SUNYAC 2011-2012 season preview

Once again, a SUNYAC team made it to the Division III national championship weekend. Once again, it was Oswego, but once again, they fell in the semifinal round.

The season also saw Geneseo and Buffalo State recover very nicely from NCAA sanctions, Plattsburgh stumble only to come back and win the SUNYAC championship, Fredonia make another playoff run, and Morrisville continue to improve. On the flip side, Brockport never recovered from Todd Sheridan graduating, Potsdam’s season went to pieces even before it ran into the same NCAA sanctions, and Cortland got some surprise wins.

The new season ahead is a roll of the dice. Oswego should take first place, but the order behind them between Geneseo, Plattsburgh, and Buffalo State is up for grabs. If you concede Geneseo is a lock for second, you can’t count out Fredonia and Morrisville adding to that roll of the dice for playoff positioning.

Potsdam, Cortland, and Brockport probably won’t make the playoffs. Which order they finish in will be another roll of the dice.

However, it’s the start of the season, and everyone is tied for first place.

“Everyone is optimistic at this time of the season,” Morrisville coach Brian Grady said. “We’re all undefeated in league play.”

Oswego State Great Lakers
Coach: Ed Gosek, ninth season overall and at Oswego (163-47-14)
2010-11 overall record: 23-5-0
2010-11 SUNYAC record: 15-1-0
2010-11 SUNYAC finish: First
2011-12 predicted finish: First
Key Departures: Justin Fox (10-22-32), Chris Laganiere (10-10-20), Stephen Mallaro (4-15-19), Kevin Huinink (0-6-6).
Key Arrivals: Zach Josepher (D, transfer from Michigan State), RJay Berra (F), Chris Carr (F), Nick Rivait (D), Peter Rodrigues (F), Stan Smrke (F).
Key Players: Ian Boots (15-25-40), Jon Whitelaw (12-18-30), Luke Moodie (14-15-29), Andrew Mather (8-20-28), Paul Rodrigues (13-12-25), Hank Van Boxmeer (3-7-10), Paul Beckwith (2.02 GAA, .926 save percentage).
Biggest Challenge: “To control what we can control — our work effort, our execution,” Oswego coach Ed Gosek said. “We’re not content the way the last two years ended, namely because of the way we played in those games in Lake Placid and Minnesota.”
Outlook: It says a lot about a program when they are not content to make the national semifinals two years in a row. It also says a lot about the type of pressure a program is under, both from within and outside.

The Lakers are once again loaded. That’s not a problem. On paper, they are the most talented team. So talented, their number one goaltender, Paul Beckwith, often gets overlooked as a premier netminder. The question which comes up every year is do they have the right kind of talent? The proper mix of skill, discipline, physical presence, grinders, and checkers?

Often, that is questioned, as collapses against their arch nemesis, Plattsburgh, and shocking losses in the SUNYAC playoffs attest to. Despite their regular season dominance, especially of late, they have only won one conference championship in the past eight years.

However, Oswego currently holds a five-game winning streak against the Cardinals, and, let’s face it, when it comes to the national playoffs, the Lakers shine.

Oswego will score goals. Lots of them. Beckwith will be superb in net. The team will be entertaining to watch. They will also be frustrating to watch if they fall into the trap of beating themselves with mistakes and defensive turnovers.

Mark Your Calendar Game: February 17 vs. Plattsburgh. You can never go wrong with picking this game, as it’s one of the mark your calendar games in all of Division III. Plus, the annual Whiteout event is the next to last game of the season, so a lot could be on the line.

Geneseo State Ice Knights
Coach: Chris Schultz, sixth season overall and at Geneseo (67-57-5)
2010-11 overall record: 16-8-2
2010-11 SUNYAC record: 10-5-1
2010-11 SUNYAC finish: Second
2011-12 predicted finish: Second
Key Departures: Andrew Rygiel (5-6-11).
Key Arrivals: Jack Caradonna (D), Peter Mott (D), Justin Scharfe (F).
Key Players: Zachary Vit (13-22-35), Jonathan Redlick (9-22-31), Rich Manley (11-12-23), Danny Scagnelli (7-14-21), Jake Yard (6-11-17), Colin de Jersey (2-10-12), Cory Gershon (2.25 goals against average, .921 save percentage), Adrian Rubeniuk (2.72 GAA, .910 save percentage).
Biggest Challenge: “We’re a very veteran team this year,” Geneseo coach Chris Schultz said. “Keeping them focused on the task, focused on this season and not on their future after college is going to be the challenge.”
Outlook: Arguably, Geneseo had the best freshmen duo of forwards in the country with Zachary Vit (team’s leading scorer) and Rich Manley (third best scorer despite injuries). They made an immediate impact. They have size, skill, and brawn, a deadly combination for opponents. Playing with Jonathan Redlick, that line scored 33 of the team’s 94 goals.

