Laker Gameday Preview: Jan. 31 at SUNY Cortland

Sophomore Shawn Hulshof has four career points (one goal, three assists) against SUNY Cortland. The team's leading scorer will look to add to that on Saturday Night in Cortland (David Armelino | The Oswegonian).
Sophomore Shawn Hulshof has four career points (one goal, three assists) against SUNY Cortland. The team’s leading scorer will look to add to that on Saturday Night in Cortland (David Armelino | The Oswegonian).

Returning to action on Saturday after sweeping its opening weekend of the second half of SUNYAC play, No. 4 Oswego State (12-2-3, 7-1-1 SUNYAC) has an opening on the national stage, but SUNY Cortland stands in its way. This season, that is more dangerous than in years past, especially with this tilt taking place on the road.

On Friday night, No. 10 Adrian knocked off No. 2 St. Norbert in Northern Collegiate Hockey Association action, while No. 13 Amherst defeated No. 3 Trinity. The Green Knights’ loss at the hands of the Bulldogs was their second in a row. A win on Saturday night for the Lakers may make a big enough statement to convince voters they deserve a bump in the polls come Monday afternoon.

This all being said, the opponent standing between Oswego State and a move up in the USCHO.com polls is a better side than in recent seasons. The SUNY Cortland Red Dragons, Oswego State’s traveling partner in the SUNYAC, have rarely had success in this series. The Lakers are overall 68-9-2 against the Red Dragons, undefeated since the 2005-2006 season. Yet, this season, SUNY Cortland has two of the top scorers in the nation and a freshman goalie showing a lot of promise.

Senior Nick Zappia led the Red Dragons with 28 points during the 2013-2014 season en route to a third team All-SUNYAC selecton. This season, the senior Central New York native is second in the nation in scoring with 33 points through 18 games. He is joined atop the scoring list by freshman Dan Broderick whose 27 points puts him in a tie for sixth among Division III scorers. Another commonality between Zappia and Broderick is that they each scored in SUNY Cortland’s comeback effort against the Lakers in Oswego on Nov. 8, which did withstand as the hosts pushed back ahead to victory, 6-4.

Also, on the ice that night for the Red Dragons, making just his second collegiate start, was freshman goaltender Drew Weigman. Weigman conceded six goals on that night in November, but also made 30 saves to keep his team in the game. Since then, he has earned the starting job for the side. In 14 games, he is 6-5-3 with 3.62 goals against average and .912 save percentage.

Even though SUNY Cortland is still on the outside looking in when it comes to the SUNYAC playoff picture, sitting tied at eight points with Buffalo State for the sixth, and final, spot. Wins over current playoff teams SUNY Geneseo and the College at Brockport have them looking primed to challenge for their first trip to the SUNYAC playoffs in 10 seasons.

Nonetheless, the top five ranked Lakers are the favorites heading to Alumni Arena in Cortland. The Lakers tout the top scoring offense in the country, as well as the 13th-ranked defense in Division III. Facing the eighth-ranked team in penalty minutes, it is also of note that the visitors for Saturday night’s contest have the second-best power play in the country.

Oswego State also has some impressive scorers of its own that will go punch for punch with the Red Dragons. Sophomores Shawn Hulshof (13-13-26) and Alex Botten (6-20-26) are each in the top 10 among scorers. Hulshof is the reigning SUNYAC men’s ice hockey player of the week after a six-point weekend against Buffalo State and SUNY Fredonia. Fellow sophomores Matt Galati (8-14-22) and Kenny Neil (9-12-21) have also both already eclipsed 20 points through the team’s first 17 games.

The offensive power of the Lakers overshadows an equally impressive defense. Allowing just north of two goals per game, Oswego State has depth at the blue line led by senior captains Bobby Gertsakis and Nick Rivait. However, arguably the most improved defenseman on the roster is sophomore Chris Raguseo.

Raguseo earned a spot in the lineup late last season and has slowly become more experienced and more comfortable at the collegiate level. Now, his toughness, decision making and grit are vital to the team night in and night out.

In net, the Lakers have arguably the best net-minder in the conference, sophomore Matt Zawadzki. Zawadzki is 7-1-1 on the season with a 2.12 goals against average to go with his .922 save percentage. Although, his most impressive stat, for such a young goalie, may be his five shutouts in 30 career starts. He is known for having a level he goes to in big games, and his team will need him at that level on Saturday with such scorers on the other side as Zappia and Broderick.

Last season at Cortland, the two sides combined to take 23 penalties (15 by SUNY Cortland and eight by Oswego State). The Red Dragons had two players ejected, including captain Ryan Wagner. They played without ejections in their second meeting last season, but Tommy Nolan and Mike Wills were tossed in the first meeting in Oswego this season.

Oswego State scored three of its six goals in November on the power play, expect penalties to play a factor in the final score on Saturday night as well.

By the numbers

7-Oswego State forward Matt Galati has seven power play goals this season, second-best in the nation. With the Red Dragons in the top 10 for penalty minutes in Division III, Galati should have plenty of chances on Saturday night to add to his season total on the man advantage.

17-Oswego State has not lost to SUNY Cortland in its last 17 games against the Red Dragons. It was Jan. 20, 2006 the last time SUNY Cortland knocked off its traveling partner. That game was also in Cortland and ended a 21-game undefeated streak in the series for the Lakers.

84-Nick Zappia, Dan Broderick and freshman Darren McCormick have combined for 84 points thus far in the season. The highest total of a trio in Division III.

Scoring/Special Teams Breakdown

Offense

Oswego State: 4.94 goals per game (1st in Division III)

SUNY Cortland: 3.67 goals per game (17th in Division III)

Defense

Oswego State: 2.18 goals per game (13th in Division III)

SUNY Cortland: 3.94 goals per game (T-61st in Division III)

Power Play

Oswego State: 32.79 percent [20-of-61] (2nd in Division III)

SUNY Cortland: 13.16 percent [10-of-76] (65th in Division III)

Penalty Kill

Oswego State: 80.80 percent [42-of-52] (T-42nd in Division III)

SUNY Cortland: 77.50 percent [69 of 89] (T-58th in Division III)

Goalie Matchup

Oswego State: Matt Zawadzki (7-1-1/2.12 GAA/.922 save percentage)

SUNY Cortland: Drew Weigman (6-5-3/3.62 GAA/.912 save percentage)

Player to Watch: Oswego State sophomore forward Matt Galati

Prediction: 5-3 Oswego State