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The Cat Can’t Catch The Bird

The Buffalo State Bengals great turnaround season came to an end as they were not able to keep up with the Plattsburgh Cardinals.

The first game was as most expected, a tight, hard fought contest with the teams trading goals all the way till the third period.

Ben Kemp led off the scoring for Plattsburgh on the power play which was followed a minute later by Jason Hill. Justin Rafferty put Plattsburgh back in the lead, but Greg Prybylski on the power play tied it back up before the end of the first.

C.J. Tozzo scored the only goal of the second period. Buffalo State tied it again 54 seconds into the third on a Sean Burke power play goal. Casey Smith once again gave the Cardinals the lead.

Trevor Mallon broke the pattern with a power play tally that gave Plattsburgh their first and only two-goal lead. Burke came back for the Bengals to make it 5-4 with just under six minutes to go. The Bengals pulled their goalie for the last 1:17, but were unable to get the equalizer.

Plattsburgh out shot Buffalo State, 31-29. Craig Neilson made 25 saves for the win while Sean Sheehan stopped 26 shots in the loss.

The next night, Buffalo State ran out of steam. Plattsburgh out shot Buffalo State in the first period, 13-5, jumping out to a 3-0 lead, and never looked back. The final shots on goal were 47-18 and the final score was 8-1. Ryan Busby got two goals while six other Cardinals scored. Plattsburgh scored on both their power play opportunities. Neilson made 17 saves.

Buffalo State ended their season at 11-14-1, but most importantly, made huge strides towards respectability. Though they lose some key players to graduation (Burke, Prybylski, Brian Janke, Sean Castagna and Mike Zalewski), the Bengals should be able to use this season as a stepping stone to better things.

The Devil Is In The Simplicity

“Just trying to keep our game pretty simple,” Fredonia coach Jeff Meredith said after his team swept Potsdam, 7-2 and 5-3. “I think we just generated opportunities getting pucks to the net. We’re a pretty straightforward hockey team. When we play five-on-five, we just drop the puck in deep and went after it.”

Those opportunities came fast and furious on Friday night as the Blue Devils jumped out to a 3-0 first period lead on goals by Scott Bradley, Jeff Sylvester and Shawn Walker where they out shot Potsdam, 19-6.

Potsdam’s power play continued to click against Fredonia, and they scored two quick ones in the second period to cut the lead to one. Adam Gebara and Pat Lemay were the goal scorers.

Neal Sheehan got a Fredonia power play goal to reverse the trend. In the third period, Bradley and Walker got their second goals of the game and Adam Haberman wrapped things up.

Rick Cazares made 23 saves for the win. Fredonia wound up firing 41 shots on the Bears’ net.

The second game was a closer contest as Potsdam did not want to go down without a fight. The Bears got the first goal, on the power play of course, by Greg Lee.

Fredonia came back with three straight in the second period, the first two on a power play, by Wil Barlow, Haberman, and Joe Muli. Gebara got one back before the period ended with a rare even strength goal.

For the third period, the teams traded goals. Kraig Kuzma gave the Blue Devils their two-goal lead back. Ryan McCarthy, on the power play, once again cut the lead. Matt Zeman iced it with an empty netter.

Cazares once again stopped 23 shots, and Fredonia shot on the net 40 times.

The Bears end a disappointing season with a 7-15-4 record. They will lose four seniors from this year’s squad. But, more importantly, they will need to reverse the trend of the past two seasons after finishing in second place before that.

Left In The Nick Of Time

The Potsdam hockey team left for their long trip to Fredonia Thursday morning. It’s a good thing they had such a long road trip that forced them to leave early.

Three hours later, the basketball team left for a Friday night game at Oneonta. In those ensuing three hours, the weather turned nasty-high winds, snow and icy roads. Interstate 81 was shutdown due to the conditions and the side roads were too dangerous to continue on.

While the hockey team escaped the weather and made it safely to Fredonia, the basketball team was forced to turn around and have their game postponed till Sunday. The hockey team, by sheer luck, avoided a situation that would have played havoc on the scheduling for a two-game series.

PLAYOFF PREVIEWS

It’s rematch time. The semifinal round duplicates itself from a year ago. We have the top SUNYAC rivalry with Plattsburgh at Oswego for the very last time in the Golden Romney Field House, guaranteeing overflowing crowds. Meanwhile, Geneseo is sure to pack them in as well as they begin their defense of the SUNYAC championship, hosting Fredonia.

Same format as the play-in round-first to three points wins the series. 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.]

Plattsburgh (8-6-0, 16-10-1) at Oswego (10-3-1, 18-5-2)

“It’s what college hockey is all about,” Plattsburgh coach Bob Emery said. “Full of emotion.”

“It’s Plattsburgh-Oswego,” Oswego coach Ed Gosek said. “It wouldn’t matter if we were 0-20 and they were 20-0. It would be a one-goal game.”

The great SUNYAC rivalry continues.

This year’s series is similar to last year’s semifinal match. First place versus fourth place. Oswego coming in with two regular season victories over the Cardinals, this time by the scores of 4-2 and 7-6. Last season, Plattsburgh caught Oswego flat coming off the bye week. So, would Gosek rather face someone else?

“The way we approach it is if you’re going to win your league title, you’re going to have to play everybody anyway,” he said. “Plattsburgh, Geneseo, Fredonia are all three quality teams. If we don’t get it done, then we don’t deserve it.”

