Lakers look to capture SUNYAC title
Tough conference provides competition for Oswego State
By Mike Kraft – Staff Writer
The SUNYAC was chartered in 1958 and it quickly became one of the most competitive conferences for Division III men’s ice hockey. The conference consists of nine hockey teams across the New York state (SUNY Oneonta and SUNY New Paltz do not currently have men’s ice hockey programs). Since its inception, the SUNYAC has boasted four Division III National Champions in men’s ice hockey.
The conference is well-balanced, meaning that each team has a chance to capture the regular season title. Last season it was SUNY Plattsburgh that nearly swept the conference, finishing 15-0-1 to capture the regular season title. This year’s top storylines include a much younger Oswego State team, Plattsburgh needing to replace the SUNYAC Herb Hammond Most Valuable Player and a new head coach at SUNY Potsdam.
1. Plattsburgh Cardinals
2008 record: (24-2-2 overall, 15-0-1 SUNYAC)
The Cardinals were a completely dominant team last season, outscoring their opponents 135-54. The only two teams that challenged the Cardinals during conference play were Potsdam and Oswego State. Despite their impressive season, Plattsburgh still has a bitter taste in their mouth after losing in the NCAA quarterfinal in overtime against eventual national champion Neumann College.
This year’s team will consist of six seniors, seven juniors, nine sophomores and 13 freshmen. The Cardinals return their top three scorers from last year’s conference championship team in senior forward Joey Wilson (24 goals, 17 assists), junior forward Dylan Clarke (16 goals, 23 assists) and senior forward Phil Farrow (12 goals, 26 assists). However, there are questions at the goaltending position after last season’s SUNYAC Herb Hammond Most Valuable Player Bryan Hince decided to forgo his final two years of eligibility and join the Tulsa Oilers of the Central Hockey League (CHL). Hince’s absence leaves the Cardinals with three freshmen vying for the starting position.
Even with the loss of Hince, the Cardinals are still the team to beat in the SUNYAC this year. They are a physical, attacking team that plays at a level that can’t be matched by most teams. A key reason for their success last season was their power play and penalty kill units. The Cardinals went 26.2 percent on the power play last season, while killing off 86.2 percent of penalties against them.
2. Oswego State Lakers
2008 record: (18-8-1 overall, 11-4-1 SUNYAC)
The Lakers come into the season with 14 new players (12 freshmen and two junior transfers), replacing the 13 seniors from last year’s team that finished second in the SUNYAC. Head coach Ed Gosek returns to the bench for his seventh season with Oswego State and will be working with the youngest group of players he has had during his tenure.
This year’s team consists of four seniors, seven juniors, five sophomores and 12 freshmen. The Lakers have not had a losing season since the 1993-1994 season, when they finished 11-13-2. Don’t expect that streak to be broken this season, even with all of the youth.
Last year’s SUNYAC Rookie of the Year Eric Selleck returns for his sophomore season hoping to continue his success with the team. Last year, Selleck registered 13 goals and 13 assists for 26 points, helping the team advance to the SUNYAC championship, where they lost to Plattsburgh in overtime.
Along with a strong home-ice advantage, the Lakers have found success because they rarely relinquish leads. Last season, the Lakers went 13-1 when leading after two periods. The lone loss was at Plattsburgh, a team that the Lakers will have to find a way to defeat if they want to win the SUNYAC. Oswego State is winless in their last nine meetings against the Cardinals (0-8-1) dating back to the 2005-2006 season.
3. Geneseo Ice Knights
2008 record: (14-12-1 overall, 8-7-1 SUNYAC)
The Geneseo Ice Knights rebounded last season from a disastrous 2007-2008 season, when they finished 8-17-0, and finished seventh in the SUNYAC. Head coach Chris Schultz, a Geneseo alumnus in his fourth season with the team, has steered the team in the right direction, as they finished third in the SUNYAC and advanced to the SUNYAC semifinal against Oswego State last season.
One reason for their recent success is their grittiness and determination. Last season, the Ice Knights were 7-3 in games decided by one goal, 3-0-1 in overtime games and 9-7-1 when their opponent scored first.
Geneseo graduated seven seniors from last year’s team, but return their two leading scorers. Senior forwards Sebastian Panetta (seven goals, team-leading 16 assists) and Dan Brown (10 goals, 12 assists) look to build on last year’s success in an attempt to capture their third SUNYAC title.
The Ice Knights open their season with four consecutive road games that include back-to-back games against Plattsburgh and Potsdam.
4. Buffalo State Bengals
2008 record: (10-12-4 overall, 5-7-4 SUNYAC)
Buffalo State has not had a winning season in team history (two .500 seasons), but that should change after this season. The Bengals have the most seniors on their roster in the SUNYAC with 10, with a total of 14 upperclassmen. Buffalo State lost only five seniors to graduation, but one of those seniors was leading scorer Jason Hill (10 goals, team-leading 39 assists). However, the Bengals return their second and third leading scorers from last year’s team in senior forwards Nick Petriello (16 goals, 29 assists) and Joel Sheppard (16 goals, nine assists).
The Bengals led the SUNYAC last year with a 27.2 percent power play, which helped lead them to a sixth-place finish in the conference and a spot in the SUNYAC quarterfinal against Geneseo.
