Better than the rest

After completing a season sweep of arch-rival SUNY Plattsburgh, the Oswego State men’s ice hockey team sets their sights on their next objective: capturing the SUNYAC regular season title.

"It’s just another game, another win," junior forward Justin Fox said. "Our main focus is winning a title and that’s all that is on our mind right now."

Sitting atop the SUNYAC standings at 12-0-0, the Lakers need just two victories in their final four games to achieve their goal. The Lakers’ final four SUNYAC games include senior night against SUNY Cortland (4-8 SUNYAC), and road games with SUNY Morrisville (2-8 SUNYAC), SUNY Brockport (5-6 SUNYAC) and SUNY Geneseo (5-6 SUNYAC) to close out the regular season. Morrisville and Geneseo will be playing for pride as both the Mustangs and the Ice Knights are ineligible for SUNYAC postseason play.

"We’re five points ahead of Plattsburgh now, so it gives us a little bit of room there and even though we’ve swept them this year, we still want to reach our pinnacle at a later time this year," senior forward and co-captain Neil Musselwhite said.

Victories over fifth-ranked Plattsburgh, sixth-ranked Elmira College, twelfth-ranked Adrian College, and previously-ranked Hobart College have given the Lakers the confidence that they can defeat any team they take the ice against.

Plattsburgh (9-2-1 SUNYAC) sits in second place, five points behind conference leader Oswego State. Each conference victory is worth two points, while a conference tie garners one point. Two losses by the Cardinals in their final four SUNYAC games will automatically give Oswego State the SUNYAC regular season title and home ice advantage throughout the SUNYAC playoffs. Plattsburgh finishes the season with homes games against Morrisville, Buffalo State and SUNY Fredonia before heading to SUNY Potsdam for their regular season finale.

Home ice advantage would be critical for the Lakers in hopes of capturing their first SUNYAC title since 2003. The Lakers currently hold a perfect 13-0 record at home with just one home game remaining. At 2,246 fans per game, Oswego State sits second in Division III hockey in average attendance. Utica College, filling 2,752 seats per game, leads Division III hockey in average attendance. If the Lakers were to advance to the SUNYAC finals, their opponent would most likely be the Cardinals, who have defeated the Lakers the last three times the two teams have met in the SUNYAC final. The last three SUNYAC championship games between the Lakers and the Cardinals have all been played at the Ronald B. Stafford Arena in Plattsburgh.

"It will take two more wins to clinch (the SUNYAC regular season title), but we’re not looking at that," head coach Ed Gosek said. "We look at it as one game at a time. We want to continue to improve. We want to continue to get better. We keep saying that, but it’s the truth. That’s our goal, to not make (the game against Plattsburgh) the pinnacle of our season. The way to keep improving is to be critical of our play, pay attention to detail through hard work and practice and keep pushing."

The Lakers have already clinched a first-round bye in the SUNYAC playoffs, sitting 10 points ahead of Fredonia, who currently sit in third place. The Blue Devils can achieve a maximum of 10 points if they win their final five SUNYAC games, but the Lakers hold a potential tiebreaker over Fredonia after sweeping the Blue Devils in the regular season.

While the Lakers have the inside track on the SUNYAC regular season title and home ice advantage throughout the SUNYAC playoffs, neither coaches nor players are looking that far into the future. They are more concerned with taking the season one game at a time than looking one month into the future.