After the release of the second installment of the NCAA Div. III men’s ice hockey regional rankings on Wednesday, the goal is clear for No. 5 Oswego State: A win over Buffalo State on Saturday and it’s NCAA tournament bound.
The Lakers finished the regular season with a winless weekend at home, including a 3-3 tie against SUNY Plattsburgh and 4-2 loss against SUNY Potsdam. However, they only fell one spot in the new East regional rankings, remaining in the top three.
A trip to the SUNYAC finals on March 7 would secure Oswego State’s top three spot for the final East regional rankings, which come out on March 4. Barring any major upsets in the other conference tournaments, a loss on March 7 would not end the Lakers’ season.
Currently, the Trinity College Bantams and Amherst College Jeffs are the only teams ahead of Oswego State in the East. The Bantams and Jeffs are on a crash course to meet in the New England Small College Athletic Conference (NESCAC) finals. Whichever team wins will get the conference’s automatic bid, while the loser will surely be guaranteed one of the four NCAA at-large bids.
Behind the Lakers are Hobart College of the ECAC West, Massachusetts-Boston, Norwich University and Babson College of the ECAC East and SUNY Plattsburgh of the SUNYAC. The Statesmen are only eligible for the ECAC West/Wisconsin Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (WIAC) at-large bid, which seems in the hands of the defending national runner-ups Wisconsin-Stevens Point. Either Babson or Massachusetts-Boston will be eliminated from at-large bid contention after their conference tournament semifinal matchup this week. Then, the winner and Norwich will compete for the conference’s automatic bid with the loser grabbing an at-large bid. Finally, SUNY Plattsburgh’s play this season has left it only able to get into the NCAA tournament with the SUNYAC automatic bid.
The Lakers’ regular season resume has set them up well. Wins over Hobart and SUNY Plattsburgh are highlights on a season where they have won 17 games and were 2:13 of gameplay last Saturday away from the SUNYAC regular season title. A tie or win against SUNY Potsdam also would have secured the Lakers the No. 1 ranking in the final regular season national polls.
Between Oswego State and the SUNYAC finals are the No. 5-seeded Buffalo State Bengals. They knocked off SUNY Potsdam on the road in the SUNYAC quarterfinals on Wednesday night for their fifth win in their last six games. Sophomore goaltender Mike DeLaVergne allowed just two goals to the Bears, but has allowed 10 goals in two starts against the Lakers this season.
It is still uncertain whether the Lakers will have players back such as defensemen Bobby Gertsakis and Stephen Johnson, goalie Justin Gilbert and forward John Jackson. The impact of their absence was felt as the team struggled against SUNY Plattsburgh and SUNY Potsdam. That being said, Oswego State may be able to simply outscore the Bengals if the line of Matt Galati, Alex Botten and Kenny Neil can get back to form along with the currently hot line of Shawn Hulshof, Mike Montagna and Mitchell Herlihey.
The losses of SUNY Geneseo and SUNY Potsdam sending Buffalo State to Oswego for the conference semifinals may have just punched the Lakers’ ticket to the NCAA tournament. If they survive Saturday, Oswego State is in.