Laker Postseason Gameday Preview: Mar. 13 v. Bowdoin

So, let’s try this again. After weather and the front doors of a local Italian restaurant stole headlines yesterday, men’s ice hockey retakes center stage this afternoon as Oswego State hosts Bowdoin College in the first round of the NCAA Division III men’s ice hockey tournament.

Saturday night, Oswego State knocked off SUNY Geneseo to capture its second consecutive SUNYAC title and punch its fifth consecutive ticket to the NCAA Division III men’s ice hockey tournament.

Today, the road to a fifth straight Frozen Four starts where the last four have, the Campus Center Ice Arena, against an opponent the Lakers have seen in two of their previous four opening games, the Bowdoin Polar Bears.

The Lakers and Polar Bears are very familiar with each other, two of their  previous five meetings coming in the NCAA Tournament in 2010 and 2011, and Oswego State head coach Ed Gosek is not surprised that Bowdoin keeps showing up on this stage.

“They’ve got a very good program. There’s a reason. They consistently do the right things,” Gosek said. “Terry Meagher, I don’t know how many coaches have 500 wins, but he’s a very good coach. His teams are always well prepared and they compete at a high intensity level, they’re disciplined and there’s a reason they’re there.”

After playing through the early stages of the season without some key players, due to injury, Bowdoin has won five of its last six games, including three straight road contests in the NESCAC Tournament. The Polar Bears’ last two triumphs were a 5-4 victory over Trinity College, ranked No. 1 in the Division III East Regional Rankings, in the semifinals and Amherst College in a championship game that needed just over 80 minutes to be decided.

Last matchup: 2011 NCAA Tournament Quarterfinals: Oswego State 7 Bowdoin 5

Three years ago yesterday, the Polar Bears and Lakers last took the ice against each other. It was the Campus Center and current captains David Titanic and Kyle Badham were freshmen. Also, the Class of 2013’s All-American goalie Andrew Hare was a back up and its top line was still a group of sophomores making a name for itself.

It was a back and forth affair as neither team was able to score two consecutive until Oswego State’s Owen Kelly put home a pass from Dan Bremner to follow up a Titanic goal that gave the Lakers the game’s first two goal lead, 6-4.

Titanic, just a rookie at the time, finished the game with two goals. Coming into the game against Bowdoin, the current captain had just one goal at Elmira, so this was his first at home.

“I guess you could say, that was a game that got my confidence going,” Titanic said.

“I was pretty excited to play in that game as a freshman. We had a pretty stacked line up and everything, so it was special night,” Titanic said.

Each team would score one more goal with Jon Whitelaw of the Lakers capping off the scoring at the 16:30 mark of the third.

By the numbers: This afternoon’s match up pits two of the top offenses in Division III against each other as the journey to Lewiston begins in Oswego.

The Lakers are currently averaging 4.11 goals per game, good enough for sixth nationally, while the Polar Bears sit in ninth at 3.93 goals per game.

Oswego State is led by the nation’s leading scorer, and SUNYAC Rookie of the Year, freshman Matt Galati. Galati has 23 goals thus far in the season, .82 goals per game.

Freshman Alex Botten, SUNYAC Tournament MVP, and junior assistant captain Bobby Gertsakis, member of the 2014 All-SUNYAC second team, are each tied for sixth in the nation in the assists category with 24 apiece.

Bowdoin is led by a pass and score tandem of senior Colin Downey, member of the 2014 All-NESCAC second team, and junior John McGinnis. Downey is currently tied for fourth in the nation with 21 goals and McGinnis is tied with Botten and Gertsakis for sixth in the country with 24 assists.

On defense, the Lakers ranks 16th in Division III, giving up 2.39 goals per game. The Polar Bears are tied with Wentworth and Hobart for 29th in the country with a 2.85 goals against average.

Special teams breakdown: Oswego State enters the NCAA Tournament with the fourth-best power play in the nation. After scoring on two-of-three man advantages last weekend in Geneseo, the team is now up to 29.23 percent efficiency.

At 22.02 percent, Bowdoin touts a respectable power play as well, ranking 15th in Division III.

The Lakers are looking pedestrian on the penalty kill in recent games, six of their nine goals allowed in the SUNYAC playoffs coming on the power play. That stretch has dropped Oswego State into 48th nationally at 79.20 percent.

The Polar Bears are 23rd in Division III at 83.60 percent; however, one abnormal statistic leaves their penalty kill more threatening than that efficiency percentage suggests. They have scored a nation-leading 12 short handed goals this season.

This suggests that they apply solid amounts of pressure when on the penalty kill, but the Lakers believe they can continue to be effective on the power play if they stick to their game plan.

“We’re going to stick to the same game plan we’ve had all year. We’ve been steadily progressing, as of late, and hopefully we can continue to produce as we have,” Botten said.

Goalie matchup: Since returning to the line up during the second period of the regular season finale at Plattsburgh, freshman Matt Zawadzki has become the Lakers rock in between the pipes.

He was 3-0-0 in the SUNYAC Tournament with a goals against average of 3.00 per game and .909 save percentage. The six-goal performance by the Knights on him in the SUNYAC Championship was a learning experience for him.

“Saturday night was a game that was definitely a high-scoring affair. The most I can take from that is staying just mentally confident and composed throughout,” Zawadzki said. “For me, it was staying mentally focused and that it was the team first and not just me.”

The Polar Bears have a goalie quite familiar with the Lakers captain. Senior Steve Messina was a freshman when he last stepped into the crease at the Campus Center in 2011. Besides allowing seven goals that night, Messina made 41 saves.

This season, the senior finished the regular season 9-6-0 with a 2.74 goals against average and a .911 save percentage. In the conference tournament, Meagher turned to Max Fenkell (8-2-2, 2.79, .905) who led Bowdoin to the NESCAC Tournament title.

Fenkell went undefeated in the team’s three tournament games allowing 9 goals, while saving 92 of 101 shots faced.

Player to watch: Oswego State freshman forward Alex Botten: The SUNYAC Championships’ most valuable player, Botten’s conference-record tying five assists in the finals on Saturday epitomized his importance to the Lakers offense. A team filled with goal scorers, from Matt Galati to Brandon Adams, they all need some one who can set them up and be a playmaker. For Ed Gosek’s team, that player is Botten. His 13 points in conference play were good enough for fourth among freshmen and his total of 24 assists, in all games, is currently tied for sixth in the nation. Botten’s ability to find his teammates, while staying a threat to score himself (with eight goals on the season), makes him a player teams need to plan for.

Prediction: 4-3 Oswego State