Geneseo is deeper this year at forward than it has been in years. They have the best one-two combination in goal with Cory Gershon and Adrian Rubeniuk. They have two new defensemen coming in (Justin Scharfe and Peter Mott) who are just as comfortable at either end of the ice and on the power play. Expect them to make an impact on the blue line the way Vit and Manley did last year up front.

The Ice Knights have lost very little from last year. It’s a very experienced team with the right mix of talented newcomers.

This is Geneseo’s best shot since Chris Schultz took over a program which lost some direction to claim a SUNYAC championship, which means games at the Ira S. Wilson Ice Arena against the likes of Oswego and Plattsburgh are going to be the place to be.

Mark Your Calendar Game: November 4 at Oswego. The first big test for Geneseo to see if they can leapfrog to the front.

Plattsburgh State Cardinals
Coach: Bob Emery, 23rd season overall and at Plattsburgh (485-154-49)
2010-11 overall record: 20-8-1
2010-11 SUNYAC record: 9-7-0
2010-11 SUNYAC finish: Fourth
2011-12 predicted finish: Third
Key Departures: Eric Satim (13-22-35), Dylan Clarke (18-14-32), Dan Sliasis (8-9-17), Ryan Corry (5-8-13).
Key Arrivals: Brandon Beadow (D), Mathieu Cadieux (G), Mike Cassidy (F), Alex Jensen (F), Jacob Mooney (F), Adam Scuglia (F).
Key Players: Nick Jensen (8-14-22), Kyle Kudroch (12-9-21), Patrick Jobb (10-11-21), Mike Grace (3-16-19), Josh Leis (2.33 GAA, .904 save percentage), Jared Docking (3-7-10), Barry Roytman (1-5-6).
Biggest Challenge: “At the college level, it’s emotion,” Plattsburgh coach Bob Emery said. “You have to play with emotion every game. In college, it’s not a 60-game season. Second, keeping the puck out of our own net.”
Outlook: Bob Emery has been searching the past couple of years to find a way for his team to keep the puck out of their net, especially at key moments of the game. He’s going to go back to the basics this year — defense and puck possession.

Goaltender Josh Leis, who was brilliant at times and frustrating to watch at other times, is back from winning the number one spot last year after platooning with Ryan Williams the year before. Williams left, so now Sam Foley and newcomer Mathieu Cadieux will push Leis for the job.

Plattsburgh lost their top two scorers, Eric Satim and Dylan Clarke. That’s a whole lot of points. However, Nick Jensen, Kyle Kudroch, and Patrick Jobb, among others, are capable of picking up the slack.

Seven of their eight losses last year were in the conference, which is why they finished a disappointing fourth. However, they rallied for overtime playoff wins against Morrisville and Geneseo. Then, the Cardinals beat Fredonia for the SUNYAC championship. This put them in the NCAA playoffs, where they suffered a heartbreaking 3-2 overtime loss to Norwich.

This all goes to prove that when Plattsburgh can keep the puck out of the net at the right times, they can beat anyone. Plus, you know an Emery-coached team will be disciplined on the ice, especially during crunch time, as they routinely lead the league in least number of penalties.

Mark Your Calendar Game: November 25 vs. Norwich in the Primelink Tournament. The Cards get a shot at the team that ended their season last year. They get another shot on December 9 in Norwich.

Buffalo State Bengals
Coach: Nick Carriere, seventh season overall and at Buffalo State (61-79-15)
2010-11 overall record: 12-11-3
2010-11 SUNYAC record: 8-5-3
2010-11 SUNYAC finish: Third
2011-12 predicted finish: Fourth
Key Departures: Nick Petriello (9-21-30).
Key Arrivals: Matt Bessing (F, transfer from Plattsburgh), Tyler Nelson (D).
Key Players: Trevor McKinney (17-9-26), Justin Knee (7-15-22), Drew Klin (8-9-17), Sean Murray (2-8-10), Zach Hale (2-6-8), Kevin Carr (2.66 GAA, .921 save percentage).
Biggest Challenge: “To not be satisfied with a little bit of success like we had last year,” Buffalo State coach Nick Carriere said. “And continue to move forward, to constantly improve.”
Outlook: The Bengals lost just one regular player. Granted, he was a key player, their leading scorer, Nick Petriello, but they return everyone else.

