Laker Gameday Preview: SUNYAC Championships Edition: Mar. 7 at No. 7 SUNY Plattsburgh

No. 3 Oswego State is back in the SUNYAC tournament finals for the fourth season and the seventh time in the last eight seasons.

“As far as the consistency, I think each year it builds,” head coach Ed Gosek said. “You bring guys in and they see what has to happen: the mentality you have to have, the sacrifice that goes into that and being able to maintain it. One, you have to have the talent and two, you have to have players that are willing to believe in what it is that you do.”

Struggles on the final weekend of the regular season have men’s ice hockey heading back to the North Country for the SUNYAC tournament finals.

The No. 7 Cardinals, under head coach Bob Emery, enter Saturday’s contest a comparable foe looking to break into the NCAA tournament field with the league’s automatic berth.

“He prepares them well,” Gosek said. “There’s no lack of talent. They’re four lines deep, same as us. They’ve got six D who are all very good. Their goalie’s solid.”

Road warriors in 2014 when they had to win in Plattsburgh, Geneseo and Babson to reach the Frozen Four in Maine, the Lakers’ core is no stranger to winning on the biggest stages away from the Marano Campus Center Arena.

Oswego State is undefeated on the road this season at 7-0-1. The team has suffered all three of its losses within the confines of its home barn.

“We’re more blue collar on the road. We play a more simple road game, so to speak,” Gosek said. “As opposed to playing at home, where we feel like we’ve got to make highlight reel goals…We certainly would rather play at home, but I don’t think [playing on the road] a factor.”

Another factor this team has going for it is the improvement of its health. Its top defensive pairing of senior captain Bobby Gertsakis and sophomore Stephen Johnson missed the White Out game and Senior Night, but returned and made a noticeable impact in the SUNYAC semifinals against Buffalo State.

The coaching staff also shuffled up the forward lines and broke up the line of sophomores Matt Galati, Kenny Neil and Alex Botten. The new lines were seen as a must after the offense had gone dormant besides the line of freshman Mitchell Herlihey, sophomore Shawn Hulshof and senior Mike Montagna.

“I like the way that they work,” Gosek said. “I thought it was a much more balanced effort. You really couldn’t tell whether there was a difference between any lines, honestly. They all generated offense. I thought they all were pretty responsible defensively. All of them finished checks. All of them blocked shots.”

Both the Lakers and Cardinals are among Div. III’s top 10 for scoring offense and defense. The Lakers have 13 players with 10 points or more and the Cardinals have 17 players who have eclipsed the same mark.

In net, the two sides have sophomore standouts with job security as their junior backups are scratched due to injury. Matt Zawadzki of Oswego State carried his team through the SUNYAC tournament and into the Frozen Four last season. Brady Rouleau stepped up in January and has been 7-1-1 since Spencer Finney suffered an injury on Jan. 17 against Williams College.

Both teams have stepped up on either side of special teams in the second half of the season, returning to prominence in Div. III.

“Their special teams, if you look at their overall statistics, it’s misleading,” Gosek said. “They’ve been very good, of late, even though there were points during the season where they may have struggled, same as us on the PK and power play. Really, looking at the averages I don’t know if that’s fair. The averages over the last six games I think give you a better tendency of how they’re playing.”

The Cardinals and Lakers will take the ice for the 115th time on Saturday night in yet another high intensity contest with major implications.

By the numbers

3-Oswego State have won their last three games at Ronald B. Stafford Ice Arena in Plattsburgh, the longest winning streak at SUNY Plattsburgh in program history.

14-This is the 14th meeting between the Lakers and the Cardinals in the SUNYAC championship game in the 31-year history of the conference tournament.

22-Oswego State facing off against SUNY Geneseo in the conference finals last season snapped SUNY Plattsburgh’s 22-year streak of SUNYAC finals appearances, dating back to 1992.

31-The Cardinals and the Lakers have won a combined 31 SUNYAC championships out of the 38 titles.

Scoring/Special Teams Breakdown

Offense

Oswego State: 4.56 goals per game (4th in Division III)

SUNY Plattsburgh: 4.31 goals per game (7th in Division III)

Defense

Oswego State: 2.12 goals per game (T-9th in Division III)

SUNY Plattsburgh: 2.08 goals per game (8th in Division III)

Power Play

Oswego State: 31.46 percent [28-of-89] (2nd in Division III)

SUNY Plattsburgh: 19.20 percent [24-of-125] (28th in Division III)

Penalty Kill

Oswego State: 84.30 percent [70-of-83] (T-25th in Division III)

SUNY Plattsburgh: 83.00 percent [83 of 100] (T-31st in Division III)

Goalie Matchup

Oswego State: Matt Zawadzki (11-2-2/2.08 GAA/.924 save percentage)

SUNY Plattsburgh: Brady Rouleau (11-5-1/2.25 GAA/.906 save percentage)

Player to Watch: Oswego State sophomore Krystian Yorke

Prediction: 4-2 Oswego State