For the second time in three years, the SUNYAC Final will be between the Oswego State men’s ice hockey team and archrival SUNY Plattsburgh at the Campus Center Ice Arena in a battle of top-four teams.
The Lakers are looking to capture their ninth SUNYAC Championship in their 15th finals appearance, while the Cardinals are seeking their 21st conference title in their 25th finals appearance and 21st consecutive. Saturday’s meeting will be the 12th time these two teams have met in the SUNYAC Final. The Cardinals have won nine of those meetings. The two rivals have met 23 times during the SUNYAC playoffs, with the Cardinals leading the series 19-4.
Unlike the first two times the Lakers and Cardinals met this season, the SUNYAC Champion is guaranteed a spot in the 2012 NCAA Tournament, although it’s almost a foregone conclusion that both of these teams will earn a spot in the tournament. Oswego State comes into the game as the top-ranked team in the country with a 22-2-2 overall record and a 15-0-2 record against SUNYAC opponents. The Cardinals hold the No. 4 spot in the USCHO.com Men’s Poll with an 18-4-4 overall record and a 13-3-1 conference record.
The Lakers reached the title game after defeating SUNY Fredonia, 8-3, fueled by six unanswered goals between the first and second periods. Senior forward Ian Boots and junior forward Paul Rodrigues each scored two goals for the Lakers, as Oswego State avenged last year’s SUNYAC Semifinal loss to the Blue Devils. The Cardinals needed much more than just regulation to get past Buffalo State. Plattsburgh needed 111 minutes over three overtimes before Mark Constantine netted the game-winning goal to send the Cardinals to the SUNYAC Final.
After years of dominating the Lakers in head-to-head matchups, the Cardinals are winless in their last seven meetings against Oswego State, going 0-6-1 during that stretch. That lone tie came on Dec. 2 up in Plattsburgh when the two teams played to a 2-2 tie. The Lakers shut out the Cardinals, 3-0, in Oswego in the annual “White Out” game to clinch the SUNYAC regular season title and the No. 1 seed in the conference playoffs. The Cardinals are the No. 2 seed.
The Lakers come into the game riding a 12-game winning streak, stretching back to a 3-1 victory over Curry College on Jan. 13. Junior forward Jon Whitelaw leads the team in scoring with 39 points on 18 goals and 21 assists. His 39 points is tied for seventh-most in Division III. Whitelaw has scored a point in 12 straight games and has recorded a goal in six straight games. Whitelaw is averaging a team-high 1.50 points per game.
Linemates Rodrigues and junior forward Luke Moodie are second and third on the team in scoring, respectively. Rodrigues has amassed 35 points and Moodie has tallied 32 points. The Lakers have nine players on the roster who have scored at least 20 points this season.
The Lakers sport Division-III’s top offense at 4.77 goals per game, including 10 and eight-goal performances against Fredonia. Oswego State has had three hat tricks this season, including a five-goal performance by Rodrigues against Morrisville. The Lakers have played in just four games with a goal differential of one or less. They are 1-1-2 in those games.
The defense has been equally as strong, ranking third in Division III, allowing just 1.77 goals per game. In the past six games, the Lakers have allowed a combined seven goals. Junior goaltender Andrew Hare continues to be solid in net for the Lakers, boasting the third-best goals against average at 1.71 and fourth-best save percentage at .931.
Turning to the Cardinals, they do not have quite the offensive numbers that the Lakers have. Scoring an average of 3.38 goals per game, Plattsburgh has just one player with 20 points or more. Kyle Kudroch has amassed a team-high 22 points on nine goals and 13 assists. The Cardinals have scored just two goals in two games against the Lakers this season.
Defense is Plattsburgh’s strength, allowing 1.96 goals per game, fourth-most in Division III. The Cardinals have shut out five opponents this season and held opponents to one goal 10 times. The Cardinal defense has not allowed more than four goals in one game. Goaltender Mathieu Cadieux has been the go-to goalie for the Cardinals, sporting a 15-4-3 record, a 1.79 goals against average and a .930 save percentage.
The Cardinals have the top-ranked penalty kill at 93 percent efficiency. Plattsburgh has allowed just six power-play goals this season, one of which was to the Lakers. Oswego State has the sixth-best power play unit in Division III, scoring on 27.1 of its opportunities. Rodrigues has eight power-play goals and Whitelaw has six.
The Lakers and Cardinals will play in the SUNYAC Final on Saturday, March 3 at the Campus Center Ice Arena at 7 p.m. The winner will receive an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament.