Despite pulling off an impressive 5-3 victory against the USA under-18 team last weekend, the men’s ice hockey team must stay focused; otherwise this weekend could be a trap.
For opening weekend of the regular season, the Lakers head on their annual Western New York road trip to play at the Buffalo State Bengals and the SUNY Fredonia Blue Devils. Last season, both teams knocked off Oswego State at one time or another.
In game one of the 2013-2014 season, the Blue Devils shocked the Lakers in the, then, Campus Center Arena on a Hunter Long game-winner in overtime, 3-2. The Bengals shutout Oswego State in Buffalo to begin the second half of SUNYAC play for their program’s first win over the Lakers, 4-0.
This season, both teams return substantial amounts of their rosters. While Oswego State is the coaches’ pick to win the conference and is nationally-ranked, both the Blue Devils and the Bengals have legitimate odds of pulling off upsets. The Lakers have to return to the ice this weekend with the same aggression, speed and physicality if they want to live up to their preseason hype and make a statement for why they deserve it.
Friday night, Oswego State starts the season at Buffalo State, its first trip to the building since being shutout on Jan. 25. The Bengals have lost four-year starting goalie Kevin Carr and have question marks in the defensive zone, but their offense is talented and ready to test the Lakers.
The team’s leading scorer from the 2012-2013 season, Nick Melligan is back in uniform after a year away, and this year will be surrounded by a talented cast of scorers. The cast, including senior Dan Turgeon and sophomore Taylor Pryce, will need to be shut down or the contests will become a back-and-forth offensive battle and anyone’s game.
Turning the focus to Saturday night, SUNY Fredonia, similar to Oswego State, returns a majority of its roster from last season. After splitting time in the crease, junior Jeff Flagler and sophomore Christopher Eiserman both have a season under their belts and are ready for year two. Rest assured their competition will push them to even higher heights.
Besides experience and talent in between the pipes, the Blue Devils return their top two scorers, now seniors, Stephen Castriota and Jared Wynia. One of the weakest offensive teams in the SUNYAC last year, Jeff Meredith’s squad can only get better from here.
In the preseason d3hockey.com and USCHO.com national polls, Oswego State was ranked No. 3, only behind last season’s national championship participants St. Norbert and Wisconsin-Stevens Point. Those rankings epitomize how high the bar is set for the team this season. A roster full of returners and the win over the USA under-18 team last weekend only further solidified the Lakers as a favorite to return to the Frozen Four; however, the berth is not handed over, it must be earned.
The schedule ahead is grueling, filled with potential upsets and tough opponents that are also nationally ranked. Wins in every game they are expected to win, like those this weekend, will surely put the Lakers in a position to make a deep postseason run. Those wins will come by staying focused and mentally tough, as well as leaving it all on the ice, no matter if the front of the opponent’s jersey says ‘Plattsburgh’ or ‘Fredonia.’