Optimism sky-high for all nine SUNYAC teams, no clear-cut favorite

Buffalo State captain Mike Zannella wants to see his Bengals’ team make an impact this year in SUNYAC play (photo: Dan Hickling).

Optimism runs amok at the beginning of every hockey season, with each team insisting that its conference is wide-open and that a league title is there for the taking.

This time, they mean it.


It’s been a while – four years, to be precise – since anyone other than Oswego has captured the SUNYAC regular season crown, but this year, or so league’s eight other teams hope, the outcome could be different.

After all, the Lakers graduated 14 players off of last year’s squad, the one that made a second consecutive (and futile) trip to the Frozen Four championship game.

A cautionary note: Any drop off in Oswego may be more imaginary than real.

That first step may not be a doozie, after all.

“People are going to look for Oswego to falter with a new team, but they will not,” said Geneseo bench boss Chris Schultz. “[Lakers’ coach Ed] Gosek is one of the best in the game and he will have them ready come February.”

Still, if there should happen to be a void at the top, there are as many as four squads – Plattsburgh, Geneseo, Buffalo State and Fredonia – who feel as though they have the gas to get them there.

“I believe that Plattsburgh has put themselves in a position to be the early season favorite,” said Brockport coach Brian Dickinson. “And although Oswego lost a lot of key guys to graduation, they always seem to reload, so their new group will get better as the season takes shape. Geneseo and Buffalo State look to have brought in some key guys to help fill the void lost to graduation and they’re both experienced playoff teams. I believe that anyone can beat anyone on any given night and it will take a team’s best effort to win games. It will be an exciting season.”

The excitement could be felt throughout the bottom tier of the SUNYAC, too, if squads that have been turned away from the playoff party in recent years can play their way into the top six.

Brockport, Cortland and Morrisville are all eager to end their playoff droughts, while Potsdam, which nabbed the final tourney spot last year, wants to fend off the others, or even improve its playoff, if it can.

“Top to bottom, the SUNYAC is one of the best leagues in the country,” said Cortland coach Tom Cranfield, who returns to the Red Dragons’ bench after an absence of seven years. “It is a tough league to play in due to the physical toll night in and night out. There is never an easy win.”

And there are rarely any dull ones, either.

Indeed, there are enough SUNYAC subplots afoot to keep things very interesting throughout the entire season.

“I think the SUNYAC is an amazing league,” said Schultz. “There are simply no nights off. You may of course have your occasional blowout, but that happens in the NHL, too. Our players have grown accustomed to having to give your best or you will lose. It is that simple.”


About the Golden Eagles
Coach: Brian Dickinson, 20th season overall (138-301-45) and 17th at Brockport (124-253-39)
2012-13 overall record: 7-16-2
2012-13 SUNYAC record: 5-10-1 (7th)
2013-14 predicted finish: 7th
Key losses: D Mike Hayward (4-11-15)
Key returnees: F Jesse Facchini (3-16-19), G Jared Lockhurst (3.02, .919), G Aaron Green (3.22, .897), F Shane Cavalieri (9-5-14), D Matt DeLuca (0-5-5) , F Brendon Rothfuss (6-6-12), F Chris Cangro (7-10-17)
Key newcomers: F Jake Taylor (15-12-27, Lindsay OJHL), F Nick Marinac (10-24-34, Trenton OJHL), D Robbie Hall (4-17-21, Trenton OJHL), F Ryan Johnson (9-12-21, Trenton/Newmarket OJHL), F Andrew Parks (1-3-4, Trenton OJHL).
Outlook: The Golden Eagles are feeling a little playoff-starved, having missed the postseason three seasons in a row. “Three seasons has been too long,” said Dickinson. “And we have talented players in the program.” One of those, Lockhurst, could build off last year’s strong freshman season to become an upper-echelon SUNYAC goaltender.


About the Bengals
Coach: Nick Carriere, ninth season overall and at Buffalo State (88-104-19)
2012-13 overall record: 13-12-2
2012-13 SUNYAC record: 7-8-1 (4th)
2013-14 predicted finish: 4th
Key losses: F Nick Melligan 13-17-30), F Trevor McKinney (12-9-21), F Matt Bessing (12-9-21), D Zach Hale (1-2-3), F Drew Klin (0-6-6), D Dan Andersson (0-0-0)
Key returnees: G Kevin Carr (2.52, .921), F Mike Zannella (16-10-26), D Todd Graham (2-3-5), D Ben Kramer (0-10-10), F Brett Hope (4-23-27).
Key newcomers: F Taylor Pryce (22-14-36, North York OJHL), F Adam Rossi (17-41-58, Abbottsford PIJHL).
Outlook: The senior-laden Bengals have designs on a title run and with sniper Zannella and puckstopper Carr, they might just have the means to make one. “Our goal is to continually improve on last season’s progress and turn a few heads,” said Carriere.