On the one hand, this is still a very young team. On the other hand, this is a team that despite being just one game over .500 overall, knew how to win in the conference. An 8-5-3 record placed them third, a surprising and pleasant turnaround after a disastrous year when they fell afoul of NCAA infractions and their season completely unraveled.

Trevor McKinney was the team’s leading goal scorer with 17, and Justin Knee, Drew Klin, Mike Zannella, and Shane Avery all had banner years. Kevin Carr was the freshman sensation in goal.

The young team committed the third most penalties, but they had the fourth best combined special teams. The team plays with emotion and grit, so sometimes you pay the price to get the success.

In order to combat the high number of freshmen and sophomores, their leaders come from all three classes — second year captain Jim Durham (senior), and assistant captains Trevor McKinney (junior) and Mike Zannella (sophomore).

Those selections came from within, as the team has formed a strong bond up and down the classes, certainly helped by their success last year.

There’s no reason to believe last year was a one-hit wonder. The question is are they ready to make the next step up?

Mark Your Calendar Game: November 12 vs. Plattsburgh. They beat the Cardinals twice last year, which is why they finished ahead of them. Can they make it three in a row?

Fredonia State Blue Devils
Coach: Jeff Meredith, 25th season overall and at Fredonia (344-260-61)
2010-11 overall record: 14-13-1
2010-11 SUNYAC record: 7-8-1
2010-11 SUNYAC finish: Sixth
2011-12 Predicted finish: Fifth
Key Departures: Jordan Oye (17-23-40), Steve Rizer (3-29-32), Alex Morton (10-15-25), Chris de Bruyn (4-11-15).
Key Arrivals: Stephen Castriota (F), Brian Doust (F), Tyler Matecki (D), Mike Monfred (D), Jared Wynia (F).
Key Players: Bryan Ross (15-31-46), Mat Hehr (12-9-21), Ben Waldman (12-6-18), Mitch Kulikoski (6-12-18), Mark Friesen (2.53 GAA, .917 save percentage).
Biggest Challenge: “We graduated a lot of points; we graduated a lot of guys; we graduated a lot of guys who took a lot of minutes in the past four years,” Fredonia coach Jeff Meredith said. “And we graduated a lot of strong leadership. The challenge is finding a way to fill the void of that leadership.”
Outlook: How do you replace three of your top four scorers? The good news is, the top scorer, Bryan Ross returns for his senior year. You also have a number of other scorers returning who can make an impact and fill the void. Brian Doust should also help out as a freshman.

If it wasn’t for Buffalo State’s rookie goaltender, Mark Friesen would have gotten all the freshman headlines. However, just because he was at times overshadowed does not diminish his importance to the team. Fredonia desperately needed a goaltender last year, and they found one in Friesen. He had the better conference numbers than Carr — second best GAA and third best save percentage.

Fredonia had the third best power play and the fourth best penalty kill last year.

Despite finishing in the last playoff spot, sixth, the Blue Devils went on a road run in the playoffs, beating Buffalo State, then Oswego in overtime before falling to Plattsburgh in the championship.

Fredonia’s style of play is perfectly suited for the playoffs. They will need time to adjust during the season, but there is no reason to believe they won’t be in the playoffs. Then, anything goes.

Mark Your Calendar Game: February 17 vs. Buffalo State. It’s the last game of the season and it comes against their rival. It also could decide who gets to host the other in the playoffs, as these two have a tendency to meet in the first round.

Morrisville State Mustangs
Coach: Brian Grady, fifth season overall and at Morrisville (30-69-2)
2010-11 overall record: 11-13-1
2010-11 SUNYAC record: 8-7-1
2010-11 SUNYAC finish: Fifth
2011-12 predicted finish: Sixth
Key Departures: Caylin Relkoff (3.62 GAA, .898 save percentage), Tyler Swan (10-15-25), Bobby Cass (8-12-20), Rob Sgarbossa (7-11-18), Derek Matheson (6-7-13).
Key Arrivals: Todd Hosmer (F, transfer from Potsdam), Matthew Bee (F), Patrick Stillar (F).
Key Players: Geoff Matzel (12-8-20), Tylor Vince (7-10-17), James Jarvis (5-10-15), Curtis Renaud (5-10-15).
Biggest Challenge: “Right out of the gate, you look at our losses, and no question Caylin Relkoff is the biggest one,” Morrisville coach Brian Grady said. “He’s been a mainstay for us for four years. We’re very confident with the three goaltenders we have.”
Outlook: It’s the post Caylin Relkoff era. Just ask Brockport how difficult a transition like this can be.

