Men’s ice hockey winter break rewind

When the Oswego State men’s ice hockey team takes the ice this weekend, first at SUNY Fredonia tomorrow evening and then at Buffalo State on Saturday evening, it will be the squad’s first conference weekend since White Out Weekend seven weeks ago.

During that time span, the Lakers took on eight non-conference opponents. The stretch started in exciting fashion as the team defended its home tournament crown in the PathFinder Bank/Oswego Hockey Classic on January 3rd and 4th. It then ended with a defeat at Elmira College last Tuesday night, which put a stop to Oswego State’s 10-game unbeaten streak that dated back to its loss at SUNY Geneseo on Nov. 22.

Although the loss was not the ideal way to end the run, Oswego State finished 6-1-1 during the stretch and finds itself just one spot outside the top 10 in the USCHO.com national rankings.

So, before looking forward, here is a look back at some of the highlights of the Lakers’ activities while school was out.

1) Oswego State took the PathFinder title once again: Oswego State defeated the Curry College Colonels in the first round of the Classic, 3-0. The win set up a clash with another nationally-ranked team, the Utica College Pioneers. A team that, to this point, lacked a statement win versus a ranked opponent (losing at SUNY Geneseo on Nov. 22 and tying at home versus SUNY Plattsburgh on Dec. 7) the Lakers were faced with another opportunity to boost their résumé for the NCAA tournament meeting coming in March.

Although the game will go down as a tie in the NCAA’s book, because the score was even at two after the overtime period, in the PathFinder Bank/ Oswego Hockey Classic history books it will be an Oswego State victory as the squad grabbed the title in a shootout on a tie breaking goal by senior captain David Titanic.

Freshman Kenny Neil was another hero of the title game, scoring both of the Lakers’ goals including the game-tying goal in the third. Neil earned a spot on the All-Tournament team for his performance, he was joined by fellow freshman Matt Zawadzki and the tournament MVP junior Mike Montagna. The title was Oswego State’s second consecutive PathFinder Bank/Oswego Hockey Classic title and its seventh in the eight years of the event.

2) The Laker offense stayed hot in the cold month of January: The one aspect of Laker men’s ice hockey that is never in question is the offense. After the fall semester, Oswego State was seventh in the nation in scoring at 4.25 goals per game. In the last eight games the team has held that scoring average steady and moved up one spot to sixth in the nation’s scoring rankings.

While the team as a whole has doubled its goal scoring total since White Out, many of the top scorers have doubled their point totals and some have done even more. Freshmen Matt Galati (8 goals and 3 assists over break), Kenny Neil (7+6) and Alex Botten (1+10) and junior transfer Mike Montagna (3+6) led the charge as the Lakers scored 34 goals and outscored opponents 34-14 during the stretch. Winter break saw 22 of 33 Oswego State skaters score points, 15 different skaters score goals (including three Lakers earning their first) and seven players score five points or more.

3) Men’s ice hockey sures up play in its own zone: After the White Out game, Oswego State was the 20th best defensive team in the nation out of 72 Division III teams when it came to goals allowed, letting in 20 goals in eight games. Over the time off from classes, the Lakers allowed six fewer goals in the eight-game stretch. The improved number brought the team’s goals against per game average down .38 goals from 2.50 to 2.12, tied for 12th best in Division III.

Another aspect of the defense, which raised a lot of questions in the preseason, was a positive in January. The goalie situation was a good one during the non-conference schedule as freshman Matt Zawadzki and sophomore Justin Gilbert shared the duty of protecting the crease. The two goalie’s combined to pitch three shutouts throughout the month against Curry College on Jan. 3, Connecticut College on Jan. 7 and Nazareth College on Jan. 17. Gilbert was a great asset to the team going 2-0-0, allowing three goals on 56 shots for a .946 save percentage and grabbing the shutout versus Connecticut College. The sophomore netminder missed a month with an injury suffered during the week before Oswego State took on SUNY Potsdam and SUNY Plattsburgh in early December.

4) Reinforcements have arrived: After newcomers contributed much of the Lakers offensive production throughout the fall semester, the returners picked up their production this month. While Oswego State was missing Peter Rodrigues and Eli Kim-Swallow over break, four of the other five skaters back from last year’s national runner up team picked things up.

Senior captain David Titanic grabbed his first two goals of the season during White Out Weekend to get himself going and then scored three more goals in January, including the game winner in the team’s shootout win versus Utica College on Jan. 5 in the PathFinder Bank/ Oswego Hockey Classic.

Junior assistant captain Bobby Gertsakis continued to be one of the team’s great distributors this month as he doubled his assists total, rising from six to 12 overall. The defenseman also grabbed his first goal of the season on Jan. 7 at the Campus Center Ice Arena versus Connecticut College.

However, the big story among the returners was the much anticipated return of junior Chris Carr who left the season opener on Nov. 1 versus SUNY Fredonia and had not played since. The forward returned on Jan. 3 versus Curry College and made an instant impact on the power of the offense. He finished the break with four assists.

Finally, the team’s top defensive pairing, junior Nick Rivait and sophomore Denton King, were a huge factor to Oswego State’s success. Although they only combined for one point in January, a goal by King versus Connecticut College on Jan. 7, the pair were a visible game changer by its solid all-around play in the team’s defensive zone.

Well, now it is time to turn the focus back to SUNYAC play. The Lakers currently sit in fourth place in the conference at 4-2-1 and nine points as they head on their Buffalo area road trip this weekend to take on SUNY Fredonia and Buffalo State. The Bengals are currently just one point ahead of Oswego State for third place.