One year removed from its fifth straight Frozen Four, Oswego State men’s ice hockey season ended in the NCAA Quarterfinals at Adrian College in southeastern Michigan.
The loss to the Bulldogs also ended a five-year streak of 20 wins as the Lakers finished the campaign with 19 victories. The season did not meet the program’s standards of winning SUNYAC regular season title, SUNYAC Tournament title or a national championship. Head coach Ed Gosek recognizes that it may seem overconfident or conceited, but he also realizes the program missed its goals.
“From the standpoint that we fell short in all three of those areas, you have to reevaluate what you’re doing, who you have, and not just the players but the way we practice, the way we approach things and accountability,” Gosek said. “Everything is on the table for reevaluation because we’re disappointed in how it went.”
Coming off the success of the 2013-2014 season, Oswego State was the preseason SUNYAC favorite of the conference’s coaches and No. 3 in the preseason national polls.
Early on, the team started out living up to those expectations. It knocked off the U.S. National Under-18 team in an exhibition before ripping off five straight wins to start the regular season followed by ties against the College at Brockport and in the Frozen Dome Classic at the Carrier Dome against Utica College.
The Lakers had an unusual amount of high-profile matchups on their fall semester schedule, including the exhibition, Frozen Dome and the program’s 50th anniversary weekend in mid-November.
“It’s pretty incredible when you think back on all the games we’ve had and been able to play in,” said senior captain Bobby Gertsakis. “So many home games this year as well too. It’s just an awesome feeling knowing that we play in front of so many good fans.”
The squad suffered its first loss of the season following the Frozen Dome Classic in a 2-1 decision at the Marano Campus Center Arena against SUNY Geneseo. It was Oswego State’s third game in five days.
The Lakers responded on their annual trip to the North Country, sweeping the two-game weekend against SUNY Potsdam and then-No. 4 SUNY Plattsburgh. However, the tie against the College at Brockport and loss to SUNY Geneseo kept the Lakers three points behind the Cardinals at the start of winter break.
The 2014-2015 season included the emergence of Shawn Hulshof. The sophomore finished his rookie season with 20 points, but was in the shadow of the standout line of his classmates Kenny Neil, Alex Botten and Matt Galati. In year two, Hulshof stepped out, tallying 42 points and earning SUNYAC MVP honors. Part of the credit for his success was in part due to his linemates Mike Montagna and rookie Mitchell Herlihey.
“The consistency, one, comes from linemates,” Gosek said. “Titanic graduates, Herlihey steps in to there. They’re pretty consistent throughout the year. We leave them together. They have the right chemistry that certainly helped Shawn. I think he would be the first to admit that his linemates were a big part of his success this season.”
Even with so much success this year, Gosek believes Hulshof can only get better.
“I’m pleased with the progress he made this year,” Gosek said. “But, if he’s willing to sacrifice and pay the price and pay his dues, I think he has only scratched the surface of what he can become.”
Hulshof and his linemates combined for 29 points in the first 10 games, but it was over break that they truly broke out. Oswego State went 5-1-1 over the recess, finishing up with wins at home over Buffalo State and SUNY Fredonia. The line contributed 27 points in the seven-game stretch.
Herlihey finished the regular season with 27 points, eighth-most in the country, and 16 points in SUNYAC play, fourth most in the league. He was part of an eight-man class of new players this season. Herlihey was the standout, but the class is filled with talent, which Gosek sees as key to the Lakers’ success next season.
“The biggest strides of improvement were of guys who weren’t in the lineup for the last game,” Gosek said. “If anything, I’m excited to see next year what it is. I hope it’s not status quo. If some of those guys pass guys that are in the lineup now, we’ll be a better team because of it.”
The team’s offense ranked among the top five in Div. III and was effective throughout the year. But, as a team that prides itself on strong play in the defensive zone, it also finished the year top 10 in goals allowed.
Junior assistant captain Denton King missed the entire season after the exhibition and senior assistant captain Nick Rivait did not enter the lineup until January. Yet, sophomores Chris Raguseo and Stephen Johnson stepped up. By season’s end, the defensive core, along with goaltender Matt Zawadzki, were back to stymieing opponent scorers.
Rivait, Gertsakis and Mike Wills all graduate in May, but King and junior Mac Scott both started last season before facing injury problems this season. They will slip into two open spots putting the team into a good position for next season.
“We’ve got to have guys step up next year,” King said. “We’ve got to have guys ready to take on bigger roles. That’s something we definitely need to address. I’m sure the coaches will bring in some guys to have healthy competition and maintain our D core to be where it needs to be.”
Oswego State, including the games against the Bengals and Blue Devils, started SUNYAC play in the new year on a seven-game winning streak headed into Senior Weekend. The stretch moved the team to No. 1 in the nation and the conference, both firsts for the campaign.
In the days leading up to the final weekend, which included the annual White Out game against SUNY Plattsburgh, the Lakers suffered several injuries to key players. Gertsakis and Johnson, the team’s top defensive pair, junior back up goalie Justin Gilbert and mid-season addition John Jackson all went down. The absence was felt as Oswego State tied the Cardinals and lost to the Bears.
“I’m not going to use injuries as an excuse,” Gosek said. “But, you already have Denton King out and now you’ve got Johnson and Gertsakis out. That’s 50 percent of your D. That’s the equivalent of Hulshof, Montagna, Herlihey, Botten, Galati, Neil. So, would they have made the difference against Platty? Would they have made the difference against Potsdam? Who knows. You would like to think they would.”
Oswego State fell back to the No. 2-seed in the SUNYAC playoffs and took down No. 5-seed Buffalo State in the conference tournament semifinals, setting up a third showdown with SUNY Plattsburgh for the conference title in Plattsburgh.
The Cardinals outskated the Lakers and won their first game in the series since 2012 to earn their first NCAA Tournament bid since that same season. The selection committee also placed the Lakers in the field with the 11th, and final, bid.
The line of Galati, Botten and Neil was split up during the conference tournament, following a drop in production. It had 42 points in the first 10, but only the same total over the next 16. The break, and some shaved playoff bears, motivated the trio to push the team forward in late March.
Oswego State traveled to Geneva, N.Y. to take on Hobart College in the first round and broke out in a 6-1 win. It was the first time the Lakers put up five or more goals in five weeks. Galati and Neil potted three of the six goals, and Botten had three assists.
The season ended seven days later in Adrian, Mich. last Saturday. It ended the career of six Lakers: Rivait, Wills, Montagna, Gertsakis, Chris Carr and Eli Kim-Swallow.
“The senior leadership certainly helped hold everything together, did a very good job of getting us to the second round of the NCAA Tournament and I was proud of everything they’ve done on and off the ice,” Gosek said.
The loss only creates a greater desire among the 25 returning players to bounce back next season.
“I don’t think we really ended the year the way we wanted to,” Neil said. “We lost a couple big games there. I think the guys coming back are more driven to win. No game is going to be easy. At the end of the year, we lost to Potsdam in a game we wish we could have back. For guys returning, games like that, give us the extra push to get it done.”