Now that a week has passed since the NCAA announcement sanctioning Buffalo State and Geneseo, the two teams involved have had some time to let it sink in. Their reactions have been admirable, and any anger they have is channeled properly.
“In terms of how the team is handling it, they are remarkably resilient,” Geneseo coach Chris Schultz said. “The senior class has been amazing. They took control of the locker room immediately. They want to play the game with integrity and honor. They understand in the grand scheme of life, this is just a fork in the road, not a roadblock. I’m very proud of this team, and they should be proud of themselves.”
“It comes down to their attitude towards competition and hockey,” Buffalo State coach Nick Carriere said. “I hate to use the clichÃ©, but we are playing for pride. We can play to be the spoiler. After it was all explained to them, one of our seniors stood up and said, ‘Let’s make the playoffs and let the NCAA take us out of it.'”
This is what is going to make these two teams particularly dangerous. They have nothing to lose and will be taking out what happened to them on their opposition.
“We’re going to play it out as if a top playoff seed is available,” Schultz said. “The guys really want to try to run the table here.”
Of course, it is the seniors that suffer the most along with the Canadians who must decide whether to give up hockey or give up the Canadian grants they received.
“I feel bad for both of them,” Oswego coach Ed Gosek said. “I feel especially bad for the players. The seniors on those teams who were fighting for their lives to make the playoffs and now they are not going to have the opportunity. I put myself in the situation if it happened here, how awful you would feel for the players especially in their senior year.”
Much energy has been written about what happened, how it could have been avoided, and the details behind it all. The bottom line is the NCAA felt that these two schools had inadvertently set up a de facto athletic scholarship which is a no-no for Division III. Thus, there was no choice but to punish them, even if it meant certain individual students would also suffer, through no fault of their own.
Interestingly, it is the ones who are suffering the most — the players — who are handling it better than the fans on the USCHO message board.
“They are being so professional about this,” Schultz said. “They’re already past this. They’ve accepted it.”
It’s time everybody else does, too.
Morrisville is Eligible
Yes, you read that correctly. Morrisville is eligible for the SUNYAC playoffs.
“We knew it all along,” Morrisville coach Brian Grady said. “With the whole Buff State, Geneseo thing going on, it brought us into light.”
So, why all the confusion? There are a few reasons.
For those of you who have followed the Morrisville saga in this column the last few years, you may recall that a new NCAA member must go through a four year probation period. During that time, the institution has to show the NCAA they are following all NCAA regulations properly and are in complete compliance.
The school can ask the NCAA to speed that process along and be granted approval in three years. Morrisville asked for this, and after three years, the NCAA agreed that Morrisville was doing everything correctly, and declared the school a full fledged member.
“They felt we were ready,” Grady said. “It was great for us.”
Again, why the confusion? Because there are other factors to consider.
Morrisville only has two teams in the SUNYAC (the rest of the teams play in the North Eastern Athletic Conference): field hockey and ice hockey.
The field hockey team provides the SUNYAC with seven teams, making the conference eligible for an NCAA automatic qualifier bid. However, the conference could not apply to the NCAA for that AQ until Morrisville was an eligible NCAA member.
Once they were, the conference application then has a two year waiting period, so the NCAA can see that all teams in the conference are serious members. Thus, during this two year waiting period, the Morrisville field hockey team was not eligible for the SUNYAC playoffs.
“However, since hockey already had an automatic qualifier, we were eligible,” Grady said. “The SUNYAC mixed us in with the field hockey team and just assumed we were not eligible. It was an honest mistake. Thus, we asked for a clarification, and got it.”
Morrisville can make a run for a conference playoff spot, and now they only need to beat out one other team. They are currently four points behind Cortland (who they host on February 12) and five points behind Potsdam who they travel to on Friday.
“We certainly didn’t make it easier for ourselves this past weekend,” Grady said about his team losing twice. “Certainly, us beating Potsdam earlier has them circling this game on their calendar. I expect a hard physical, fast paced game with playoff implications. They know it. We know it.”
The next day, Morrisville has to go to Stafford Arena.
