Four short years ago, 14 freshman hockey players, all from different backgrounds, suited up in Oswego State uniforms and took the ice together for the first time. They had their work cut out for them. Three years removed from a national championship, the fate of the storied program firmly rested upon their shoulders. Seventy-three wins, three Frozen Fours, a SUNYAC title, and one national championship appearance later, they are set to take us on one final journey from October through March, looking to cement their Laker legacy as one of the greatest classes to ever don the green and gold. It is my fourth and final year as well, and so for the bittersweet “last first time,” here are my pre-season observations.
Super seniors. Undoubtedly, this will be the storyline of the season. The 14 Lakers that have played together for four years give Oswego State an advantage that is second to none when combined with their already-established talent. Not much stopped these guys when they were freshmen, sophomores, or juniors. Now, with more experience, team chemistry and motivation than ever before, the possibilities are endless. All there is left to do is watch.
Exhibition competition. With all due respect to the Royal Military Academy and the GMHL All-Stars, the last two exhibitions that the Lakers have played have resulted in less than adequate competition. With the talent of the United States National Under-18 team coming to the Campus Center Arena to ring in a new season of hockey, the fans that show up on Family and Friends Weekend should be in for a top-notch hockey game. The U-18 is full of Division I recruits and future NHL players, and when they last appeared in Oswego in 2008, they knocked off the Lakers, 4-3, in an overtime final.
Building the blue line. Of the five graduating seniors of 2012, two of them were defenseman. With two big defense spots open, the Lakers look to fill the roles of Jared Anderson and Hank Van Boxmeer. Sophomores Bobby Gertsakis and Nick Rivait should be the next guys in line to try and maintain the outstanding back-end play of the Lakers defensive corps from 2011-12. The 54 goals surrendered last season was the lowest in program history. Additionally, the Lakers brought in Denton King, a 6’2” defenseman from the New Jersey Hitmen of the Eastern Junior Hockey League. Between Gertsakis, Rivait, and King, shoring up the defense could be the biggest key to a successful season.
New to the net. The only other new Laker this fall is goaltender Justin Gilbert. The freshman is likely the net-minder of the future, with Andrew Hare and Dan Jones set to graduate after this season. Gilbert went 13-7-2 with an impressive 2.84 GAA for the Kingston Voyagers of the Ontario Junior Hockey League in 2011-12. With two seniors in front of him, Gilbert will not play much this season, but Laker fans should get used to seeing him between the pipes down the road.
Numbers game. Here’s my attempt to prevent confusion on the ice, both in the stands and the press box. RJay Berra moves from #6 to #13, taking the number vacated by Jared Anderson. Denton King takes over #8, formerly worn by Eli-Kim Swallow, who is now #19. Justin Gilbert takes Paul Beckwith’s #34. Everyone else stays the same. Nobody sporting #11 this season will be a strange adjustment.
There you have it. The table has been set and the appetizer hits the ice this weekend before the main course begins on Oct. 26. Expectations are high and everyone is hockey hungry. Saturday night begins one last chance for the 14 seniors to make their mark, and we are all going along for the ride. Hold on tight.