He kept the team relevant early on and when Brian Grady slowly built a core around him, he helped lead the team to ever better results. By the time he was a junior, the Mustangs made the playoffs … and won their first game before falling in a wild contest against Oswego. Morrisville again made the playoffs last year, losing to Plattsburgh in overtime.

There’s no reason to believe they won’t compete in the playoffs again this year, thanks to the team that was built around Relkoff. Where they finish though, will depend on which goaltender is able to fill Relkoff’s skates the best — Colin Breen who was being groomed last year, Christopher Azzano, who transferred in from Wentworth, or freshman Zac McMichael.

They lost one former Potsdam player after just one year, Tyler Swan. However, they gained another former Potsdam player, Todd Hosmer, who will ironically wear the same number as Swan (10). Many goaltenders around the league will tell you Hosmer has one of the hardest shots.

They are going to need to fill the scoring gaps left by three of their top four scorers departing in order to maintain the third best offense in conference play. They will also need to cut down on their penalty minutes, which led the SUNYAC, especially since they were seventh on the penalty kill.

One problem facing the Mustangs in the first semester is a thin roster — only 21 players. This was due to last-minute unanticipated circumstances. Grady is working on remedying this, but realistically, nothing can really be done until the second semester.

Mark Your Calendar Game: October 28 vs. Potsdam. What better way to begin the post-Relkoff era than the very first game of the season. Add in Hosmer looking to exact revenge against his former team and you have the makings for a dandy.

Potsdam State Bears
Coach: Chris Bernard, sixth season overall (32-83-7) and third season at Potsdam (15-31-3)
2010-11 overall record: 6-17-1
2010-11 SUNYAC record: 4-12-0
2010-11 SUNYAC finish: Eighth
2011-12 Predicted finish: Seventh
Key Departures: Fraser Smith (12-9-21), Colin MacLennan (9-11-20), Kevin MacLellan (7-9-16), Brandon Couto (5-8-13), Matt Rhymer (3-4-7), Todd Hosmer (3-9-12).
Key Arrivals: Dave Manning (F, transfer from Northland), Max Fogel (D), Vinny Buttitta (F), Dylan Ellis (G).
Key Players: Sy Nutkevitch (9-11-20), Mike Arnold (6-7-13), Brett Waters (1-4-5).
Biggest Challenge: “Thirteen new guys,” Potsdam coach Chris Bernard said. “You don’t have a feel yet if they are battle-tested to play for 60 minutes in the SUNYAC.”
Outlook: Like Geneseo and Buffalo State the year before, Potsdam was sanctioned by the NCAA for financial aid violations involving Canadian players. That, combined with a miserable season for the Bears, prompted Chris Bernard to overhaul the team in a significant manner.

He even got a player from Australia, though Dave Manning played at Northland College last year.

Gone are not just the seniors but some key players such as Todd Hosmer, their second highest freshman scorer, Brandon Couto, and their number one goaltender, Trevor O’Neill.

In net, they are expecting Kevin McFarland to step up in his senior year. If not, Andy Groulx and freshman Dylan Ellis will be waiting in the wings. Somebody will have to get the job done, as the Bears were tied for the worst conference defense with Brockport, letting up an average of five goals a game. They were also eighth in penalty killing percentage, letting in the most goals, which was especially deadly as they committed the most penalties.

Up front, Potsdam lost five of its top seven scorers. Sy Nutkevitch, the captain, returns, along with Mike Arnold. They will need a lot of new players to step up, as they were seventh in conference scoring last year and sixth on the power play.

Geneseo and Buffalo State showed you can rebound from these NCAA troubles despite being forced into wholesale changes. Thus, Potsdam has no excuse on that front, but they are a large unknown heading into the season.

Mark Your Calendar Game:January 20 vs. Morrisville. It will take Potsdam a semester to gel with the large turnover. How they start out the second half of the SUNYAC schedule will be key.