“Obviously, the schedule works in their [Plattsburgh’s] favor,” Grady said. “We’ll worry about Saturday when we get there. We’re trying to think small. Just look five feet in front of our face. Plattsburgh is struggling lately, so they will be hungry. They obviously want to get back on the winning track. But so do we.”
All that excitement concerning the playoff race and the tightness of the fifth through ninth place pack has suddenly petered out with last week’s announcement. The multi-team playoff race disappeared.
There is still a playoff spot to be fought over with the clarification that Morrisville is indeed eligible, but now it comes down to seven teams, instead of nine, fighting for six spots.
At the top, teams are starting to settle in. Oswego holds a five point lead and the tie-breaker over Plattsburgh. Thus, with four games left for each team, the magic number is three points. Oswego has also clinched a bye in the first round and home ice in the semifinals since the best Fredonia can do is tie them, but the Lakers hold the tiebreaker.
Fredonia sits five points behind Plattsburgh with a game in hand and they get to play them the following weekend. Meanwhile, Brockport sits four points behind Fredonia with each of those teams having five games to play.
Therefore, fights still exist for the all important home ice and there is still the potential for some great hockey and individual games like we saw this past weekend.
On top of the heap, of course, was the Plattsburgh at Oswego rivalry. The game and the fan-induced white-out lived up to all the hype.
Assistant captain Neil Musselwhite put the home team in front just 34 seconds after the opening faceoff. Tom Breslin tied it up six minutes later, but Oswego got the lead back before the end of the period with a Justin Fox goal.
Jon Whitelaw made it 3-1 early in the second prompting Plattsburgh to pull Josh Leis and put in Ryan Williams. Williams did not let up a goal the rest of the way, but unfortunately for the Cardinals, his team only scored one more when Phil Farrow got one in the third. Kyle Gunn-Taylor made 27 saves in the win.
Oswego now has a 19 game winning streak, is 20-1-0 overall, and undefeated in the SUNYAC at 12-0-0. In years prior, the upcoming home game against Cortland would be the perfect letdown performance.
“Other years, there’s been a lack of focus at certain points in the year,” Oswego coach Ed Gosek said. “With this team I think again our senior leadership really stepped up and gets them focused every game. Even the returning players, they get the freshmen believing. It’s one shift, one period, one game at a time. I think it’s a big part of why we didn’t lose our focus with Potsdam. Hopefully, we’ll keep that focus with Cortland. It’s our last home game of the year. Senior night. It doesn’t matter who we’re playing, they want to see the same focus and energy and enthusiasm that they’ve shown.”
Meanwhile, Plattsburgh, after dropping their next game to Middlebury, is in a bit of a slump by Plattsburgh standards.
“I think we have to have a good attitude,” Plattsburgh coach Bob Emery said. “We can’t be down on how we played here tonight [against Oswego]. We caused them to take a lot of penalties. We played our game. We did a good job. We just didn’t finish, and that’s been our story all year long.”
Another rivalry also took place this past weekend — Buffalo State at Fredonia. Initially it looked like it was going to be runaway, a rarity the last few years between these teams.
After trading tallies late in the first period 14 seconds apart (Brett Mueller for Fredonia and Nick Petriello for Buffalo State) the Blue Devils scored three unanswered goals in the second period by Jordan Oye, Mueller on the power play, and Oye again, this time on the power play.
However, the Bengals made a game of it with a Drew Klin early third period score and a late Trevor McKinney tally. Oye clinched the game, completing a hat trick with an empty-net goal with five seconds left. Once again, not including empty-net goals, these teams played to yet another one goal game.
Three SUNYAC players were nominated for national accolades this past week — two for the BNY Mellon Wealth Management Hockey Humanitarian Award and one to compete in the NCAA Frozen Four Skills Challenge at Ford Field in Detroit.
Brockport’s goaltender Todd Sheridan was one of four players nominated for the second year in a row for the Humanitarian Award. Sheridan’s story has been told often. He was on his way to a Division I college hockey career when a diagnosis of throat cancer changed the plans. After surviving the illness, Brockport was willing to take a chance on him.
He rewarded them many-fold for that decision, leading Brockport to successful seasons including their first home playoff game in school history last year. Sheridan’s experience fighting the disease made him want to provide a more comfortable experience for children who have to go through the same ordeal. Thus, he started a charitable foundation to help do just that.
