The NCAA Div. III men’s ice hockey Frozen Four begins Friday night at Ridder Arena in Minneapolis. Oswego State is not participating for the first time since 2009, but this is a good thing.
The Lakers were eliminated from the NCAA Tournament in the quarterfinal round last Saturday in Adrian, Mich. The loss snapped a five-year streak of trips to the Frozen Four.
The stretch of appearances in the national semifinals created the expectation that Oswego State would reach the final weekend of the season every single year. Such an expectation is incredibly unrealistic with the depth of Div. III.
The Class of 2013 reached the Frozen Four in each of its four seasons donning the hunter green and gold. The Class of 2017 continues to be compared to its predecessors, but the only legitimate correlation is the size of the classes.
Kenny Neil, Matt Galati and Alex Botten are not Whitelaw, Luke Moodie and Paul Rodrigues. Matt Zawadzki is not Andrew Hare. While all the aforementioned players are talented among the best in Div. III over the past six seasons, they cannot be expected to have identical careers. There are other Div. III programs with equally strong men’s ice hockey traditions with the same standard of success, such as Norwich University, St. Norbert College, SUNY Plattsburgh and Adrian College.
Right there, five teams with a legitimate chance at the national semifinals yet only four spots are available each season. The loss to Adrian this weekend is the loss the Class of 2013 never had.
Now, did it ever win the national title? No. So, did it always desire to achieve more? No. But it did always have a Frozen Four appearance, on top of the SUNYAC regular season crown to hang its collective hat on. This season was just the fourth time under head coach Ed Gosek, and the first time since the 2008-2009 season, that the Lakers did not win the SUNYAC regular season or tournament title or reach the Frozen Four. This program is in unchartered territories and has a big chip on its shoulder.
Oswego State does lose half of its starting defense, third team All-SUNYAC forward Mike Montagna and Mr. Playoffs, Chris Carr. But it returns 14 starters from this season’s postseason run, plus two defensemen, Mac Scott and Denton King, with postseason experience from the previous season. Add in forwards Joey Davies and John Jackson who were injured for the end of the season and there’s a solid starting lineup filled with players not satisfied with the NCAA Quarterfinals. A lineup that wants to hoist the 2016 national championship trophy in Lake Placid next spring, as well.
That being said, the competition for a spot in the NCAA Tournament, let alone a spot in the Frozen Four, will be stiff next season. There are plenty of programs, like the Lakers, making major strides over the past few seasons. But the Class of 2017 can look back now and see half its collegiate career is over.
It is time for it to step up alongside the Class of 2016 and play every game next season the way it did following the SUNYAC Tournament finals loss in Plattsburgh. Last Saturday’s loss to Adrian Collegewas just what the Lakers needed to light a fire within themselves, which may guide them to the 2016 national title.