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It’s Decided … For Now

One of the wildest seasons in SUNYAC history is finally decided, with some positions coming right down to overtime.

When all was said and done, the top four were just like last year with Oswego taking the regular season title followed by Geneseo, Fredonia, and Plattsburgh.

The Lakers didn’t make it easy for themselves. They could have clinched the top spot on Friday by beating Geneseo. But, the Ice Knights would have none of it, as they won, 3-1.

Geneseo grabbed a 2-0 first period lead on goals by Trent Cassan and Mike MacDonald. Just before the period ended, Rick Varone, who has been red hot the last few weeks, got one back for Oswego. Mitch Stephens scored shorthanded midway through the second period, and that was all she wrote as Derek Jokic stopped 34 shots for the win.

Oswego made sure not to blow the three-point lead they had going into the weekend by blowing out Brockport, 8-1, and erasing any hopes Geneseo had to leapfrog over them.

The power play was the key in that blowout — the Lakers went six for twelve — as it executed with deadly, quick precision.

With the win over Oswego, Geneseo clinched second place and the other bye spot. However, the Ice Knights made sure to end the season on a high note with an easy 10-5 win over Cortland, despite the Red Dragons getting the first goal. Geneseo jumped out to a 7-2 lead before Cortland picked up a few goals.

Third place was decided in overtime. After both Fredonia and Plattsburgh won on Friday night, their showdown the next day determined the third spot. After a scoreless first period, the teams alternated goals in the second with Plattsburgh’s Mike Thomson getting the first one on a power play.

Steve Albert tied it, also on the power play, but Riley Hill gave the Cardinals the lead back. Neal Sheehan tied it back up with a shorthanded goal. Then, the pattern was broken when Scott Bradley gave the Blue Devils the lead on the power play.

Midway through the third period, Casey Smith knotted it once again. Into overtime it went, and Tom Briggs got the game winner for Fredonia, and the third place clincher, at the 26 second mark, much to the pleasure of the sold out home crowd.

Buffalo State, which has been the surprise of 2005-6, ended their season with a win, 6-2 over Potsdam. Despite their 4-1 loss to Plattsburgh, the Bengals finished in a tie for fourth place. Not too shabby for a team picked to finish dead last in preseason polls.

Potsdam, which started the second half as the hottest team in the league, winning four straight, ended it as the coldest team in the league, losing three straight, letting up 23 goals in those losses. Against Fredonia, they fell behind quickly, 6-0. Four straight power play goals got them briefly back into the game before eventually losing, 8-4. However, they do make the playoffs, even if they backed into it a bit.

On the bottom of the scale, Cortland won the battle to avoid last place by pounding Brockport, 7-2. Their first two goals came 33 seconds apart, and they never looked back. Despite that win as well as the huge upset over Oswego, Cortland’s season was a disappointment.

Brockport’s interim coach James Eccles was unable to change the pattern for the Golden Eagles. Now, decisions have to be made whether Brian Dickinson makes his sabbatical permanent or returns behind the bench. And, if he doesn’t coach again, Brockport needs to decide whether to keep Eccles or look elsewhere.

The regular season may have been a humdinger and unpredictable at times, but just imagine what the playoffs will be like if they follow the same pattern.

Some things were decided last weekend. Much more will be decided the next three weeks.

The Power Of Ryan

What’s in a name?

Last year, the SUNYAC Player of the Year was Ryan McCarthy of Potsdam and the Rookie of the Year was Ryan Scott of Oswego. Two more Ryans were honored this season.

Ryan Woodward of Oswego won Player of the Year and I’ll be shocked if anyone even got a vote for Rookie of the Year other than the winner Ryan Ellis, also from Oswego.

As for Coach of the Year, I can’t see anyone else more deserving than Nick Carriere, and his fellow coaches felt the same way. He took a next to last place Buffalo State team to a fourth place tie with Plattsburgh, their best conference finish ever, and only their second postseason appearance.

His only fault is that his name is not Ryan.

Woodward and Ellis both made First Team All-SUNYAC as forwards as did three Seans, all from Buffalo State. Sean Sheehan was selected as the goaltender, Sean Burke as another forward, and Sean O’Connell as a defender. Matt English of Geneseo was the other defenseman.

SUNYAC Sibling in Olympics

Geneseo’s assistant coach, Dave Insalaco, may be helping to prepare the Ice Knights for the semifinal round of the playoffs, but he is probably enjoying the week off. This way, the former player from Brockport has the time to sit in front of his television cheering on his younger sister, Kim Insalaco, a member of Team USA women’s hockey squad.

Go get ’em Kim. Make your brother proud.

SUNYAC Short Shots

Buffalo State’s Sean Burke broke the school record for goals in a season previously held by All-American Todd Nowicki at 23 when he scored his 23rd and 24th against Potsdam … The only other time Buffalo State made the playoffs was in the 2000-1 season when they finished sixth and played Cortland, winning the first game, 4-0, losing the second game, 5-2, and also losing the mini-game, 1-0 … For a reputation of being a defensive team, Fredonia sure threw a lot of shots on goal this past weekend: 49 against Plattsburgh and 50 against Potsdam.

PLAYOFF PREVIEWS

The play-in round match ups repeat themselves exactly one week after the respective teams played each other. The only change is Buffalo State has to travel to Plattsburgh, while Potsdam once again makes the trip to the western most SUNYAC school, Fredonia.

As always, the quirky two-game series, first to three points system is used. Both games will be played in full regulation style, including a five-minute overtime, if necessary. If the teams split or tie both games, they will immediately proceed to a 15-minute mini-game Saturday night. If that game ends in a tie, then 20-minute sudden death overtime periods are played until a winner is declared.