Shareef Labreche, Buffalo State’s senior captain, was also nominated for the Humanitarian Award. Labreche is involved in a number of community programs while maintaining a 3.66 GPA. Perhaps the one that stands out the most is his work with the Buffalo Thunder hockey team. The Buffalo Thunder is a hockey team for kids and young men with special needs.
“He’s a special kind of young man,” Buffalo State coach Nick Carriere said. “Came in as our first recruiting class. One of our best students. Has been absolutely great with any program we’ve done as a team. Nothing but positives. It was fitting to put him with guys that lend themselves to the community.”
Buffalo State already has one player who won this award — Rocky Reeves in 2002.
Oswego’s assistant captain, forward Neil Musselwhite, is the only Division III player nominated to represent the East Team in the Skills Challenge. Fans get an opportunity to help decide which finalists will head to Detroit. Musselwhite, whose five shorthanded markers leads the nation, has 16 goals and 11 assists this year for a career total of 37-30-67 in 100 games.
SUNYAC Short Shots
Brockport broke a 2-2 tie with three unanswered goals in the third to beat Morrisville, 5-2 … Kyle VanDermale led off the scoring for Plattsburgh with a short-hander in a 4-1 win over Cortland … Andrew Mather scored the final two goals of the game to help Oswego beat Potsdam, 5-1 … Geneseo needed three straight goals in the third to turn a 4-4 tie into a 7-4 win over Morrisville as Trevor Foster scored twice … After Potsdam blew a 2-0 lead over Cortland, Brett Waters got the game winner late in the third on the power play to give Potsdam the victory.
Game of the Week
If we go strictly by the playoff ramifications, there are two games that stand out.
First, let’s mention the Geneseo at Buffalo State game since it has a bit of irony to it, as they are the two teams affected by the recent events.
Morrisville at Potsdam can have significant playoff ramifications if the Mustangs win. For Potsdam, winning this game will keep them in the hunt for home ice in the first round.
The game I’m picking is Brockport at Fredonia. Granted, what happens on Friday could alter the importance of this Saturday matchup, but for now with just four points separating these two teams, it will either virtually decide third place for Fredonia or allow the race to possibly avoid Oswego in the semifinals to go down to the wire.
On the Periphery
One of the interesting side effects of these NCAA sanctions against two SUNYAC schools is to realize just how much of an uneven playing field college sports is on, even when everyone is following the rules properly.
“My feeling is this,” Plattsburgh coach Bob Emery said when asked to comment on the sanctions. “We’re trying to make our league better. Geneseo and Buff State have financial aid. They’re not giving a lot, believe me. The way it’s set up now [in Division III], it’s outrageous. Put it this way, the private schools are doing a lot more and a lot better things than what Geneseo and Buff State were doing.”
I have been asked before and again recently to write an article about the uneven playing field the teams in the SUNYAC face when recruiting players. The reason I’ve never done this is because the coaches who ask me to write this are the same coaches who will never be able to give me the details I need to write such an article.
However, it goes beyond just one conference and beyond just one sport. Pro sports are set up to be as even as possible — profit sharing, even split of television contract money, salary caps, drafts, etc. College sports has nothing of the sort. Sure, they impose limits on scholarships and recruiting activities and number of coaches allowed, but they are minor attempts to keep things level in the grand scheme of things.
Even in baseball which has perhaps the most uneven playing field in professional sport leagues, the disparity between the financial portfolio of the Yankees and Pirates doesn’t even come close to the disparity between a USC, Notre Dame, or Ohio State and a Temple, North Texas, or Arkansas State in football. How about the disparity between a Duke, Kentucky, or UCLA and a Manhattan, Iona, or Boston University in basketball?
Facility disparity isn’t even close either. The difference between the Xcel Energy Center and the Nassau Coliseum pale in comparison to the difference between North Dakota’s Ralph Engelstad Arena and Sacred Heart’s Milford Ice Pavillion.
From athletic budgets to alumni and booster donations to TV contracts to playoff monies to practice facilities to recruiting budgets to stadiums to workout facilities to academic requirements to dorm conditions to coaches salaries … the list goes on and on. The college sports landscape is so uneven, it resembles a double black diamond mogul course.