dog defensively,” Schultz said. “He lugs a lot of ice time. Our freshmen line from last year, Clint Olson, Jonathan Redlick, and Stefan Decosse, we are hoping will continue to be relied on.”

With Pasemko gone, Cory Gershon will most likely take over full duties.

“He’ll definitely be our guy,” Schultz said. “But freshman Adrian Rubeniuk looked very good in his first game, and Michael Battaglia is practicing really well this year. They will all be pushing each other.”

New Gear: Geneseo gets a Division I transfer from Quinnipiac, David Arduin. Expect him to be on the power play as he’s a guy that reads the game very well.

Ryan Bulach, Kaz Iwamoto (from Japan!), and Corbin Rosmarin are three guys to keep an eye on. Defensively, Blake O’Connor and Colin de Jersey will be looking to make an immediate impact.

Key Question: Just how good can Gershon be for his second year? And will getting the majority of the workload tire him out, causing the Ice Knights to repeat their dip in the middle of the season? Then, will a second wind propel Geneseo into fourth place?

In other words, is it déjà vu all over again or will Geneseo be that good performing stock?

Mark Your Calendar Game: Feb. 20 versus Oswego.

It wasn’t too long ago when this game meant a whole lot in the SUNYAC standings. Recently that has not been the case. Even with Geneseo defeating Oswego on the road early last season, the Lakers came back and pounded the Ice Knights two straight times, including the playoffs. However, depending on how the season progresses for these schools, the last game of the season may mean a whole heck of a lot once again.

Fredonia State Blue Devils

Coach: Jeff Meredith, 22nd season overall and at Fredonia (313-240-58)
2008-9 overall record: 6-13-5
2008-9 SUNYAC record: 4-8-4
2008-9 SUNYAC finish: Eighth
2009-10 Predicted finish: Fifth

Quick Take: “We got to get our program back into the playoffs,” Fredonia coach Jeff Meredith said. “It was a very humbling experience to miss the playoffs last year. We are excited at the opportunity to work our way back into the playoffs this season. It starts this weekend, and those are playoff games for us.”

Last year, Fredonia had the least number of wins at 6-13-5 since Meredith’s first year at the westernmost SUNY school way back in 1988-89 when they went 4-16-1. This from a team just two years removed from a SUNYAC championship.

“We need to take advantage of opportunities that we have,” Meredith said. “You miss the playoffs and you look back at the year and the road of opportunities that you missed.”

Empty Lockers: Fredonia lost four seniors, forwards Bryan Goudy and Richard Boyce, and solid defenders, Colin Sarfeh and Jeff Sylvester. However, Meredith isn’t concerned about the past.

“We’re not looking back at last year too much,” he said. “It’s a year we don’t want to think about too much.”

The Core: There are some solid players returning this year. Bryan Ross was the leading goal scorer last year with nine. Jordan Oye (5-12-17) led the team in points; Alex Morton with his big left shot and good touch with the puck.

“Assistant captains, James Muscatello and Jeff Aonso, are both really physically strong and score a lot of points from the top of the crease,” Meredith said.

Anchoring the defense will be Steve Rizer and Chris de Bruyn.

Goaltending should not be a problem for the Blue Devils. Returning for his senior year is Pat Street who’s had an excellent career so far. Kody Van Rentergem is back after a solid rookie season. Expect both to get an equal share of the workload.

New Gear: “I think the freshmen are going to play a prominent role,” Meredith said.

It’s the forwards the home fans are going to need to keep an eye on in order to turn around the offense. Players such as Chris Jung, Nick Stimson, Mat Hehr, Mitch Kulikoski, Marc Deeley, Will McLaughlin, and Mike Muhs.

“They all got good puck skills and quick feet,” said Meredith.

With 16 new players on the roster, expect a lot of young guys getting a lot of playing time.

Key Question: It’s a simple one — offense. Will Fredonia be able to score?

“We had 16 games last year where we scored two goals or less,” Meredith said. “You don’t win many games that way. Our goals against average was good. That’s all well and nice, but you have to score some as well. Defensively, I think we’ll be strong. It’s the other end of the ice. We didn’t get many 5-on-5 goals.”

Ironically, the last three games of the season the Blue Devils scored five goals each, winning two of them, and in fact got five points in their last four games, yet still missed the playoffs. That’s how big of a hole they dug themselves.