About the Red Dragons
Coach: Tom Cranfield, 7th season (2001-07, 2013-14; 53-93-16)
2012-13 overall record: 7-15-3
2012-13 SUNYAC record: 3-11-2 (8th)
2013-14 predicted finish: 8th
Key losses: F Mike Lysyj (18-15-33), F Chris Kaleta (15-13-28)
Key returnees: F AJ Moyer (7-15-22), F Adam Bevilacqua (10-11-21), F Nick Zappia (12-6-18), D Ryan Wagner (1-8-9), G Lyle Rocker (3.65, .895)
Key newcomers: F Brant Sherwood (2-7-9, Plymouth State), F Matt Esposito (9-24-33, Rochester EJHL)
Outlook: Cranfield regains the reins after the retirement of Joe Baldarotta and hopes to take the Red Dragons in an upward direction. “Our expectation is to be a playoff team,” said Cranfield, who directed Cortland to its lone winning season back in 2001-02. “We have been absent from playoffs for too long and we are looking forward to making an appearance again.”


About the Blue Devils
Coach: Jeff Meredith, 26th season overall and at Fredonia (353-269-64)
2012-13 overall record: 7-16-3
2012-13 SUNYAC record: 5-9-2 (t-5th)
2013-14 predicted finish: 5th
Key losses: G Mark Friesen (3.18, 8.96), F Brett Mueller (1-5-6), D Brad Nunn (1-1-2), F Mat Hehr (8-7-15).
Key returnees: F Alex Perkins (3-2-5), F Matt Owczarczak (2-4-6), D Ryan Edens (0-0-0), F Andrew Crist (0-0-0), D Ryan Wilkinson (1-3-4) F Steve Castriota (4-8-12), F Jared Wynia (7-2-9), F Taylor Bourne (5-5-10)
Key newcomers: G Chris Eiserman (Bridgton Acad.), F Travis Fernley (18-23-41, Truro MJAHL), Garrett Moore (12-18-30, Carleton Place CCHL), F Erik Moberg (30-19-49, Wilkes-Barre AtJHL), F Marcus Ortiz (6-10-16, Wilkes-Barre AtJHL), F Blake Forslund (21-26-47, Aurora/Orangeville OJHL).
Outlook: Fredonia is looking to break out of the middle of the SUNYAC pack, but will have to amp up the offensive output to do it. “Obviously we have to improve on the number of goals we scored last year [46],” said Meredith. “For the first time in my career in the history of the program, we finished last in the SUNYAC in goals scored. An even more humbling than that, we finished last in the country in goals scored per game, so that’s a real that’s a real point of emphasis for us.” Top returning goal-getters Wynia and Bourne will have to carry a large part of the scoring load.


About the Knights
Coach: Chris Schultz, 8th season overall and at Geneseo (99-78-7)
2012-13 overall record: 17-9-1
2012-13 SUNYAC record: 11-4-1 (3rd; lost semifinal)
2013-14 predicted finish: 3rd
Key losses: F Kaz Iwamoto (3-18-21), F Ryan Bulach (10-7-17), F Corbin Rosmarin (13-2-15), D Alex Lubczuk (5-11-16), D Colin deJersey (5-9-14).
Key returnees: F Zach Vit (7-22-29), F Tyler Brickler (9-12-21), D David Ripple (9-13-22), D Nate Brown (5-11-16), D Jack Caradonna (2-22-24), G Bryan Haude (2.38, .915).
Key newcomers: F Stephen Collins (27-15-42, Arizona St. ACHA), F Ryan Stanimir (3-4-7, Sacred Heart), D Derek Stahl (1-12-13, Islanders EJHL), D Matt Solomon (0-4-4, Sacred Heart), D Cam Hampson (, New Jersey EJHL)
Outlook: Hopes are lofty in Genny, where the well-balanced Knights could make legitimate run at a SUNYAC championship. “Our expectations are high, but we cannot get ahead of ourselves,” said Schultz. “We will focus on being in the moment. We will focus on competing hard and being selfless on the ice, in the locker room and in our community.”


