Somebody’s bound to say it.
“Ours is the toughest conference in Division III hockey.”
The thing is, the SUNYAC can make the claim as well as anybody, at least if the gauge is Frozen Four appearances.
Last year’s Frozen Four featured two SUNYAC schools, Geneseo and Oswego, and although they both bowed out in the semifinals, it says a lot about the strength of the conference that both entries made it that far, or that a third contender, racked up 19 wins for the third year in succession and wasn’t even given a tournament invite.
“The SUNYAC,” said longtime Plattsburgh bench boss Bob Emery, who has 15 NCAA appearances and two titles to his credit, “has gotten stronger and stronger every year I have been here. This year will not be any different. There are too many great coaches not to. Any team can beat anyone in this league. There are lots of tough arenas to play in and lots of very emotional games.
“For any team to be successful, they are going to have to manufacture big goals at the right time to be successful.”
Oswego coach Ed Gosek, whose Lakers won the national title in 2007 and have made the Frozen Four in each of the last five years, echoed the thought.
“I think that two teams in the Frozen Four speaks volumes,” Gosek said.
The nine schools that make up the gritty league feature battles royal each weekend.
The heart of the matter, in the opinion of Geneseo coach Chris Schultz, is that while the teams go toe-to-toe every night of the season, the coaches keep up the fight – for recruits – all year round.
“SUNYAC will always be an elite league with this group of coaches that we have,” said Schultz. “We all want to beat each other. We all have recruiting battles. At the end of the day, this group of hard-working coaches make our league extremely competitive.”
The league’s preseason poll puts Oswego – and the returning sophomore Matt Galati, the league’s leading scorer – Geneseo, and Plattsburgh all at the top of the ladder. That’s hardly a surprise.
Each of them is loaded from top to bottom.
What may be an eye-popper is the race for the middle – and for a team that could force its way into that top three.
There, the consensus seems to be that Brockport, Buffalo State and Fredonia, all seem to be ready to take the next step.
Schultz thinks that at the end of the day, Brockport may emerge as the best as the best of the bunch.
“I think that Brockport is trending to make a run with quality recruits,” he said.
Golden Eagles’ coach Brian Dickinson feels that the optimism about his squad is warranted.
“Last year, we ended the regular season on a high note winning our last four to vault into fifth place and a playoff spot,” Dickinson said. “Although the playoff game didn’t go as we would have liked, we’re excited to build off that strong finish to hopefully make that next step in securing a home playoff game this year. We feel that is an attainable goal for our program.”
Then again, everyone in the SUNYAC feels the same way. The key is to grab one of the six available playoff berths.
“I think a sixth-place team can win a SUNYAC final,” said Schultz. “If we expanded to eight teams, I think the eighth team could make a legitimate run.”
Last Year’s Record: 10-13-3, 7-8-1. Lost SUNYAC quarterfinal.
Coach: Brian Dickinson, 21st yr., 18th at Brockport (148-313-48, 134-265-42)
Key Returning Players: F Chase Nieuwendyk, Jr. (8-16-24), F Jake Taylor, So. (10-11-21), F Shane Cavalieri, Jr. (6-9-15), D Chris Luker, Jr. (9-13-22), G Aaron Green, Sr. (3.34, .897), G Jared Lockhurst, Jr. (3.39, .903).
Key newcomers: F Dylan Shapiro, Rochester USPHL Elite (18-25-43), F Ryan Kangas, Hartford EHL (9-7-16), D Brian Hurlimann, Trenton OJHL (3-8-11), D Dylan Howatt, Buffalo OJHL (3-14-17).
Key departures: D Matt DeLuca (0-3-3), F Nick Marinac (5-14-19), F Brendon Rothfuss (1-8-9).
Noteworthy: Nieuwendyk is the nephew of Hockey Hall of Famer Joe Nieuwendyk.
Last Year’s Record: 10-12-5, 6-6-4. Lost SUNYAC semifinal.
Coach: Nick Carriere, 10th yr. (97-115-24)
Key Returning Players: D Ben Kramer, Jr. (5-5-10), F Brett Hope, Jr. (5-7-12), F Taylor Price, So. (6-15-21), F Cory Gurski, Jr. (3-2-5), G Mike DeLaVergne (2.16, .889)
Key newcomers: F Marcus Michalski, Niagara Falls GOJHL (14-38-52), F Zach Nieminen, Ancaster GOJHL (36-37-73), F Ryan Hunter, Mississauga OJHL (11-18-29), F Ryan Demyen, North Bay NOJHL (26-27-53), F Jason Zaleski, Trenton OJHL (16-25-41), F Ryan Stayner, St. Catharines GOJHL (8-8-16), Garrett Chardon, Boston Jr. Rangers EHL (5-4-9 ), D Zach Stein, Hartford EHL (3-12-15), D Brody Power, North York OJHL (2-13-15), G Ian Sylves, Caledonia GOJHL (2.00, .926).
Key departures: G Kevin Carr (2.57, .922), F Mike Zannella (7-15-22), F Dan Turgeon (12-15-27),
Noteworthy: Nick Melligan, Buff State’s top scorer two years ago, returns after taking last year off.
Last Year’s Record: 5-16-3, 4-10-2. Missed playoffs.
Coach: Joe Cardarelli, 1st season (NR)
Key Returning Players: F Nick Zappia, Sr. (11-17-28), F Brant Sherwood, Jr., (5-7-12), F Mike Davie, (5-6-11), D Ryan Wagner, Jr. (3-8-11), F Kevin Antonik, Sr. (2-2-4).
