On the morning of March 9, the NCAA Div. III men’s ice hockey tournament selection committee gave Oswego State new life. Now it is time to step up or go home.
The Lakers were No. 1 in the nation heading into the final weekend of the regular season before going 1-2-1 in the four games that followed, which included that final regular season weekend and the SUNYAC tournament. The team was on the bubble, but the committee decided its body of work showed it deserved to keep playing.
Now, it truly has become a win or the season is over situation. There are no more safety nets and no more second chances to be given. When the Lakers lost to SUNY Potsdam on Senior Night, there were still the SUNYAC playoffs to rebound in. After losing to SUNY Plattsburgh in the conference finals, there is still the NCAA tournament. A loss now and the season, which showed so much promise, is over.
Behind newly-named league MVP Shawn Hulshof, his linemates Mike Montagna and Mitchell Herlihey, strong defensemen and goalie Matt Zawadzki, Oswego State became a front-runner to make a trip to Minneapolis in a field without a dominant team. Head coach Ed Gosek’s team appeared one of a few teams to be getting hot at the right time.
Since the Feb. 16 polls came out, injuries and lack of intensity, as well as desperation, have plagued the team at certain points. Now, it sits an underdog on the road at Hobart College this weekend and in the tournament as a whole. But, that’s the way the team likes it.
Last season, the Lakers were road warriors in the postseason winning at SUNY Plattsburgh and SUNY Geneseo in the SUNYAC tournament as a lower seed. Then, they were the lower seed going into Babson College knocking off the Beavers to reach a fifth straight Frozen Four. There is doubt once again that they can win on this stage yet again, and the doubt is just what they need.
This past Saturday, the Cardinals played with desperation, as they knew a loss to Oswego State would end their season. They out hustled the Lakers and won with solid defense and timely scoring. The chip on the Lakers’ collective shoulders currently will push them all to play with intensity and desperation.
Oswego State defeated Hobart College in Oswego on Jan. 9 in a high-scoring affair highlighted by scoring runs by each team. While the game is in Geneva this time, it may work to the Lakers’ advantage since they tend to play simpler on the road. Not to mention, the Statesmen’s rink (“The Cooler”) only seats 1,000. Many of those fans on Saturday will be rooting against the Lakers, only driving them to want to win more.
Then, a few more wins means on to Adrian, Mich. and Minneapolis where less and less Oswego State faithful will be able to travel. Usually, the more hostile the crowd the more the team rises to the occasion.
The team has a core of five seniors in the starting lineup trying to extend their collegiate careers as long as possible. If their heart and passion can spark the entire lineup, watch out. A team putting everything it has on the line every second of a game, in combination with a goalie like Matt Zawadzki, tends to be the formula for a deep postseason run.