Cortland State Red Dragons
Coach: Joe Baldarotta, 21st season overall (297-233-45) and fifth season at Cortland (32-62-7)
2010-11 overall record: 6-17-2
2010-11 SUNYAC record: 5-10-1
2010-11 SUNYAC finish: Seventh
2011-12 predicted finish: Eighth
Key Departures: Jarrett Gold (9-9-18), Dan Jewell (3.93 GAA, .904 save percentage).
Key Arrivals: Adam Bevilacqua (F, transfer from St. Norbert), Tyler Virgoe (D), Nick Zappia (F).
Key Players: Joey Christiano (10-8-18), Jake Saville (4-11-15), Michael Lysyj (8-5-13), Peter Lompado (5-6-11).
Biggest Challenge: “It’s a challenge with us every year.” Cortland coach Joe Baldarotta. “We need to put a better team than Cortland on the ice. We fully realize we haven’t finished in the playoff picture.”
Outlook: Joe Baldarotta made a concerted effort to improve Cortland’s recruiting. He actually brought in some Canadians, a rarity for Cortland. Baldarotta is taking the approach of not dwelling on what they don’t have, but on what they do have.

Jarrett Gold is gone, but the other top scorers return, including Joey Christiano, their leading scorer. They will need better production from an offense that was eighth in conference at just under three goals a game, and only the seventh best power play.

It was goaltending by committee for the Red Dragons last year. Dan Jewell and Brittan Kuhlman shared most of the work, while Mike Reilly got his fair share. Jewell has graduated, leaving the other two along with freshman Jeff Molner. Whether it’s a committee or individual effort, they will need to reverse the 4.44 conference goals against.

Cortland is known for a surprise or two … or three, as their wins over Plattsburgh (a shutout!), Buffalo State, and Hamilton show. However, they were too few and far between, leaving the Red Dragons out of the playoffs once again.

Their nonconference schedule is one of the toughest, though it makes sense. It doesn’t take much travel for Cortland to find solid opponents. They will play Hobart, Hamilton, Neumann twice, Utica, Manhattanville, and Elmira.

Perhaps those contests will better prepare them for SUNYAC play. They’ll need to be if they want to be in the playoff hunt.

Mark Your Calendar Game: February 10 vs. Buffalo State. This starts the final four-game stretch, all at home. It could be a pivotal two weekends for the Red Dragons.

Brockport State Golden Eagles
Coach: Brian Dickinson, 18th season overall (123-271-40) and 15th season at Brockport (109-223-34)
2010-11 overall record: 4-18-3
2010-11 SUNYAC record: 2-13-1
2010-11 SUNYAC finish: Ninth
2011-12 predicted finish: Ninth
Key Departures: Tom Galiani (7-10-17), Justin Noble (4-12-16).
Key Arrivals: Mike Hollander (F, transfer from Becker), Chris Marinakos (F, transfer from Wentworth), Bobby Chayka (D), Aaron Green (G), Jay Meloff (D).
Key Players: James Cody (16-14-30), Ian Finnerty (7-17-24), Adam Shoff (6-7-13).
Biggest Challenge: “Our competition,” Brockport coach Brian Dickinson said. “Our league has gotten significantly better. Everybody has done a great job recruiting. Coming off the year we’ve had, we aren’t looking back. We can only look forward.”
Outlook: Losing Todd Sheridan took a larger toll on Brockport than most expected. After two years of playoff success, the Golden Eagles plummeted last year to just two conference wins, four overall.

Oliver Wren got most of the work in goal, but he will have to up his game. Otherwise, Joe Reagan or freshman Aaron Green will have to step in and perform. Brockport was tied for the worst conference defense with Potsdam at 5.00 goals per game allowed. They also had the worst penalty kill.

However, it didn’t help that Brockport had trouble scoring, with the most anemic offense at 2.50 goals per game and the worst power play at just 11 percent.

Brockport does return their two leading scorers, James Cody and Ian Finnerty. They have transfers from Becker (Mike Hollander) and Wentworth (Chris Marinakos), as well as the Player of the Year in the Minnesota Junior Hockey League, Bobby Chayka.

Chayka is a defenseman, as are fellow newcomers Marcus Farmer and Jeff Meloff. Whether they can help stem their red light from turning on will be a key factor.

Brockport certainly isn’t shying away from competition. Their nonconference schedule includes Utica, Hamilton, Elmira, Neumann twice, and Elmira. At the very least, the Golden Eagles will be battle-tested.

Mark Your Calendar Game: December 3 vs. Morrisville. It will be interesting to see how Brockport finishes up the first half of the SUNYAC schedule, ironically against a team which has to replace a stalwart goaltender like Brockport the year before.


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