This Week in SUNYAC: Jan. 21, 2010

Non-Conference

With just two non-conference games remaining for SUNYAC teams (Morrisville at Manhattanville on Jan. 24 and Plattsburgh at Middlebury on Feb.2), the SUNYAC has done extremely well against other conferences.

They currently hold a 6-2-3 margin over the ECAC East, 8-2-0 over the ECAC Northeast, 2-0-0 over MASCAC, 1-0-0 vs. MCHA, 4-2-1 over NESCAC, and 3-0-0 versus Northeast-10. They were even (1-1-0) against the MIAC. Finally, against their arch rivals, the ECAC West, the SUNYAC is 19-20-2 with one game left.

This totals up to a 44-27-6 against all non-league competition, an impressive winning percentage of .610.

Granted, making these comparisons isn’t completely legit unless there is a complete interlocking schedule between two conference like the ECAC East and NESCAC. For instance, Plattsburgh only played one ECAC West opponent, the recent tie against Elmira. Some SUNYAC teams never play Lebanon Valley. The ECAC West can also point to matchups that never occurred that could have boosted their record.

Nonetheless, this year is one of SUNYAC’s strongest performances outside of their league; the main reason for this were the “mid-pack” teams holding their own against the other leagues.

“It says a lot for the competitiveness and depth of our league,” Morrisville coach Brian Grady said. “We’re in the basement of our conference, and we played tough against two top teams from another conference.”

Against the ECAC West, Morrisville went 2-2, Geneseo went 3-3, while Brockport and Potsdam were just one game below .500.

“Every time we play an out of conference team we talk about how this is for bragging rights for our league,” Grady said. “Whether we play a top or bottom team in another conference, we want to prove ourselves.”

This past weekend, the Mustangs proved themselves again with a split at Neumann, winning the first game, 3-2, while dropping the second, 7-4.

“I thought it was a great weekend for both teams,” Grady said. “It was tough, toe-to-toe, physical hockey for both teams for all six periods. Friday, we were able to grab the lead and then hold on for the win.”

After a scoreless first period, Neumann tallied early in the second. Then, Dave Schultz scored twice, the first on the power play, and Nick Kulas delivered the third unanswered goal, as Morrisville outshot its opponent in the middle period, 15-5. Neumann got one back early in the third, but Caylin Relkoff held on making 32 saves, including 15 in the final period.

“All in all, a real turning point for our team,” Grady said. “It was the best hockey we played all year. In fact, it was the best hockey we played since I’ve been here for three years. It was very gratifying to have played a complete 60 minutes for both games.”

Conference games may count more and may be the only means for certain teams to make the NCAA playoffs, but with such a short schedule, every game needs to be taken seriously.

“The way we look at it, you have 25 games in the year and that’s not a lot of games in a year, so we consider every game to be important,” Geneseo coach Chris Schultz said. “It helps you prepare for your conference play. We make our guys prepare equally hard for all of them.”

This philosophy has paid off for the league as a whole against all comers from other conferences.

Conference

Competitiveness against non-conference opponents is great. But, now it’s time to get back to SUNYAC play. Outside of those two aforementioned non-league games, it’s all SUNYAC all the time the rest of the way.

“It will be a war,” Oswego coach Ed Gosek said. “Everybody is still alive. Obviously, Potsdam is playing extremely well. Plattsburgh always plays well. Geneseo, Brockport will be difficult in their barns. Morrisville has everything to gain and nothing to lose. Cortland is playing better.

“I know it’s not easy this time of year. The intensity level increases, the desperation increases. Every game has playoff implications. This time of season, the second half, it’s like the playoffs started. Every team is fighting for their lives. You can’t just come in and take it for granted. And everybody will be in the same boat.”

“It’s crunch time,” Grady said. “The distance between fourth and us is very small. It’s wide open. It’s anybody’s game. It’s going to come down to the team that is most consistent.”

The distance Grady mentions is only three points between six teams. Potsdam leads the bunch with seven points. Brockport, Cortland, and Geneseo all have six, while Buffalo State and Morrisville each have four. That doesn’t mean the third place team, Fredonia, has a big margin. They are only three points ahead of Potsdam.

Oswego is the only team entering this weekend with two weeks rest. The Lakers host the westernmost contingent, Buffalo State and Fredonia.

