The 2014-2015 season has been hyped as a season filled with promise for the Oswego State men’s ice hockey, but the result it pulled out against the USA under-18 was not anticipated.
A team returning 18 of 19 starters from last season’s national semifinals loss against Wisconsin-Stevens Point in Lewiston, Maine, the Lakers were the preseason pick by conference coaches to finish atop the SUNYAC. Saturday night, they played like the team those coaches have in mind and then some.
The quick, aggressive and tactful style with which Oswego State played against the nation’s top teenage prospects kept the roster filled with Division I, and soon to be NHL, prospects from getting in any sort of rhythm, and more importantly kept the capacity crowd excited and electrifying. The play was especially astonishing considering the team was coming off a grueling, busy first full week of official practices.
Last season, one thing that seemed to continuously plague the Lakers was bounced not going their way. In tight losses, such as those on Senior Weekend last spring against SUNY Geneseo and the College at Brockport, both 3-2 finals, in large part were due to pucks landing in just the right spot for the visitors. In this year’s exhibition opener, Oswego State worked to force pucks to bounce its way.
Throughout the evening, members of the home side were chasing down pucks in the corners, working hard to get the puck deep in the zone and hustling to capitalize on turnovers to create optimal scoring opportunities. Then, on the other end of the ice, players were putting in mileage in order to, first, keep the game close, then, hold on to the lead.
Whether it was junior assistant captain Denton King or sophomore Kenny Neil, Lakers were laying out to block shots as the national team decided to stick to shot from the outside throughout the night. Sophomore Chris Raguseo put in an inspired performance by showing David Titanic-esque hustle around the defensive zone to disrupt passing lanes.
The Lakers held the USA under-18 team 0-for-2 on the man advantage, a good start for a team that was tied for 46th of 72 teams in Division III on the penalty kill last season at 79.4 percent efficiency.
When they were on the man advantage, however, the Lakers did not skip a beat after touting the sixth-best units in the country a season ago. Mr. Power Play, sophomore Matt Galati, got right back to it, himself, in the first period putting a special teams goal on the board.
One of the new faces, sophomore Joey Davies, gave the Marano Campus Center Arena crowd a big welcome Saturday night with a three-point night, including two goals. Coming to Oswego State from University of Alaska-Fairbanks, Davies showed off the skills his junior numbers suggested he had. He appears to have locked down his spot in the lineup for next weekend’s regular season opening Buffalo area series.
The only other newcomer who appeared to warrant a look for a regular season debut was freshman Mitch Herlihey who spent the night on a line with senior Chris Carr and Galati. However, with the reigning SUNYAC Championships MVP, sophomore Alex Botten, rumored to be days away from getting the green light to return after knee surgery this fall, he may return to that line and send Herlihey to the scratches list.
Finally, in net, with freshman goalie Mackenzie Sawyer held out of Saturday night’s exhibition for a violation of team rules, returning goaltenders sophomore Matt Zawadzki and junior Justin Gilbert were left to battle for next Friday’s opening night start at Buffalo State.
Both net-minders played extremely well and were seeing the puck very well. On top of that, Zawadzki and Gilbert each added some impressive acrobatic saves, as well. Zawadzki went out for the first two periods, while Gilbert only played the final frame, but both made the most of his time. The sophomore, after leading the Lakers on a deep postseason run last year, appears to have the edge, heading into week two of practice.
If Saturday night was any sign of what is to come this season, head coach Ed Gosek’s team should be seen as one of the teams to beat in the SUNYAC and on everyone’s radar to make a sixth-straight Frozen Four run when the event heads to Minneapolis in March.