Cortland coach Joe Baldarotta joined an elite list of college hockey coaches, a group that now contains only 22 members, with 12 still active. Baldarotta won his 300th game as a coach.
It was done in a heart-stopping manner, but then coaches who have been in the game this long are certainly used to it. The Red Dragons let a two-goal lead slip away against Morrisville, but Michael Lysyj scored 1:24 into overtime on a power play to give his coach the milestone win.
Baldarotta started coaching at Wisconsin-Stevens Point during the 1991-92 season. He had immediate success, making it to the national championship game before losing, 7-3, to Plattsburgh. The following year, his team again had a 25-win season, and this time won the national championship in a thrilling 4-3 overtime win over Wisconsin-River Falls. It was the first overtime title game in Division III.
He coached at Stevens Point, where he also played, for 16 years, winning three regular season titles, two conference championships, made five NCAA appearances with one national championship and two national runner-up finishes. Four times his teams had 20-plus victories, and only twice finished under .500. Overall, he was 265-171-38 (.599) in the cheese state.
His worst season there was his last (7-18-2, .296). The following year, he came east to start coaching at Cortland.
In his first season in Central New York, he went 11-12-3 (.481), going 8-4-2 down the stretch. That was the best season Cortland had in six years, and their first SUNYAC playoff appearance in four years. In total, his record at his new job is 35-64-7 (.363).
Cortland has been a tougher nut to crack. The school has tremendous success with their sports teams, except for hockey. The school is perfectly located for recruiting in every sport but hockey. Thus, the school tends not to spend as much for hockey recruiting when they know they don’t need to for any other sport and are successful with those other sports.
Need basketball players? It’s a short recruiting trip to New York City or the Syracuse-Rochester-Buffalo corridor. Lacrosse players? An easy hop to the hotbeds of Long Island and Syracuse. Plenty of nearby talent for soccer players, especially women’s soccer, in Rochester. If they need to expand their football recruiting horizons outside of talent rich upstate N.Y., simply go down to New Jersey to snag a few extra players.
Hockey, on the other hand, cannot rely solely on New York State players, even if the state is doing a better job producing young talent. To be competitive today in Division III, you still need to do your recruiting heavily in Canada. Even if the players aren’t Canadian, the best are mostly playing their junior hockey up there.
Cortland rarely gets Canadian players, because their recruiting budget simply isn’t large enough to extensively recruit north of the border. Plus, the school offers no incentive to lure Canadian students to their campus, even before other schools were getting in trouble for some of their programs.
Last year, there was not a single Canadian player on the roster (there were three from Sweden, but they were all transfers from Becker College). The year before, just one Canadian. The two years before that, again none. This year … two, and one is a transfer from St. Norbert.
Baldarotta, however, continues to remain optimistic. Every time I talk to him, he is always upbeat about his team, changing the environment in Cortland, and aiming to fill the rink with screaming fans.
“We’re not dwelling on what we don’t have,” Baldarotta said. “We’re dwelling on what we do have.”
What Baldarotta does have is 300 career victories. And counting.
I hope everybody enjoys their gobble-gobble day with family, friends, good food, and maybe even some college hockey.
If you’re vegetarian, fine. But if you’re not, ignore PETA, and eat turkey! Lots of it.
SUNYAC Players of the Week (selected by the conference)
Player of the Week: Steve Sachman, Brockport (F, So., Medford, N.Y.). Scored two goals in a 6-1 victory Friday night against No. 14 Geneseo on the road. It was the first win of the season for the Golden Eagles. Sachman netted a power-play goal midway through the third period and then, 1:30 later, scored a short-handed goal for his second and third goals of the season.
Rookie of the Week: Patrick Stillar, Morrisville (F, Burlington, Ontario). Tallied one goal and two assists over the weekend, including a goal and assist against No. 1 Oswego on Saturday. Friday night, Stillar assisted on Morrisville’s third goal of the night as the Mustangs trailed the Red Dragons 4-3 heading into the third period. Saturday night, Morrisville posted a 2-0 lead over the Lakers in the first, netting their first score of the night just 1:21 in on a power-play tally from Stillar. The Mustangs extended the lead to two as Stillar picked up the assist with just over five minutes remaining in the period. He currently leads all freshmen in the conference in scoring, netting two goals and five assists for seven points.
Goalie of the Week: Colin Breen, Morrisville (So., Waterloo, Ontario). Registered 77 saves over the weekend in which he played over 126 minutes in net. The Mustangs opened the weekend with a tough 5-4 overtime loss to Cortland, in which Breen made 26 saves. Saturday night, Breen posted a career best 51 saves in net to secure a 3-3 overtime draw against No. 1 Oswego, including seven in the extra frame.