Laker Ledger: Health, defense crucial on road to Minneapolis

It has only been two years since the Lakers were on their current pace through five games, and that much more experienced team lost in the national championship. The Oswego State faithful need to pump the brakes and see where this group can improve before calling it a title contender.

The 2012-2013 Oswego State men’s ice hockey team was undefeated through its first five games, was No. 1 in the nation and averaging 6.60 goals per game, just like the 2014-2015 team is currently. The difference? That team had 14 seniors, the eventual national player of the year, a laundry list of All-SUNYAC and All-American recipients and a senior goaltender who went down as the best in school history.

This season, the No. 2 Lakers are loaded with 19 underclassmen and a goaltender battle that appears to be open to all three net-minders on the roster. Junior Justin Gilbert is getting the starts currently, but that was the story until sophomore Matt Zawadzki grabbed the job on White Out Weekend last season, so who knows. Not to mention, freshman Mackenzie Sawyer was above Zawadzki, the goalie that carried the team to the Frozen Four last season, on last Saturday’s depth chart against Nazareth College.

Another large difference from two seasons ago is the emergence of a legitimate powerhouse in Division III from out in the Midwest. The St. Norbert College Green Knights have won three of the last four national championships and return much of last year’s title team.

It is time to see where the holes lie in Oswego State with just three games left until it heads to the North Country for its biggest test of the fall semester, road games against No. 4 SUNY Plattsburgh and the SUNYAC’s surprise team, SUNY Potsdam.

The most visible gap in the Lakers, at the moment, has been opened by the injuries plaguing its defense. The amount of depth at forward has allowed them to withstand during the injuries to sophomores Chris Waterstreet and Joey Davies, who may be out for an extended period of time. However, half the Lakers’ starting defense from March’s Frozen Four loss to Wisconsin-Stevens Point is currently out. It appears only a matter of time until junior assistant captain Denton King returns, and senior assistant captain Nick Rivait sounds like he will make his comeback on Nov. 25 against SUNY Geneseo. But, junior Mac Scott had to leave Saturday’s game against Nazareth with an apparent shoulder injury, just a day after returning to the lineup after sitting out the previous weekend.

The top pairing of senior captain Bobby Gertsakis and sophomore Stephen Johnson has done well, and Johnson has even stepped up to aid Gertsakis as he logs extra minutes. Sophomore transfer Sean Federow stepped in opening weekend and picked up some of the slack, but without King, Rivait and Scott, Oswego State is in limbo at the blue line.

This team on the shores of Lake Ontario has the offensive power and special teams play to contend for a championship, but it needs its strong, experienced defense to have a clean bill of health. If that is the case, it can take some of the pressure off whichever goalie is in net and compete for a spot at the 2015 Frozen Four in Minneapolis.