When the men’s ice hockey team punched its ticket to Lewiston last Sunday afternoon, it was a year to the day since last year’s team fell to Wisconsin-Eau Claire in Oswego State’s second consecutive national championship.
After losing the 14 members of the Class of 2013 and bringing in a recruiting class of 19 freshmen and five transfers, the Lakers are one win away from their third championship game. Once again, it is a team from Wisconsin standing in the team’s way of a national crown.
Oswego State scored in nearly every way imaginable last weekend in order to knock off the top-ranked team in the East, Babson, and advance to the Frozen Four. The Lakers received a power play goal from Shawn Hulsof, an even strength goal from Matt Galati and a shorthanded tally from Brandon Adams, along with a perfect performance in net by freshman Matt Zawadzki, to seal the 3-0 victory.
Like the Lakers, Wisconsin-Stevens Point needed to go on the road and win in order to reach the national semifinals. The Pointers used three third period goals to knock off the West second seed, St. Thomas, 3-0 as well. Alex Kromm, Kyle Brodie and Garrett Ladd, the nation’s fourth-leading scorer, provided the offense as junior goalie Brandon Jaeger stopped 25 shots to complete the shutout.
Tonight will mark just the second meeting for these very successful programs. Oswego State, making its eighth Frozen Four appearance in 13 NCAA Tournament trips, won the lone tilt between the programs in the 2010-2011 PathFinder Bank/Oswego Hockey Classic Championship, 6-1. The Pointers are making their first trip to the final weekend of the season in the 10th NCAA Tournament appearance.
Wisconsin-Stevens Point has four players still in the lineup, now seniors, from the squad that was defeated at the Campus Center four years ago, including senior captain and Stevens Point native Tyler Krueger.
The Lakers on the other hand only have one player still on the roster who took part in that game. It is their senior captain David Titanic.
With few familiar faces on the rosters, it should be a much different and tighter contest than four years ago.
By the numbers: Tonight’s contest is between two of the top six offensive teams in Division III. The Pointers, ranked third, average 4.64 goals per game, while Oswego State, ranked sixth, tallies 4.07 per game.
The Laker offense is led by freshmen linemates Matt Galati (24 goals-12 assists-36 points) and Alex Botten (10-24-34). Galati, the nation’s leading goal scorer, and Botten, the SUNYAC Tournament MVP, have combined for 22 points (11 goals and 11 assists) in the team’s last seven games.
The Pointers are fueled by junior standout Ladd (19-22-41) who is able to contribute to his team’s offensive production both as a finisher and a distributor. However, Stevens Point’s offense does not stop with Ladd. The team has six others with 20 or more points, four others with 10 or more goals and nine others with double digit assist numbers.
On the other side of the puck, this game matches up two of the top 15 defenses in the nation. Wisconsin-Stevens Point is seventh in the country, allowing 1.93 goals per game, and Oswego State is 14th, allowing 2.33 goals per game.
The core to each team’s play in its own end is the back end. Each squad’s goalie pitched his fourth shutout of the season in the quarterfinals.
Look down at the goalie matchup section for more on each of the goalie’s for the evening’s contest.
Special teams breakdown: Although both teams convert on over 20 percent of their power play opportunities, the high-powered Laker unit at 27.86 (39-of-140) percent is in the top five nationally, while the Pointers at 20.47 (26-of-127) percent are tied with Plymouth State for 22nd.
Galati is potentially the most dangerous man advantage asset on either team tonight, ranking third in Division III with 10 power play goals.
On the penalty kill, Stevens Point is the team in the top five at 89.80 (115-of-128) percent efficiency as the Lakers, with a perfect kill effort thus far in the NCAA Tournament, just returned to above 80 percent efficiency and sit currently in a tied for 42nd with the College at Brockport.
Neither of these teams is a stranger to scoring when shorthanded. The Pointers are tied with Hobart and Massachusetts-Boston for fourth in Division III with seven tallies on the penalty kill. The Lakers are tied for 15th with four, including one by Adams in their last contest at Babson.
Goalie matchup: The Pointers and Lakers feature two very talented goalies; however, amount of experience is where they differ.
Junior Brandon Jaeger (19-5-1, .924 save percentage, 1.92 goals against average), the Stevens Point net-minder, has 56 collegiate starts under his belt and a Wisconsin Intercollegiate Athletic Conference All-First Team selection.
In the opposite net, Oswego State’s Zawadzki (15-2-2, .922, 2.16) is in his first collegiate season and only has 19 career starts. He has put in some impressive efforts against the likes of SUNY Plattsburgh and Babson, but he is still learning the ropes at the Division III level.
Jaeger did share the net over his first two seasons and was just 18-10-3, not recording his first career shutout until his sophomore campaign, suggesting a bit of a talent gap between him and the rookie he is facing tonight. But, hockey is a different game out west suggesting that, although his numbers may not match the Oswego State freshman, the talent is still very much there for a national championship run.
Players to watch: The defensive pairing of sophomore Mac Scott and freshman Chris Raguseo: Over the past month, Oswego State has solidified its lineup. The four lines of forwards have all stepped to contribute offensively and Zawadzki, on a five-game winning streak, has been rock solid. The only question mark has been the chemistry of the Lakers third defensive pairing, put together during the last home weekend of the season when illness removed Scott’s former partner Mike Wills from the lineup. In the last nine games, Scott and Raguseo have slowly started to meld together, but a few questionable shifts in the team’s defensive zone by Scott and Raguseo have spiked the blood pressure of the Laker faithful during this winning streak. With the skillful play of the first two pairings, made up of Bobby Gertsakis and Stephen Johnson and Nick Rivait and Denton King, and a lockdown game by the third pair, Oswego State might just have the right mix in front of Zawadzki to hold the very talented Pointers offense in check and taste victory.
Prediction: Oswego State 3-2