Laker Postseason Gameday Preview: Feb. 26 v. SUNY Fredonia

It was 118 days and 25 games ago that No. 12 Oswego State and SUNY Fredonia took the Campus Center ice to start the 2013-2014 Division III men’s ice hockey season, and tonight it comes full circle.

The Lakers, seeded third in the tournament, are coming off a huge upset win at Ronald B. Stafford Arena just four nights ago when sophomore Holy Cross transfer Brandon Adams beat Cardinals’ goalie senior Mathieu Cadieux for the fourth and deciding tally.

The Blue Devils, seeded sixth, have not won since Feb. 1 against Morrisville State. Winless in their last five, SUNY Fredonia last took the ice on its Rochester area road trip this past weekend, losing to then No. 11 SUNY Geneseo and The College at Brockport by a combined score of 10-4.

Regardless of what has happened as of late, when the puck drops in a few hours the slates are wiped clean. Back in November, all that was at stake for each team was a good start to their season. Tonight, a date with No. 4 SUNY Plattsburgh in the semifinals is on the line and the past will not matter, only the present.

Previous matchups: Nov. 1: SUNY Fredonia 3 Oswego State 2 (OT)/ Jan. 24: Oswego State 5 SUNY Fredonia 1:

Nov. 1: On opening night of the season, the Lakers got off to a hot start with goals from freshman Shawn Hulshof and Adams, taking a 2-1 lead into the third period.

Then, just over four minutes into the final frame, the Blue Devils turned an 0-for-4 night on the man advantage into a 1-for-5 night as sophomore Chad Bennett buried a power play goal tying a game that would eventually head to overtime.

With 28 seconds remaining in the extra period, freshman Hunter Long and senior Matt Owczarczak teamed up for the game-winner, finished by Long.

Freshman net-minder Christopher Eiserman made his collegiate debut for SUNY Fredonia that night, saving 38 of 40 shots faced. Oswego State sophomore Justin Gilbert started in net, stopping 26 shots.

Jan. 24: The second meeting of these teams in Fredonia last month was a bit of a different story. The Lakers put the pedal to the metal early, scoring three unanswered in the opening 34:42 of play.

The Blue Devils would score on the power play for the second straight meeting with less than a minute to go in the second period, but two more from juniors Chris Carr and assistant captain Nick Rivait sealed the win for Oswego State.

Another SUNY Fredonia freshman, Nick Flagler, started that night making 25 saves. Freshman Matt Zawadzki was in between the pipes for Lakers, picking up 25 saves of his own.

By the numbers: From sixth to 56th, 50 spots separate Oswego State and SUNY Fredonia in the national offensive rankings, entering postseason play. The Lakers average 4.12 goals per game, while the Blue Devils average 2.52.

During conference play, Oswego State scoring dropped to 3.88 per game, third-best in the league, and SUNY Fredonia actually rose to 2.81 per game, but regardless of the higher total it was tied with Morrisville State for league-worst.

Defensively, the Lakers also had the better numbers throughout the season, giving up 2.32 per game (tied for 15th nationally with Wisconsin-River Falls) in all contests and 2.56 per game (tied for third-best in the SUNYAC with Buffalo State) in conference play.

SUNY Fredonia gave up 3.32 goals per game this season, tied for 47th in Division III with Elmira College and Nazareth College, but, when just focusing on SUNYAC games, the Blue Devils conceded 3.44 goals per game, ranking fifth in the conference.

Special teams breakdown: Oswego State champions the fourth-best power play in the nation and in its conference. Its 28.57 percent efficiency in all 25 games is impressive, while its 23.40 percent mark in SUNYAC games is not as solid compared to other teams.

The Blue Devils power play unit, like their offense as a whole, was ranked 56th in Division III, converting on 15.38 percent of man advantage opportunities. In the SUNYAC, they had the worst unit statistically at 15.70 percent.

On the penalty kill, neither team put up numbers to brag about overall or in the SUNYAC. Oswego State finished the regular season tied with Colby College for 32nd nationally at 82.00 percent efficiency and fourth-best in the conference at 81.00 percent.

SUNY Fredonia was 65th-best in the country when playing short handed, killing off 76.20 percent of penalties. Its efficiency was up to 78.50 percent in SUNYAC games, which was good enough for seventh in the conference.

Goalie matchup: Flagler (4-6-3, .920 save percentage, 2.93 goals against average) had started all but two games since the end of the fall semester going into last weekend’s trip to the Rochester area. After giving up four goals in the first two periods at The College at Brockport on Feb. 21, he was relieved by Eiserman (3-6-3, .894, 3.50) for the rest of that period and the rest of the weekend.

The following night, after making 9 saves and allowing no goals in a little over period of play the previous night, Eiserman made 30 saves in a 6-3 loss at SUNY Geneseo. Neither of these goalies has laid claim to the crease, but it appears that Flager’s statistics, even with his performance in Brockport, have earned him the nod for the start of postseason play.

In the net down the other end of the ice, Zawadzki (10-2-2, .921. 2.08) may well have earned his starting job back in 30 minutes and change of play at SUNY Plattsburgh last weekend. His 22 saves without allowing a goal gave fans a glimpse of the goalie that went on an eight start unbeaten tear from Nov. 23 to Jan. 17, pitching three shutouts.

The freshman was extremely impressive during the final month of 2013 and much of the first month of 2014, before his struggles at Buffalo State handed Gilbert the net for much of the second half of conference play.

Gilbert (7-4-0, .901. 2.50) has been a formidable goalie for the Lakers throughout the season, but his play in big games, such as the recent contests versus SUNY Geneseo, The College at Brockport and SUNY Plattsburgh, suggests a change is needed in goal for the playoffs.

Player to watch: Oswego State junior forward Mike Montagna: The Lakers are a very banged up team heading into the SUNYAC Championships. Freshman Shawn Hulshof (16 points) has not seen the ice since Feb. 14 vs. SUNY Geneseo, freshman Kenny Neil (26 points) was absent from the line up last weekend and freshman Matt Galati (30 points) left Saturday’s game vs. SUNY Plattsburgh during the second period. Not to mention the defensemen in and out of the line up and freshman Alex Botten having to leave Saturday’s game after a hard hit, luckily returning. Montagna (nine goals and 18 assists) is arguably the Lakers best play maker, a type of player head coach Ed Gosek’s team will need in order to create offense throughout this tournament, regardless of the names in the line up.

Prediction: 4-1 Oswego State