“I didn’t [like the week off] at first,” Gosek said. “But right now with the injuries mounting, I’m glad we got the week off. Originally no, you want to keep going. You hate to keep having these breaks.”

On the flip side, Morrisville doesn’t return to SUNYAC play till the week after. But when they do, they will be ready thanks to some new players this semester.

“I’m expecting big things from our guys,” Grady said. “We got some new faces, transfers Nick Kulas from Utica and Jonathan Cristini from Neumann who are becoming familiar with us. Kulas already has two goals and two assists for us. We’re starting to peak a little bit which is nice to see.”

It’s going to be a fun stretch run.

SUNYAC Short Shots

Brockport scored three times in the third period to break open a 2-2 tie to defeat Lebanon Valley, 5-3 … The Golden Eagles beat Lebanon Valley again the next day, 6-3, by going five for 10 on the power play with Ian Finnerty scoring four times … Fredonia unleashed 60 shots in their first game against Western New England College in a 4-2 victory … The Blue Devils scored more often in their second game against Western New England on 51 shots with a 7-1 win as Bryan Ross got a hat trick and Mitch Kulikoski scored twice.

Tyler Soehner on power plays and Justin Knee each scored twice and Ryan Ramage got three assists in Buffalo State’s 7-4 victory over Johnson & Wales … Plattsburgh got absolutely no penalties in their 1-1 overtime tie against Williams where both goals were scored 42 seconds apart in the second period as Josh Leis made 25 saves … Oliver Wren made 33 saves for the shutout in Brockport’s 4-0 victory over Assumption with assistant captain Ray Tremblay scoring the final two goals, the last short-handed.

Game of the Week

There is the M&M game — Manhattanville at Morrisville — which is the SUNYAC’s last chance to even up their series with the ECAC West. For Morrisville, it also is a family feud.

“A lot on the line here,” Grady said. “My dad is an assistant coach for them now. So there’s family ties involved also. It’s another great challenge for us.”

However, with the return of conference play, we need to pick a SUNYAC matchup. And, we should probably stick to games in that fourth to ninth place cluster. Thus, three tilts qualify: Potsdam at Brockport, Potsdam at Geneseo, and Buffalo State at Cortland.

Schultz said of his team’s game against Potsdam:

“I would expect it’s going to be a very good hockey game. It’s going to be one of those games where both teams will go up and down the ice. Both teams like to generate offense. They have three to four difference makers in forwards that can change the game. So, we have to make sure our defense stops them.”

Somehow, I get the feeling after the weekend is over, the only thing that is going to change amongst this cluster is some shuffling around within. This is a battle, from top to bottom in the entire league, that is going to come down to the final buzzer on Feb. 20.

On The Periphery

This is going to come off a bit biased since I am a lifelong New York Jets fan. However, I am getting a bit tired of hearing how the Jets are getting lucky in their playoff wins and how the other teams are losing games as opposed to the Jets winning them.

I have one thing to say to those critics — defense wins in the playoffs in every sport in the world. Always has. Always will. And the Jets have by nearly every measurement the best defense in the National Football League.

Great defense makes other teams look bad. Great defense pressures other teams into making mistakes. Even silly mistakes good teams shouldn’t be making. Don’t you think that quarterbacks that play against the type of defense the Jets possess have in the back of their minds the thought that at some point in the game they are going to get slammed to the ground by 300 pound linemen, and don’t you think that plays into the decisions they make when they drop back? Is that what ultimately made Philip Rivers look bad as the game wore on?

Whether it’s football, hockey, basketball, soccer, baseball (in the form of pitching), constant defensive pressure is going to make the opposition look bad to the point where people have a tendency to explain it away by thinking a team didn’t play up to their potential or choked as opposed to being forced into those modes by the great defense they faced.

Are the Jets boring to watch? I admit, yes they are. Are their games typically ugly without any flair? I admit, yes they are. However, flair and pizzazz alone never won championships. Even the great open skating style of the Edmonton Oilers never won a Stanley Cup until they finally locked down their defense.

The New Jersey Devils were one of the most boring teams to watch during their championship runs. Ditto the Baltimore Ravens nine years ago. Same with Villanova in their famous upset of Georgetown.

The Jets coach Rex Ryan is correct — the Jets make no apologies in how they are winning. Nor should any team that wins on stifling defense. And the critics should stop also.

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