What will it take to get it done?

“Let’s face it, special teams and goaltending is the key during the playoffs,” Gosek said. “A goaltender makes a huge difference in a playoff series.”

If it comes down to special teams, give the edge to Oswego. Their power play isn’t just best in the conference (33.0 percent), it’s the best in the nation. Unfortunately for the Lakers, Plattsburgh is the least penalized team in the conference (17.0 PIM/G). And Plattsburgh (27.7 percent) is no slouch on the power play-they have the fourth-best in the country.

If it comes down to goaltending, it’s a toss-up. Last year, coming into the series, everyone would have given the edge to Oswego’s Ryan Scott who was outstanding his rookie year while Craig Neilson was inconsistent throughout the season. However, Neilson outdueled Scott in the semifinals as the freshman seemed to wilt under the pressure.

Now, it’s Scott (2.91 GAA, .891 save pct.) who comes in having an up-and-down season while Neilson (3.22 GAA, .860 save pct.) is getting back to peak form after his numbers fell due to a nagging injury.

Gosek said of Scott: “We have confidence that he can raise his level of play and be consistent.”

“Craig definitely has the ability,” Emery said. “When he’s on, he’s good. Then, he got injured back in December, but he’s back 100 percent free of any injury and he played well last weekend. Goaltending is all about getting into a zone. And he hopefully is back in the zone after last weekend.”

If something does happen to Neilson, freshman Chris Molinaro (2.34 GAA, .922 save pct.) has proven he can get the job done.

As for the other aspects of the game, Oswego has the top four scorers in the SUNYAC, Ryan Ellis (17-15–32), Ryan Woodward (15-15–30), Brendan McLaughlin (12-13–25), and Jocelyn Dubord (6-19–25). Plattsburgh has had trouble putting the puck in the net, but when they do, they tend to spread it around.

Picking this series is difficult. Not just because of what happened last year or because this rivalry is so intense. It’s because both teams have struggled at odd times. Just when Plattsburgh looked to be getting hot, they dropped an overtime game to Fredonia. Just when Oswego was ready to wrap up the regular season title, they lost to Geneseo. And with the goaltending not quite as solid as it should be, this match up is anyone’s guess.

I can guarantee two great games. Maybe even a mini-game. I have a feeling this won’t be the last we’ll see of Romney.

Fredonia (8-3-3, 14-8-3) at Geneseo (10-4-0, 16-6-2)

Geneseo has been an oddity this year. They have managed to ride under the radar despite being the defending SUNYAC champions, despite finishing second for the second year in a row, despite only losing six games this year, and despite being currently ranked ninth in the USCHO.com poll.

So, why aren’t they getting more respect?

“Not concerned how people view us,” Geneseo coach Jason Lammers said. “We just want to play our game. The fact that we don’t get any publicity is fine with us.”

Perhaps the reason is everybody expected them to fall apart at any moment. They lost Brett Walker, perhaps the best goalie in their program’s history. And when they lost this year, they tended to lose big: 7-4 to Queens, 7-1 to Plattsburgh, 6-1 to Fredonia, 6-1 to RIT, and 7-0 to Buffalo State.

After each one of those losses, the message boards lit up with people proclaiming that the Ice Knights will never win another game. Well, they did. Sixteen in fact, including beating Oswego twice, Neumann twice, and Plattsburgh and Fredonia the second time around.

What many people forget is this team is essentially the same team as last year, with the exception of the goaltender of course.

“Both goalies are very, very good,” Lammers said of this weekend’s match up. “I’m looking forward to watching them battle. I have a lot of respect for Rick [Cazares], but I have a lot of confidence that Derek [Jokic] can get the job done.”

Jokic (3.13 GAA, .890 save pct.) may have been inconsistent early on, but he has played well down the stretch, the Buffalo State game not withstanding. Cazares certainly has the numbers, second best in both categories (2.73 GAA, .904 save pct.), and has also played extremely well down the stretch. It will be a battle to watch.

Don’t expect too many power play goals this series. Fredonia (82.4 percent) is the best in the league on the penalty kill while Geneseo (80.4 percent) is second.

Fredonia has a simple game plan-throw the puck at the net and see what happens. When it happens, the scoring tends to be spread out, but watch out for Matt Zeman (11-7–18) who played perhaps his best hockey ever against Potsdam.

“We got some nice balance in our lines,” Fredonia coach Jeff Meredith said. “We got some guys who are scoring.”

“Fredonia is a good hockey team,” Lammers said. “To defend against them, your goalie has to make the saves and do a good job handling the rebounds. Our defensemen have to puck up their sticks and clear out the front and our forwards have to block shots up high.”

Geneseo will be led by Mike MacDonald (9-11–20), Mitch Stephens (9-9–18), and Brent Bestwick (2-10–12).

“Whenever we play Geneseo it’s a hard-fought battle,” Meredith said. “It’s one of those classic compete for every inch of ice out there. They’ll be well rested. I’m sure they will be excited to open at home.”

“Good to have week off,” Lammers said. “It gave us time to relax and rest. Academically, it gave the guys time to catch up.”

However, the rest is over. It doesn’t matter whether Geneseo is going unnoticed this season. Both these teams know each other quite well, and this series has mini-game written all over it. I’m always of the belief that you go with the defending champions at home.