Buffalo State will look to improve upon their dismal performance in tight games, finishing 0-5 in one-goal games last season. The Bengals will be tested early, hosting their first SUNYAC game against Oswego State on Friday, Oct. 30.
5. Cortland Red Dragons
2008 record: (8-15-2 overall, 5-9-2 SUNYAC)
The Red Dragons may prove to be a surprise team in the SUNYAC this year after they finished seventh a year ago and failed to reach the SUNYAC postseason. Head coach Joe Baldarotta is now in his third season with the Red Dragons and is looking to fully implement the strategies that made him successful in his 16 seasons with Wisconsin-Stevens Point.
Cortland graduated five seniors from last year’s team and this year’s team will include 10 upperclassmen. Among the returning players are last year’s co-leading scorer Jarrett Gold (10 goals, 22 assists) and leading goal scorer Patrick Palmisano (15 goals, 14 assists).
An area that needs to be addressed is the team’s confidence when trailing in a game. Last year, the Red Dragons went 0-12-1 when trailing after two periods. Another area of concern is their performance on the road. A 3-9 road record crippled their season last year and that area of concern will be tested early this season. Cortland’s first five games are on the road, including back-to-back games at Potsdam and Plattsburgh. Coincidentally, Cortland’s final four games are also on the road and include games at Oswego State and Geneseo.
6. Potsdam Bears
2008 record: (9-12-5 overall, 6-6-4 SUNYAC)
The only coaching turnover in the SUNYAC during the offseason took place at Potsdam. Chris Bernard takes over for Aaron Saul, who took the head coaching job at Elmira College. Bernard comes to Potsdam after having limited success at Western New England College (17-52-4 in four seasons). However, Potsdam returns all but two of their players from last year’s team that finished fifth in the SUNYAC and earned a spot in the SUNYAC quarterfinal against Brockport. This year’s team will include 15 upperclassmen, including their top two forwards in senior Connor Treacy (team-leading 20 goals, 20 assists) and senior Luke Beck (two goals, team-leading 26 assists).
The Bears have not had a winning season since 2002-2003 and that is thanks in large part to their limited success at home. Last year the Bears went 5-7-2 in their home arena. The power play unit for Potsdam was a bright spot last year with a 23.9 percent success rate. If the Bears can manage to go at least .500 at home this season, they should be in position to make the SUNYAC postseason. The Bears open their season with four consecutive home games and conclude their season with four consecutive home games.
7. Brockport Golden Eagles
2008 record: (14-10-3 overall, 7-7-2 SUNYAC)
The Golden Eagles enjoyed their first winning season in 20 years thanks to their 8-2-2 home record. Brockport finished last year in fourth place in the SUNYAC and made it to the SUNYAC semifinal before being defeated by eventual conference champion Plattsburgh.
This year, a well-balanced roster with five seniors and six juniors plays to the Golden Eagles’ favor, but teams that aren’t use to experiencing success for long stretches typically don’t repeat the success experienced in one season. Brockport returns their two leading scorers in sophomore forward James Cody (11 goals, 13 assists) and senior forward Sean O’Malley (five goals, team-leading 17 assists). Head coach Brian Dickinson returns for his 12th season with the team in hopes of replicating last year’s success. Dickinson has had limited success with Brockport, evident in his 82-177-29 record at the school. Brockport will know how good they really are after their opening weekend when they play at Potsdam and at Plattsburgh on back-to-back nights.
8. Fredonia Blue Devils
2008 Record: (6-13-5 overall, 4-8-4 SUNYAC)
The longest tenured coach in the SUNYAC can be found at Fredonia, but that doesn’t necessarily mean the team will be successful every year. Head coach Jeff Meredith returns for his 22nd season with the team and has compiled a record of 302-221-55. Meredith is looking to have his team rebound after his first losing season since 1998-99, when the team went 13-14-1.
The Blue Devils will feature 11 upperclassmen, including junior forward Jordan Oye (five goals, 12 assists) and sophomore forward Bryan Ross (team-leading nine goals, six assists).
A variety were factors are responsible for the team’s uncharacteristic season last year. Fredonia had a 2-8-3 record on the road and went 0-1-5 in overtime. Their penalty killing unit was one of the worst in the SUNYAC at 78.6 percent and the team was outshot 897-770 during the season. Six of the team’s first eight games this season are on the road (four SUNYAC contests), including games against Buffalo State and Geneseo.
9. Morrisville State Mustangs
2008 record: (5-19-1 overall, 1-14-1 SUNYAC)
The Mustangs enter their third year as a provisional team in the SUNYAC, meaning that they will not be eligible for postseason play regardless of their record at the end of the season. Morrisville is still adjusting to life in the SUNYAC, struggling to a 10-39-1 record in their first two seasons. One positive for the Mustangs is the 16 upperclassmen on the roster, most in the SUNYAC this year.
However, The negatives clearly outweigh the positives, as is evident in the Mustangs’ last place finish in the SUNYAC last year. A 1-11-0 home record coupled with a 0-14-0 record when trailing after two periods led to a forgettable season. The penalty killing unit was the worst in the SUNYAC at 75.1 percent and the Mustangs were outscored by more than two goals per game. Senior forward Andrew Alarie (nine goals, eight assists) is the leading scorer returning this season for the Mustangs. Morrisville opens the season at home against Elmira before going on the road for six consecutive games.