About the Mustangs
Coach: Kevin Krogol, 2nd season overall and at Morrisville (4-19-2)
2012-13 overall record: 4-19-2
2012-13 SUNYAC record: 4-12-2 (t-8th)
2013-14 predicted finish: 9th
Key losses: F Jamie Nelson (6-18-24), D James Jarvis (5-10-15)
Key returnees : F Mike Dolman (10-15-25), F Ryan Marcuz (9-15-24), G Chris Azzano (3.87, .890), D Eric Fletcher (1-1-2).
Key newcomers: F John Doyle (7-16-23, Orangeville/Aurora OJHL), F Darren Young (18-52-70, Niagara Falls GOJHL).
Outlook: Did you know that Marcuz is the SUNYAC’s top returning point-getter (he was fourth last season with 20)? The Mustangs’ playoff hopes will rest on stealing a few wins from unsuspecting foes.


About the Lakers
Coach: Ed Gosek, 11th season overall and at Oswego (213-57-16)
2012-13 overall record: 25-5-0
2012-13 SUNYAC record: 14-2-0 (first; lost national championship game)
2013-14 predicted finish: 2nd
Key losses: F Paul Rodrigues (16-30-46, National Player of the Year), F Jon Whitelaw (10-20-30), F Luke Moodie (22-22-44), D Zach Josepher (9-14-23), D Jesse McConney (4-23-27), F Chris Brown (7-27-34), G Andrew Hare (1.88, 9.30).
Key returnees: F David Titanic (11-8-19), F Kyle Badham (1-5-6), D Nick Rivait (1-7-8), D Bobby Gertsakis (7-10-17).
Key newcomers: F Mike Montagna, (0-3-3, Vermont), F Brandon Adams (16-19-35, Soo NAHL), F Morgan Bonner (1-2-3, Sacred Heart), D Mike Wills (0-0-0, Merrimack), D Mackenzie Scott (2-4-6, Trenton OJHL), F Alex Botten (22-58-80, Stouffville/Georgetown OJHL), F Kenny Neil (21-56-77, Nepean CCHL), F Matt Galati (30-21-51, Pickering/St.Michael’s OJHL), F Shawn Hulshof (25-20-45, Trenton OJHL), D Stephen Johnson (9-28-37, Cornwall CCHL), F Chris Raguseo (7-29-36, Whitby OJHL), G Matt Zawadzki (2.85, .916, Nepean CCHL).
Outlook: They’ve suffered two consecutive national title game disappointments and have lost more than a dozen seniors off of last year’s SUNYAC champs. Thus, there are plenty of unknowns being harbored on the shores of Lake Ontario. “We have a young inexperienced team,” said Gosek. “[We also have] untested, unproven goaltending. We hope to improve each practice and each game and to be our best at end of season.” With a host of newcomers, including several with D-I experience on hand, practices (and games) should be very interesting.


About the Cardinals
Coach: Bob Emery, 25th season (524-166-54)
2012-13 overall record: 19-7-1
2012-13 SUNYAC record: 13-2-1 (2nd; lost SUNYAC final)
2013-14 predicted finish: 1st
Key losses: F Jared Docking (11-19-30), D Paul Puglisi (1-7-8)
Key returnees: F Luke Baleshta (7-19-26), F Kevin Emmerling (14-10-24), F Dillan Fox (9-11-20), Nick Jensen (6-9-15), F Alex Jensen (7-7-14), G Mathieu Cadieux (1.78, .929)
Key newcomers: D Patrick Hermans (Northwood Sch.), F Kyle Hall (19-24-43, Battleford SJHL), F Dakota Mason (26-41-67, Brooks AJHL)
Outlook: Some observers have already handed the Cardinals the SUNYAC crown, but Emery isn’t buying any of the hype. “As we found out last year, you cannot take a night off,” said Emery. Plattsurgh has a solid group of returnees, with Cadieux the most important of them.


About the Bears
Coach: Chris Bernard, 8th season overall (49-117-10) and fifth season at Potsdam (23-47-5)
2012-13 overall record: 9-16-1
2012-13 SUNYAC record: 6-10-1 (t-5th; lost quarterfinal)
2013-14 predicted finish: 6th
Key losses: F Matt Viola (5-15-20), D Brett Waters (2-8-10)
Key returnees: F Adam Place (9-12-21), F Mike Arnold (16-4-20), D Nick Avgerinos (0-5-5), D Kevin Carpenter (0-3-3)
Key newcomers: TBA
Outlook: The Bears will return to their Maxcy Hall den after last year’s shutdown for renovations. With Place and Arnold – two of the league’s top snipers – back for another season, Potsdam could puck plenty of pucks in enemy nets. The key to any success will be in their ability to keep pucks out of their own. “The SUNYAC remains extraordinarily competitive,” said Bernard. “We must bring superior work ethic and execution every night to meet our objectives.”