Mark Your Calendar Game: Feb. 20 versus Morrisville.

It’s the third annual Pink the Rink event. It was started by former assistant coach Greg Heffernan who has moved on to the head coaching job at Western New England College. However, the foundation he put in place for this event that garners national attention is rock solid. Thus, it is able to continue without him. It’s an event that has everyone so geared up, the players themselves believe it’s macho to wear pink.

Buffalo State Bengals

Coach: Nick Carriere, fifth season overall and at Buffalo State (43-50-11)
2008-9 overall record: 10-12-4
2008-9 SUNYAC record: 5-7-4
2008-9 SUNYAC finish: Sixth
2009-10 Predicted finish: Sixth

Quick Take: For the second year in a row, Buffalo State finished with the exact same overall record and exact same conference record, again good enough for sixth and the last playoff spot. Not counting empty-net goals, half of those losses were one goal games, and all four ties came in conference play.

“One of our goals is to be a lot more consistent and win some of those one goal games,” Buffalo State coach Nick Carriere said.

“Things are a lot different this year,” he continued. “We hired a new assistant coach, Pat Oliveto, who just finished playing pro. Bob Janosz continues to help out with the goaltenders. We have a little bit more support staff this year than in the past.”

Empty Lockers: Besides the seniors, Buffalo State also lost five returning guys. The key loss to graduation will be Justin Hill. Hill led the team in scoring last year (10-39-49) as well as the nation in assists, finishing his career with 35 goals and 96 assists for 131 points.

“We’ll miss Justin Hill,” Carriere said. “He produced a lot of points for us. Joe Curry has been a heart and soul type of guy for us. Kevin Kozlowski and Travis Whitehead are definitely two we are going to also miss.”

The Core: The next two leading scorers and the two top goal scorers, Nick Petriello (16-29-45) and Joel Sheppard (16-9-25), return for their junior seasons. Other key players returning are D’Arcy Thomas, Tyler Soehner, Jim Durhan, and Connor King.

Zach Grasley who got about half the playing time in net, did not return, which leaves Alan Fritch as the guy. Will he be able to handle the workload, or will the Bengals have to resort to little used Johnathan Sourwine or test out freshman Mike Mesaros?

“I think we got a strong core,” Carriere said. “Our senior goaltender, Johnathan Sourwine, is pushing the levels of Alan Fritch.”

New Gear: Buffalo State brings in a strong group of freshmen. Topping that list is Trevor McKinney, one of the top players from Peterborough.

“McKinney should have plenty of opportunity to produce,” Carriere said.

Also keep an eye on Justin Knee, Mario Cote, and Drew Klin.

Key Question: All of Buffalo State’s wins were by three or more goals. When they are on, the Bengals can roll. But, when the going gets tough, will Buffalo State be able to step up and grab some of those games for the win column? The answer to that will ultimately determine whether they continue to live on the edge by finishing in the last playoff spot or once again get an opportunity to host a postseason contest.

Mark Your Calendar Game: Nov. 6 versus Fredonia.

This travel partner rivalry has rapidly become one of the best in SUNYAC. In the past 14 meetings, 12 have either been ties (three) or one goal games including one empty-net verdict (with three of those going to overtime, including the epic double overtime playoff game in 2007).

Unfortunately, Buffalo State has only won one of these previous 14 games. Guess which one? Yep, one of the only two non one goal games, a 6-4 victory in 2007 which allowed them to host their first ever playoff game.

Potsdam State Bears

Coach: Chris Bernard, fourth season overall (17-52-4) and first season at Potsdam
2008-9 overall record: 9-12-5
2008-9 SUNYAC record: 6-6-4
2008-9 SUNYAC finish: Fifth
2009-10 Predicted finish: Seventh

Quick Take: After years of stability behind the bench with John Horan (10 years) and Ed Seney (14 years), Potsdam is on their third coach in four years. Chris Bernard, who headed up the newly formed Western New England College program the past three years, is back in the North Country.

Bernard is from nearby Brasher Falls and played at Clarkson. He’s excited to be back in his home area which could mean a long period of stability again. In fact, he brought in assistant coach Tim Crowley who just graduated from Brockport and is also from Brasher Falls.