Key newcomers: G Drew Weigman, Northern Cyclones EHL, (2.74, .911), G Kollyn Jones, NY PAL USPHL Prem. (2.85, .936), D Drazen Zack Connecticut EHL (6-27-33), D Cory Lauer, Toronto Patriots OJHL (2-9-11), F Darren McCormick, Buffalo OJHL (26-18-44), F Tommy Nolan, Connecticut EHL (22-20-42), F Dan Broderick, NY PAL EHL (3-5-8), F Andrew McCann, Wellington OJHL (10-16-26).
Key departures: F Adam Bevilacqua (10-10-20), F A.J. Moyer (7-10-17), D Stephen Nardi (3-7-10).
Noteworthy: Cardarelli, an assistant coach last year, is Cortland’s third head coach in as many seasons.
Last Year’s Record: 7-13-6, 4-7-5. Lost SUNYAC quarterfinal.
Coach: Jeff Meredith, 27th yr. (359-281-70)
Key Returning Players: F Stephen Castriota (10-10-20), F Jared Wynia (11-5-16), F Brian Doust (2-5-7)
Key newcomers: D Oskar Gerhardson, Wilkes-Barre/Scranton EHL (5-14-19), D Jamie Young, Walpole EHL (4-10-14), F Matt Cessna, Wilkes-Barre/Scranton EHL (15-23-38), G Nick Harper, Baldwinsville HS (NA), D Daniel Martensson, Monroe CC NJCCA (3-17-20), F Marcus Andersson, Malmo SEL (5-10-15), Damien Kulynych, Steinbach MJHL (3-16-19).
Key departures: F Travis Fernley (3-8-11)
Last Year’s Record: 23-7-0, 14-2-0. Lost Frozen Four semifinal.
Coach: Chris Schultz, 9th yr. (120-85-7)
Key Returning Players: F Tyler Brickler, Sr. (18-14-32), F Justin Scharfe, Sr. (11-20-31), F David Ripple, Jr. (9-15-24), F Stephen Collins, So. (13-11-24), D Jack Caradonna, Sr. (3-17-20), G Nick Horrigan (2.37, .926).
Key newcomers: F Trevor Hills, St. Lawrence ECAC (0-1-1), F R.J. Burns, Rio Grande NAHL (2-5-7), F Jason Stephanik, Sioux Falls USHL (4-7-11).
Key departures: F Zachary Vit (18-13-31), F Carson Schell (2-2-4), F Jonathan Sucese (6-8-14).
Noteworthy: The Knights reached the Frozen Four for the first time in school history last year.
Last Year’s Record: 5-17-2, 2-13-1. Missed playoffs.
Coach: Kevin Krogol, 3rd yr. (9-36-4)
Key Returning Players: F Matt Beer, Sr. (7-5-12), F Jordan Carvhalo, So. (8-12-20), F Joe Santino, So. (5-13-18), F John Doyle, So. (15-6-21).
Key newcomers: G Steven Dombrosky, Pickering OJHL (3.37, .902), F Layne Martin Dells MnJHL (21-48-69), D Max Sund, Richmond MetJHL (2-6-8), F Ty Simmons, So. Maine ECACE (1-1-2).
Key departures: None
Noteworthy: The Mustangs get their three top scorers – all of them now sophomores – back this year.
Last Year’s Record: 22-7-2, 10-5-1. Lost Frozen Four semifinal.
Coach: Ed Gosek, 12th yr. (234-63-18)
Key Returning Players: F Matt Galati, So. (24-12-36), D Bobby Gertsakis, Sr. (1-26-27), G Matt Zawadzki, So. (2.16, .922).
Key newcomers: F Mitchell Herlihey, Nepean CCHL, (17-28-45), F Trent Durocher, Pembroke CCHL (7-3-10) F David Ferriera, New Jersey USPHL (9-23-32), F Joey Davies, Alaska-Anchorage WCHA (1-2-3), D Alex D’Olivera, Cobourg OJHL (8-40-48), D Sean Federow, American Intl. AHA (1-2-3), G Mackenzie Sawyer, New Jersey USPHL Prem. (2.30, .914).
Key departures: F David Titanic (9-8-17), F Kyle Badham (1-2-3).
Noteworthy: Last year’s outstanding freshman class, led by SUNYAC Rookie of the Year Galati, should be that much better after a trip to the Frozen Four.
Last Year’s Record: 19-5-2, 12-2-2. Lost SUNYAC semifinal.
Coach: Bob Emery, 26th yr. (542-171-56)
Key Returning Players: D Brandon Beadow, Sr. (0-8-8), F Dillon Fox, Jr. (9-15-24), F Luke Baleshta, Jr. (3-12-15), F Kevin Emmerling, Jr. (6-13-19), F Mark Constantine Sr. (9-11-20).
Key newcomers: F Connor Toomey, Merrimack HEA (2-2-4), D Ayrton Valente, Mississauga OJHL (5-12-17), G
Brady Rouleau, Quinnipiac ECAC (NR), G Spencer Finney, Colgate ECAC (4.97, .857).
Key departures: F Alex Jensen (13-16-29), G Mathieu Cadieux (1.65, .935)
Noteworthy: With the loss of Cadieux, the Plattsburgh cage is wide open for the first time in three annums. The return of Brandon Beadow, the league’s three time defensive dman of the year winner, will help any goalie.
Last Year’s Record: 9-14-2, 4-10-2. Missed playoffs.
Coach: Chris Bernard, 9th yr., 6th at Potsdam (58-129-12, 41-77-8)
Key Returning Players: F Billy Pascalli, Jr. (10-9-19), F Kenny Simon, Sr. (5-9-14), D Erick Ware, Sr. (2-11-13).
Key newcomers: None
Key departures: F Mike Arnold (17-6-23), F Adam Place (5-15-20), F Ryan Miller (2-3-5).
Noteworthy: Returnees include 15 upper classmen. Unfortunately, last year’s two top scorers, Arnold and Place, aren’t among them.