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Alex Botten of Oswego (Jim Feeney/Jim Feeney Photo)
Alex Botten of Oswego (Jim Feeney/Jim Feeney Photo)

For Oswego, the return to the NCAA tournament is welcomed as a second chance, but it’s not fully embraced, as they still carry some regret from their conference final loss to Plattsburgh.

Likewise, Hamilton is thrilled to be a first-time player on the national stage, but also seeks redemption for the missed opportunity to lay claim to the NESCAC title won by Trinity in overtime on Sunday. The second chance on a national stage could be the catalyst for one of the teams to take their game to a new level and make some noise in the NCAA tournament.

“We didn’t get in the way we wanted to,” noted Oswego coach Ed Gosek. “We have to give credit to Plattsburgh, who came in and played with a greater sense of urgency and with a bit more energy than we did on Saturday, but we have this second chance and we need to take advantage of it and get back to our brand of hockey. We are very happy that our body of work over the whole year was good enough to get us in the tournament. There are a lot of good teams that didn’t get in, so we are fortunate to be among the 12, but now need to focus on making something of playing in our seventh NCAA tournament in the last eight years.”

Oswego returns a veteran squad with a high-powered offense that includes four 100-point scorers for their careers at Oswego. Senior forwards Shaun Hulshof, Alex Botten, Kenny Neil, and Matt Galati all surpassed the century mark in both games played and points while wearing the green and gold. Defensemen Andrew Barton and Stephen Johnson, along with forward Chris Waterstreet, have also played in over 100 games for Oswego, meaning they bring great experience to a tournament they all have played in before as underclassmen.

“These guys are young men, not kids anymore,” noted Gosek. “Hamilton may be a first-time entrant to the NCAA tournament, but coach [Rob] Haberbusch has them playing really well and they have great goaltending, good team speed, and some guys that can play physical when they need to. We have had a long-standing rivalry with them but haven’t played recently. I expect they feel like we do in that they left an opportunity on the ice last week and will come in with a renewed energy for this tournament.”

While conference player of the year Evan Buitenhuis has been a rock in goal for Hamilton, this year’s team has exhibited greater depth and balance than Continentals teams in the recent past. Junior forward Neil Conway leads the team in scoring, while senior defenseman Jon Carkeek has found his offensive game this year, including a team-high four goals (tied with Conway) on the power play. Moreover, freshmen Nick Ursitti, Saturday’s semifinal hero in a 5-4 win over Wesleyan, Sterling Bray and Bennett Morrison have contributed with timely and big goals for coach Haberbusch’s team, showing experience beyond their years.

“It’s great that the format is different this year without the quick turnaround for a Wednesday game right after the conference championship weekend. It is an emotional turnaround that would be more challenging to manage, especially with spring break starting on Friday and the academic requirements coming through before the students leave. I think Hamilton is in a similar circumstance with their break coming up so having the week to prepare is certainly making it easier for us to put last weekend behind us and focus on our opponent Saturday night.”

So what should fans expect come Saturday? According to Gosek, “I think both teams have something to prove!”