This week in D-III East: Buffalo State looking to earn key wins against top programs

Anthony Passero of Buffalo State (Buffalo State Sports Information)
Anthony Passero of Buffalo State (Buffalo State Sports Information)

With a record of 11-1-1 in their last 13 games, there is a lot to have coach Steve Murphy and his players excited about at Buffalo State. The team has attained a national ranking in recent polls and faces down the final two weeks of the regular season with control of their own destiny for the SUNYAC playoffs. There are so many positives, but no guarantees according to their coach, who has adopted the “one at a time” mantra with his players.

“At the beginning of the season, our focus was on getting a playoff spot,” noted Murphy. “We have kind of earned that already, but we have a lot more to play for starting on Friday night against Oswego. With Potsdam tying Geneseo last weekend, we know we control our own destiny in these final four games to possibly earn a first-round bye and advance directly to the semifinals. Like everything else this year, that isn’t going to be easy. Oswego has a great team, and Cortland, Plattsburgh, and Potsdam are all fighting for a spot in the playoffs, so we know we are going to get everyone’s best effort. We are playing well, but now is the time to get just a little better.”

Better might be a relative term for a team that is 15-4-2 overall and 8-2-2 in the conference, but the roster has an abundance of underclassmen that have performed well and maybe even beyond expectations to this point in the season.

“I think there were some expectations from the coaching staff,” said Murphy. “I think there were higher expectations from the players themselves. We have had some success over the past couple of seasons, but entered this year with 17 or 18 underclassmen. They got a good taste of the college game last season and particularly the second semester, where things change. There are more tight-checking and one-goal kind of playoff hockey games, and our kids know what that is about and embrace playing in those games. We have already had so many one-goal games this season and understand what it takes to be successful in those games.”

Two key underclassmen have been forward Anthony Passero and defenseman Michael Anthony Guerrera, who hold down the top two spots on the scoring leader board with a combined 14 goals and 48 points between them. While these two sophomores have clearly made big strides in their overall level of play, there are many others that have the Bengals playing with balance and depth.

“It really is a team effort every night,” stated Murphy. “Those two guys stand out from a stats perspective, but Zach [Remers], Reid [Bibb], Vadim [Vasjonkin], and Cody [Symonds] are other young guys that have really played well even as freshmen. They probably couldn’t do it without the leadership of guys like Brody [Power], Marcus [Michalski], Mac [Wood], and Zach [Niemenen], but the mix has been great, and the chemistry has come together really well.”

Following the graduation of Mike De La Vergne in the spring, there was a question about who would replace the All-American goaltender for Buffalo State. Even that piece of the puzzle has come together well for the Bengals, who find the position to be one of strength for their team.

“Really when you look at the last eight seasons, we had Carr and then De La Vergne develop into professional-level goaltenders during their time here,” noted Murphy. “Ian [Sylves] came in to compete with Mike as a freshman and didn’t get to play very much, so we expected more of a competition this season with Connor Minch coming in as a recruit. They competed for the first five or six games, and since then it has been Ian’s job. He is a great kid and teammate, and everyone on the team wants to see him succeed so his success has been appreciated by the whole team, and we are blessed to continue our streak of quality goaltending in the program.”

The past two seasons have ended for the Bengals in the conference semifinal round. This year, there are aspirations of going further, but the Bengals are not looking past any of the games between now and the playoffs starting.

“We haven’t beat a ranked team yet this season,” noted Murphy. “We would love to start that on Friday night and earn the season split with Oswego to help build our résumé further. I jokingly say that we play in the worst conference in the country -– it is so tough every night with such great coaches like [Ed] Gosek, [Bob] Emery, and {Chris] Schultz amongst all the coaches in our league. Everyone can beat anyone, so we still have work to do in these next two weeks and we are not going to get ahead of ourselves just yet. We are in playoff mode right now, and that means we need to be the better team for just one night.”

That is the mantra for Buffalo State starting this Friday when they host the Lakers in a key SUNYAC matchup.

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