Tickets cost $5 for adults, $3 for students, and $2 for SUNY students. All games start at 7:00 p.m.

[All stats mentioned below are for conference play only.]

Potsdam (6-7-1, 7-13-4) at Fredonia (8-3-3, 14-8-3)

Psychologically, Fredonia has the edge in this series as they blew out Potsdam, 8-4, last week after jumping out to a quick 6-0 lead.

However, don’t expect a repeat of that sort of game.

“It’s going to be a good series,” Fredonia coach Jeff Meredith said. “At this time of year everybody has to bring their best game.”

The problem with Potsdam is not bringing their best game, but just bringing enough players. Since the second half of the season, the Bears have lost player after player. Lance Smith and John Rorison were lost due to academics. Chris Brussa-Toi took the semester off to student teach. (Corey McAllister also student teaches, but he is able to drive to the games after his workday, usually arriving just in time to take the ice.)

On the injury front, Warren Sly has been out since the Oswego game, T.J. Sakaluk (9-10–19) hasn’t played since the Fredonia game, and Ryan McCarthy (11-13–24) was hobbling against Buffalo State. Their status will be determined at game time.

“A number of our guys are down and out at the moment for us,” Potsdam coach Glenn Thomaris said. “Hopefully, they will be in good enough shape for the weekend to carry us through.”

Meanwhile, Fredonia is healthy and expected to suit up a similar lineup as last weekend. That includes Rick Cazares (2.73 GAA, .904 save pct.) who should have no problems out dueling the Potsdam goaltending tandem if it comes to that. And even though Fredonia may be known as a low scoring defensive team, they have top scorers led by Matt Zeman (11-7–18).

“They are going to create a lot of opportunities to score some goals,” Thomaris said. “They’ve got some pretty good snipers.”

So, is it sayonara for Potsdam? Not necessarily. Remember, the Bears scored four quick power play goals in their comeback attempt last week.

“I always thought that Potsdam is one of the most talented teams in the league,” Meredith said. “They can move the puck extremely well.”

“We’ve got to be a little more aggressive in our own end,” Thomaris said. “We’ve got to play smarter and harder and try to get the lead on them.”

That could very well be the key — grabbing the early lead.

“I think they are going to try to get the lead as quickly as they can and play solid in front of Cazares,” Thomaris said.

“Obviously, you want to get a quick start,” Meredith said. “Momentum is a key. In the playoffs, you want to stay out of the early.”

Especially against Potsdam’s power play (31.3%), and Fredonia is tops in the league in penalties (26.5 PIM/G).

The games will be closer than last week. That I fully expect. However, Potsdam does not have enough over a two-game series in manpower, goaltending, and defense to upset Fredonia, not to mention having to make another long bus trip. Potsdam will be lucky to get a tie, as Fredonia should sweep.

Buffalo State (8-6-0, 11-12-1) at Plattsburgh (8-6-0, 14-10-1)

This series is a study in the theory of relativity. These two teams tied for fourth place. That’s considered a disappointment for Plattsburgh but a success story for Buffalo State.

Plattsburgh gets to host the series thanks to a 4-1 victory last week that followed a 2-1 loss back in December. Thus, the Cardinals take the tie-breaker with a +2 in head-to-head goal differential. This is a huge advantage for Plattsburgh not having to make the trip all the way back to Buffalo two weeks in a row.

However, the Bengals have proven they can win in the North Country, sweeping their trip there this season. But, the playoffs are different. Nonetheless, expect to see similar type of games between these two teams.

“Buffalo State will play a similar style,” Plattsburgh coach Bob Emery said. “They’ll try to be opportunistic and take advantage of our mistakes.”

Buffalo State coach Nick Carriere said, “If we make them work really hard that will be the point where we will be able to have an opportunity.”

The Bengals have made every team work hard this year, and they are prepared to do the same this week. “Even before walking into that weekend, we are going to have a very disciplined, detailed oriented practice,” Carriere said. “We just need to do a lot of simple things, a lot of things we preach when we play at home.”

For one Bengal player, it will be a homecoming of sorts. After a brief career at Plattsburgh, Sean Burke transferred to Buffalo State, becoming their leading scorer this year (15-8–23). Another Sean will have to play strong, and that’s the goaltender, Sean Sheehan (3.24 GAA, .901 save pct.).

Sheehan could be the key to this series as Craig Neilson is questionable for the weekend. Plattsburgh has other players banged up as well including Shane Remenda who is out for the season. Of course, Plattsburgh always has depth, and they will still be able to rely on such players as Ryan Busby (6-12–18), David Friel (7-10–17), Ben Kemp (5-9–14), and two rookies who had strong seasons: Kevin Galan (10-4–14) and Deryk Whitehead (4-9–13).

Buffalo State is for real. There is no doubt about that as Emery is willing to admit: “Nick [Carriere] has done a great job with Buffalo State. He plays a style of game that gives them a chance to win.”

The question is, is Buffalo State real enough to beat Plattsburgh in Stafford in the unfamiliar territory called the playoffs?

I don’t think so. And, not because of the old cliché; of not having playoff experience. Rather because of historical facts. In the last few years, even when Plattsburgh has had poor regular seasons, they have always peaked and been very well prepared for the playoffs. Even when they lost, it’s always been against much better teams, and they did not go down without a gallant fight.

This series, Plattsburgh is not playing a team much better than them. Relatively speaking, Buffalo State may be having a breakout season for their program and Plattsburgh may have had a ho-hum season for them, but there is nothing relative about the Cardinals taking this series. Even if Buffalo State is able to stretch it to a mini-game.