Laker Gameday Preview: Feb. 22 at SUNY Plattsburgh

Oswego State will need to fend off an aggressive Cardinals offense, led by junior Alex Jensen, if they want to upset the No. 4 team in the country tonight at Ronald B. Stafford Ice Arena (David Armelino | The Oswegonian).
Oswego State will need to fend off an aggressive Cardinals offense, led by junior Alex Jensen, if they want to upset the No. 4 team in the country tonight at Ronald B. Stafford Ice Arena (David Armelino | The Oswegonian).

It was White Out night in Oswego the last time these two teams met back on Dec. 7. SUNY Plattsburgh was atop the national rankings and the conference, holding a one-point over SUNY Geneseo. Oswego State was No. 13 in the USCHO.com poll and tied with Buffalo State for third in the SUNAYC.

Tonight, the Cardinals are playing for the SUNYAC regular season title and home ice advantage through the conference tournament after a loss at SUNY Geneseo on Jan. 31 closed the gap between the teams. The two are tied for first place with 26 points as SUNY Geneseo takes on SUNY Fredonia at home tonight in its finale.

On the other side of the ice, with a 4-3 win over SUNY Potsdam last night, and Buffalo State blowing a two-goal third period lead at SUNY Geneseo, the Lakers, currently No. 12 in the nation, have locked into the third seed and a home game in the first round on Wednesday.

Even though, statistically, SUNY Plattsburgh has more to play for, Oswego State is looking to find its stride. The visitors tonight are 2-2 in their last four and have entered the second period of each game trailing. They could use some momentum heading into the postseason, and what would be greatly helped by knocking off their archrivals on their senior night.

Previous matchup: SUNY Plattsburgh 3 Oswego State 3: It was a back and forth contest the time Oswego State and SUNY Plattsburgh met at the Campus Center Ice Arena in December.

A scoreless period of play to open up the evening, in which Laker freshman goalie Matt Zawadzki made 13 saves and Cardinal senior net-minder Mathieu Cadieux made 14 saves.

Then, just 3:45 into the second, Oswego State senior captain David Titanic tallied the first goal of the evening assisted by his linemates, freshmen Chris Waterstreet and Andrew Barton.

It was less than two minutes later when SUNY Plattsburgh evened the score at 5:21 on the power play. Sophomore Rich Botting found the back of the net with the help of senior Barry Roytman.

Just under 11 minutes later, Oswego State freshman Shawn Hulshof gave the hosts their final lead of the night with a goal assisted by fellow freshman Matt Galati and junior assistant captain Nick Rivait.

SUNY Plattsburgh opened the final frame with two goals in the first 5:18 of play to grab its only lead of the night. Junior Alex Jensen started it off at the 1:38 mark beating Zawadzki off the feed from freshman Kyle Hall. Hall tallied the second goal unassisted 3:40 later.

The Lakers found the game-tying goal less than two minutes later when junior Vermont transfer Mike Wills beat Cadieux on a breakaway for the unassisted goal.

From there, the two sides played 18:04 of scoreless hockey, including five minutes of overtime, en route to a 3-3 tie.

By the numbers: Ronald B. Stafford Ice Arena will play host tonight to two of the best offenses in Division III men’s ice hockey.

After scoring four goals at SUNY Potsdam last night, Oswego State currently sits sixth-best in the nation in scoring, averaging 4.12 goals per game. SUNY Plattsburgh put in an 11-goal effort at Stafford last night versus SUNY Cortland and has moved up to seventh in Division III, averaging 4.04 per game.

Defensively, the Cardinals champion the fifth ranked unit in the country, allowing just 1.83 goals per game. The Lakers are currently tied with Gustavus Adolphus for 14th nationally, giving up 2.29 per game.

In SUNYAC play, SUNY Plattsburgh tops the conference rankings for both offense (4.33 goals per game) and defense (1.60). Oswego State, on the other hand, is ranked third in the conference for both categories, scoring 3.87 goals per game and allowing 2.53 (tied with Buffalo State).

The stars shining brightest for the Cardinals this season have been Jensen, tied for 35th in the nation for scoring with 27 points, and Cadieux, fourth in the nation for both save percentage (.940) and shutouts (4).

For the Lakers, few freshmen in Division III have had a stronger rookie season than Matt Galati. The Toronto native scored two goals last night to move himself back alone atop the nation for goals scored, 20. He is also tied for fifth nationally in power play goals with eight.

Special teams breakdown: In terms of power play units, the Cardinals are somewhat pedestrian. They are 26th in Division III, scoring on 19.27 percent of their chances, and fourth in the SUNYAC, scoring on 23.2 percent.

The Lakers have one of the best units in the nation, ranked fourth at 27.59 percent, but have struggled a bit in SUNYAC play, ranking sixth at 21.60 percent.

However, flip the script when it comes to playing shorthanded. SUNY Plattsburgh has the third-best penalty kill in the country at 92.60 percent efficiency (allowing just seven goals in 95 opportunities) and the best penalty kill in the conference at 93.10 percent (allowing just four goals in 58 opportunities. SUNY Geneseo is next closest at 83.1 percent.

Oswego State is 34th in Division III when playing shorthanded at 81.60 percent efficiency and fifth in the SUNYAC at 80.40 percent.

Goalie matchup: There is no question who will be in net for the Cardinals tonight. Mathieu Cadieux (18-3-2, .940 save percentage, 1.52 goals against average) has statistically been one of the top five goalies in Division III this season. The senior is 3-2-2 versus Oswego State in his career.

In the Laker crease tonight, SUNY Plattsburgh could see either Zawadzki (9-2-2, .916, 2.16) again or sophomore Justin Gilbert (7-4-0, .907, 2.33).

While Gilbert was out from the end of November to early January, Zawadzki showed an ability to raise his game to impressive levels, including during the first meeting between these teams. However, the freshman has struggled since giving up three first period goals at Elmira on Jan. 18, being pulled from two of his five starts including that night.

He played all 60 minutes last night in Potsdam and after a rocky first period gave up just one goal in the final two period, including shutting the Bears out in the second as his team scored three unanswered to take the lead for good.

Player to watch: The Oswego State goalie: It is all on the line for SUNY Plattsburgh tonight. It needs a win to stay in the race for the regular season title, not to mention, another loss tonight would be its fourth of in the new year.

Even though both conference losses would be against ranked opponents, losses late in the season could hurt the Cardinals chances of an at-large bid into the NCAA tournament, should they lose in the SUNYAC tournament.

Some might think that the hosts will be out of goals after putting up 11 against SUNY Cortland last night, but with all that tonight means they will be fighting for all 60 minutes tonight, giving whoever is in the Oswego State net all he can handle.

Whether it is Gilbert or Zawadzki, the Laker goalie will need to up his play and show up in top form this evening to shut down such a skilled offense and steal this win.

Prediction: 3-2 SUNY Plattsburgh