“Our guys were very grateful for Aaron’s [Saul] leadership and what he contributed to this program,” Bernard said. “The guys have been highly receptive to me and Tim Crowley and to executing the type of system we want to play to be successful in this league.

“I know it sounds cliché, but everybody plays in this league to win a SUNYAC championship, so our goals are nothing short of that.”

Empty Lockers: A number of good players left either from graduation, some from early graduation, or simply not returning.

The one the Bears will miss the most is Luke Beck, who graduated early. He only had two goals, but got 26 assists for a team runner up 28 points. Beck was a key reason Connor Treacy scored 20 times.

Defensemen Jeff Zatorski and Steve Cornelissen are also not returning after their junior years.

The Core: “Connor Treacy (20-20-40), Fraser Smith (16-9-25), and Sy Nutkevich (7-15-22) have proven themselves in this league,” Chris Bernard said. “They are players who are going to help us to get off to a good start.”

Along with Beck, those were the top four scorers last year.

Bernard, a former goaltender, will have his hands full trying to fill that spot. After Rick Miller left midway through last season, most of the work fell on freshman Trevor O’Neill.

“Trevor O’Neill is returning along with Travis Crickard,” Bernard said. “Also carrying two newcomers, Kevin McFarland and Andy Groulx.”

New Gear: “I think we have a good group of young talent,” Bernard said. “The most exciting part for me is they are a very versatile group. They can take on a number of roles.”

Tyler Swan comes off a very good junior career. His junior teammate, Bryan Black, should also make some noise.

Key Question: Consistency has plagued the Bears recently. They have swung back and forth from hot and cold. Part of that is defense and not having a “no worry” goaltending solution.

“We need to maintain a consistent effort, execute game in and game out,” Bernard said.

Perhaps some stability behind the bench will breed stability on the ice and bring about a more consistent effort for Potsdam.

Mark Your Calendar Game: Jan. 15 at Elmira.

“I don’t think there is any animosity,” Bernard said. “There is no circling of the date on the calendar.”

That may be true. However, when these two teams first met in Elmira after they were first linked together by the head coach, when Glenn Thomaris took over the Potsdam job, it produced one of the wildest games ever seen. Who knows? It could happen again.

Cortland State Red Dragons

Coach: Joe Baldarotta, 19th season overall (284-198-43) and third season at Cortland (19-27-5)
2008-9 overall record: 8-15-2
2008-9 SUNYAC record: 5-9-2
2008-9 SUNYAC finish: Seventh
2009-10 Predicted finish: Eighth

Quick Take: After leading his team in his first year at Cortland into the SUNYAC playoffs, Joe Baldarotta saw his Red Dragons slip to seventh and out of the playoffs. The key was losing their last four games after grabbing five of six points.

“Last year, we weren’t deep enough to absorb the injuries we had,” Baldarotta said. “This year, we have a little more depth. I know we are better than eight wins. I want to get into the playoffs, and after that anything can happen. Just look at Neumann.”

The fight for the last few playoff sports will most likely be wide open. There is no reason Cortland can’t find themselves back in the postseason. They will certainly be well prepared.

“We have an extremely tough schedule,” Baldarotta said. “We play everyone in the ECAC West. That’s the way I wanted it.”

They also play Hamilton and face Neumann twice. If nothing else, they will learn what it takes to compete every time they take the ice.

Empty Lockers: “We didn’t really lose much,” Baldarotta said.

Their biggest loss was Mike Maier (8-24-32) who was a D-I transfer from Niagara.

“Maier was a great offensive threat,” Baldarotta said. “Very difficult to replace. I always say you can’t replace a great player. You have to find players who can score one or two more goals than they did before.”

The Core: “I like the guys coming back,” Baldarotta said. “They are hard working. They’re getting on the same page as I am and are buying into it. They’ve been integral in getting the team together and helping to bring on the new guys.”

Some of those guys include Jarrett Gold (10-22-32), Patrick Palmisano (15-14-29), Ryan Markell, Jake Saville, Justin Porpora, and Gerard Heinz.

“We have four goalies all competing for time,” Baldarotta added. “Competition has really been good for them.”

