Late season injuries, new lines and a loss to SUNY Potsdam have No. 3 Oswego State in need of a win in Plattsburgh on Saturday to get back on the national championship contender’s short list.
Senior captain Bobby Gertsakis and sophomore Stephen Johnson are back in the mix on defense and the Lakers have their regular starting lineup back in one piece. But one game back together at home versus Buffalo State is not much of a sample size to hang one’s hat on.
The opponent ahead in No. 7 SUNY Plattsburgh is much faster, stronger on both sides of the puck and has one of the most decorated men in Div. III atop its bench. The Cardinals are three seasons removed from an NCAA tournament bid and need a win in this weekend’s final to end their drought.
SUNY Plattsburgh has the motive and an experienced, veteran core to pose a serious challenge to the Lakers’ third straight conference crown and a more favorable draw in the 11-team NCAA field. Not to mention, home-ice advantage for the highly anticipated game will make the atmosphere that much more hostile for the rival Lakers.
“They’re a very good team,” said head coach Ed Gosek. “There’s a reason they’re in the finals again. There’s a reason we’re in the finals again. I think the consistency of both programs; again, going back to the rivalry, it takes two competitive teams that have gone at it. That’s the reason there’s the rivalry.”
A win on Saturday for Oswego State helps its NCAA resume by adding a third victory over a ranked opponent. It would be its second on the road, both against SUNY Plattsburgh. The conference tournament crown will erase questions raised following the final weekend of the regular season.
The Lakers have the best power play in Div. III with Gertsakis quarterbacking the top unit. Plus, a healthy squad has solidified the second unit with players like Johnson, Mike Montagna and Nick Rivait. On the other side of special teams, the combinations of Brandon Adams and Morgan Bonner along with Andrew Barton and Krystian Yorke are back together after so much success down the stretch last season and early on this year. Gosek has seen the improved play with a man in the box, as of late.
“Bonner and Adams: Bonner was out and then Adams was out,” Gosek said. “We had Herlihey rotating in who did a great job. I think the consistency of those two and Barton and Yorkey, along with our D understanding and starting to anticipate more [is bringing them together in units].”
Special teams will likely play a large role in deciding the contest as the Lakers and Cardinals tout rosters equally skilled in all three zones. However, another factor will be goaltenders.
Oswego State’s Matt Zawadzki and SUNY Plattsburgh’s Brady Rouleau played to a stalemate in February in Oswego after Zawadzki won the battle in December in Plattsburgh. Round three is in the North Country once again, where Zawadzki is 3-0 and Rouleau is 3-1 in his last four starts.
With perennial powerhouse St. Norbert College currently on the outside looking in and no clear front runners, the Lakers can prove the legitimacy of their title hopes as the road warriors seek another conference championship in unfriendly territory.