For the past two years, the Oswego State men’s ice hockey team has qualified for the NCAA Frozen Four. Two years ago the Lakers found themselves playing at Herb Brooks Arena in Lake Placid, N.Y., in the NCAA National Semifinal and Oswego State again looks poised to solidify a spot in this year’s NCAA Frozen Four at Lake Placid among the nation’s top four teams in Division III hockey.
The first half of the 2011-12 season has featured a little bit of everything for the Lakers. There have been plenty of wins, a loss and even a couple of ties, as Oswego State sits at 9-1-2 overall and 6-0-2 in SUNYAC. The Laker schedule tested the team early, with a home-and-home series against Elmira College, who are currently ranked 10th in the most recent USCHO.com Men’s Ice Hockey Poll. The Soaring Eagles jumped out to an early lead in the first period at the Murray Athletic Center in Elmira, N.Y., before the Lakers caught fire and scored seven of the final eight goals for a season-opening 7-3 victory. Oswego State completed the sweep the following night at the Campus Center Ice Arena.
Despite sweeping the Soaring Eagles, Oswego State lost senior goaltender Paul Beckwith for the season with a knee injury. Beckwith played just the opening period before leaving the game, replaced by junior goaltender Andrew Hare. Hare has filled in admirably for the Lakers, recording an 8-1-2 record in net with a 1.86 goals against average and a .928 save percentage. Hare’s goals against average is seventh-best among goaltenders in Division III. Backup goalie Dan Jones has appeared in two games, defeating The College at Brockport, 7-1, before being pulled against SUNY Potsdam in his only other appearance this season.
The Lakers have been led by junior forwards Jon Whitelaw and Paul Rodrigues, who have both recorded 17 points so far this season. Whitelaw leads the team in goals with six, while Rodrigues leads the team in assists with 12. Rodrigues is second in conference scoring, tallying five goals and nine assists for 14 points. Whitelaw is sixth in conference scoring with 12 points on five goals and seven assists.
Oswego State currently has five players averaging at least one point per game. Aside from Whitelaw and Rodrigues, junior forward Luke Moodie, senior forward and assistant captain Ian Boots and junior defenseman Zach Josepher are all averaging at least one point per game. The Laker forwards are not the only members of the team getting involved in the offense, as the defensemen have provided plenty of goals this season. Junior defenseman Jesse McConney leads defenseman on the team with five goals after going goal less in his first two seasons. McConney has tallied two game-winning goals, including one against Hobart College to finish out the first half of the season. In total, the Lakers have received 10 goals from defensemen.
One thing Oswego State fans are unfamiliar with as of late have been ties. Coming into this season, the last time the Lakers had tied an opponent was back on Nov. 14, 2008, against the Morrisville State Mustangs. Ironically enough, the Lakers tied the Mustangs this season on Nov. 12. But that was not the only tie this season for Oswego State, as the Lakers tied archrival Plattsburgh, 2-2, on Dec. 2 in Plattsburgh. The last time the Lakers had two or more ties in a single season was back during the 2007-08 campaign. That year Oswego State tied Elmira and SUNY Fredonia.
Oswego State boasts an offense and defense ranked in the top 10 in Division III. The Laker offense ranks ninth at 4.50 goals per game and the defense ranks tied for sixth at 2.08 goals allowed per game. Oswego State has scored six or more goals five times this season, while limiting opponents to one goal or less in four contests.
Special teams play sits in the middle of the pack, with the power play unit ranked 27th at 20.6 percent efficient and the penalty kill unit ranked 28th at 84.8 percent efficient. Seven players on the team have recorded power-play goals. Rodrigues, McConney and junior forward Chris Brown each have tallied three this season. Junior forward Chris Ayotte has the only shorthanded goal so far this season. The Lakers have yet to allow a shorthanded goal.
The Lakers hold a sizable advantage in both shots and goals per game. Oswego State has outshot opponents, 493-322, and are 8-0-1 when outshooting opponents in a game. The Lakers have outscored opponents, 54-25, including 13-goal margins in both the first and third periods. The Lakers are undefeated when holding a lead after two periods and are 5-0-1 when leading after the first period. Oswego State has only been outshot three times this season.
The Lakers still have plenty of tests in the second half of the season, starting with the annual Pathfinder Bank/Oswego Classic set to take place on Dec. 30 and conclude the following day. If the Lakers get by Connecticut College in the first round of the tournament, they will play either 11th ranked Neumann College or Hamline College. Oswego State looks for revenge against Utica College at home on Jan. 14 after dropping its only game of the season so far to the Pioneers, 3-2, in Utica on Oct. 29.
Oswego State’s remaining schedule features tough road games against SUNY Geneseo and Morrisville, but the Lakers finish the regular season with four conference home games against Fredonia, Buffalo State, Plattsburgh and Potsdam. The Lakers currently sit one point in front of Plattsburgh for the SUNYAC lead and home ice advantage throughout the SUNYAC playoffs. The Lakers and Cardinals meet at the Campus Center Ice Arena on Friday, Feb. 17.
According to the latest poll, the top four teams in the country are Norwich, Oswego State, Castleton and Wisconsin-River Falls. Time will tell if these are the four teams that will meet in Lake Placid come mid March with the championship on the line.