New Gear: A number of freshmen and transfers are new on campus. The biggest head turners are three Swedish transfers from Becker College — Erik Nordqvist and brothers Marcus and Martin Oeberg. The siblings don’t play like typical Swedes as they are up and down bangers.

Chris Kaleta, whose brother plays for the Buffalo Sabres, is a big, rugged, tough player at 6-2, 210.

“We need his physical presence,” Baldarotta said. “We didn’t have that before. Mike Lysyj is a high energy player who makes things happen. We have a brand new defensive corps.”

Key Question: Goaltending wasn’t a bright spot for Cortland last year. None of the three that got playing time were above a save pct. of 90 and only Mike Reilly was below a 4.00 GAA at 3.70. Reilly returns as does Dan Jewell. They are joined by Brittan Kuhlman and Doug Danzi. Whomever ends up winning a spot has got to be able to carry this team in enough games to get them back into a playoff spot.

Mark Your Calendar Game: Oct. 30 at Fredonia.

“We can’t afford to look in a crystal ball,” Baldarotta said. “I know it’s a cliché, but we really have to concentrate on what we’re doing right now, one game at a time.”

Fair enough, especially for a program which Baldarotta is working to move from years of mediocrity into consistent playoff contenders. Thus, it does need to be taken one game at a time, and therefore the most important game before the season starts is the first conference match up.

Morrisville State Mustangs

Coach: Brian Grady, third season overall and at Morrisville (10-39-1)
2008-9 overall record: 5-19-1
2008-9 SUNYAC record: 1-14-1
2008-9 SUNYAC finish: Ninth
2009-10 Predicted finish: Ninth

Quick Take: Consistency.

Many coaches speak about the importance of consistency throughout the year. However, it’s perhaps more important for a relatively new program to maintain the ever elusive consistency during the course of a season. For every stride a new program makes, every time it stumbles, it’s so easy for doubts to permeate within the minds of players on a team that has finished last since entering the SUNYAC.

“At times in the past few years, we’ve showed we can compete with anyone, and then the next night stunk the joint up,” Morrisville coach Brian Grady said. “It’s been a roller coaster ride, and we need to stop that. I’ve stressed with the guys consistent execution. Everything else from there, the wins and losses, will take care of itself.”

The key to this consistency for Morrisville will be long term stability in the roster.

“In my three years I’ve been here since we are such a new program, we haven’t had experience coming back,” Grady said. “Those two to three year guys who have played here at this level and in this league who know what it’s about.”

They are getting that now along with one of the top goaltenders in SUNYAC. Morrisville may be predicted to finish ninth, but don’t be surprised if that proves wrong.

Empty Lockers: Only four players graduated, with Keith Williams (8-8-16) having the only real impact as the team’s fourth leading scorer last year. This is a team that has maintained roster consistency and experience heading into 2009-10.

The Core: “Our senior captain, Andrew Alarie, we are expecting great things from,” Grady said of the team’s leading scorer last year. “Lays it on the line and leads by example. Assistant captain, Dana Calderone, had a breakout season last year. He has the ability to make things happen every time he touches the puck. Rob Sgarbossa plays in all three zones and prides himself in his defensive play. Those three coming back offensively are going to be the key.

“Defensively, assistant captain, Derek Matheson, is probably one of the best kept secrets in the league. He has a pro type shot from the point. Kyle Roberts is a play it safe, play it simple kind of defenseman.”

And of course, Caylin Relkoff is the “backbone” of this team. Until we find out how the freshmen on other teams pan out, Relkoff has to be considered one of the top goalies in the conference.

New Gear: Keep an eye on Adam Hercules (who is appropriately named as a big, strong power forward), Adam Laite, Alex Tillaart, and J.R. Strait.

Key Question: Morrisville’s season and how far they improve may very well come down to Relkoff, especially when you consider how many teams have a big question mark in that position.

“The shoe is on the other foot,” Grady said. “In the past, it has been the other teams that have had the experience [in goaltending]. Now we are returning a lot and have the experience. And with Relkoff, he has certainly made the difference for us.”

Mark Your Calendar Game: Dec. 5 versus Fredonia.

It’s the last conference game of the first semester, and by then we should know what to expect from Morrisville. It will be the final test before the break for the Mustangs, and will pit two solid goaltenders, Relkoff vs. whomever Fredonia puts in the net.

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