Laker Ledger: Big game carries playoff implications

Monday afternoon, Oswego State returned to the top of Div. III men’s ice hockey for the first time in 116 weeks. The Lakers have one more test standing in their way to pass in order to end the regular season as No. 1 in the nation: win White Out.

Oswego State has not skipped a beat since the graduation of the class of 2013. It has remained in USCHO.com’s top 15 polls, been to an NCAA Frozen Four and won a SUNYAC title. This week, the new players return to a pinnacle their predecessors were all too familiar with. They are No. 1 in the nation, as well as the SUNYAC.

This season, as perennial giants such as St. Norbert College, Norwich University and University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point have struggled, the Lakers have only continued to grow stronger. Road victories over the College at Brockport and SUNY Geneseo last weekend avenged the only two blemishes on the team’s otherwise perfect conference record. Oswego State has earned the chance to enter the SUNYAC postseason with its sights set on securing the overall No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament.

That being said, a loss on Friday and the road to Minneapolis becomes much harder. It would more than likely mean having to go through Plattsburgh to earn the SUNYAC’s automatic NCAA bid, and if the Lakers do not win that game, an at-large berth would be in jeopardy. If they even get the at-large, their road to the Frozen Four would certainly contain one, if not two, road games instead of what now looks like one home game before the national semifinals.

The two regular season games between the Lakers and Cardinals are the only games against a ranked team the Lakers have all season. Victories in these games are a necessity to boost the team’s résumé for the NCAA committee.

A win on Friday and an assumed victory on Saturday over SUNY Potsdam gives Oswego State a home-ice advantage through the SUNYAC playoffs. Those circumstances give the team a clear path to a third-straight conference tournament title and the No. 1 overall seed in the NCAA tournament, which includes a bye to a home game in the national quarterfinals. If such is the case, the Lakers will certainly be one of the four teams making the trip to Minneapolis to play for the national championship.

Once in Minneapolis, this year’s team has arguably the best chance of bringing home the national title of any Laker team in the last six years. With unmatched scoring depth, top-tier goaltending, solid special teams and an uncharacteristic toughness, the 2014-2015 Oswego State men’s ice hockey team has a serious edge to go with all its personnel advantages that makes it extremely dangerous, especially in a weaker NCAA tournament field like the one currently forming.

First things first, it’s Rivalry Night. It’s two of the best programs in Div. III history. It’s the biggest game of the season. It’s Oswego State. It’s SUNY Plattsburgh. It’s White Out.