With playoffs on the line, the Plattsburgh State men’s hockey team travels to central New York this weekend to end the regular season knowing that it needs to win.
After losing to Buffalo State (16-6-3, 9-4-3) and beating SUNY Fredonia (9-10-4, 5-8-1) on home ice last weekend, the Cardinals (12-11-0, 6-8-0) can still finish anywhere from fourth to eighth in the nine-team SUNYAC conference. The goal is still to earn a playoff game on home ice.
“We know we can only finish as good as fourth, and we want to play here next Wednesday for our fans,” senior defenseman Ayrton Valente said.
First, PSUC must get a win at SUNY Cortland (9-13-1, 4-9-1) tonight at 7 p.m. The Red Dragons are currently eighth in the SUNYAC, but the game will not be easy.
“They are going to work hard and be all over us,” PSUC head coach Bob Emery said. “We have to equal their emotion and equal their work ethic.”
Despite high stakes, the Cards are confident they can accomplish the task.
“We are going to come out strong against Cortland because we have to,” freshman forward Liam Lawson said. “Those are the games you want to play.”
PSUC will then travel to SUNY Oswego Saturday at 7 p.m. to play the No. 3/4 Lakers (18-3-2, 13-0-1), who are the No.1 eastern team in this week’s NCAA Regional Rankings.
“No matter what happens Friday, we know that Saturday is a big game,” Valente said. “Those are the fun ones you circle on the calendar.”
Despite the Lakers’ ranking, the Cards have a 3-0-1 record in Oswego over the last three seasons.
“Having a good record the past four years at Oswego, we are confident we can take both games this weekend,” Valente said.
Wins this weekend are crucial for PSUC after a 4-2 loss at home on Friday to the Bengals. The Cards held a 2-0 lead midway through the game.
“Honestly, at that point of the game, we had played really well,” Lawson said. “We had a ton of chances, and at 2-0 it could have been 3-0 or 4-0 had a couple bounces gone our way.”
The lead disappeared quickly before the second period ended with the Bengals scored twice on a Jakob Engvall major penalty for charging.
“That 5:00 penalty we took changed the whole complexion of the game,” Emery said. “We had a defenseman hurt and we had a defenseman in the box, so we had four defensemen trying to kill off a major.”
Despite generating good opportunities on net in the third period, PSUC was unable to regain the lead and ultimately conceded it with four minutes remaining.
“Good teams find a way to win, and we found a way to lose that game,” Emery said. “We had a mental error in front of our net, and they scored.”
After the loss, the Cards faced off against the Blue Devils Saturday knowing a win was crucial. PSUC played well and earned a 4-2 win.
“I thought we did a good a job of limiting their grade-A chances,” Emery said. “Fredonia had a good game plan, taking away the front of the net on us, they kept us to the outside. They were icing the puck all night, trying to sit back and wait for our mistakes.”
With both teams played well defensively and deadlocked at one goal after two periods, the Cards scored two goals in a span of 19 seconds to take a 3-1 lead.
“I was ecstatic at that point,” freshman goaltender Lawson Fenton said. “Being back there doing everything I can defensively and seeing the offense do their job, it’s a great feeling.”
That lead was threatened after Fredonia scored on a penalty shot to cut the lead. In college hockey, penalty shots are a rare occurrence.
“I honestly didn’t process it and realize what happened until after the penalty shot,” Fenton said.
Emery was happy with PSUC’s play from that point to secure the win before Valente capped things off with an empty-net goal from the defensive zone. In previous years, Emery would have discouraged the risk of icing, but he now agrees with taking the shot.
“It’s a change of philosophy, having brainstormed with a lot of coaches out there,” Emery said.
Liam Lawson, with three points on the weekend, earned SUNYAC Rookie of the Week honors for his efforts. Emery sees Lawson developing into a great player.
“I think the sky is the limit for him,” Emery said. “Depending on how hard he wants to work over the next three years, he could become a well-known hockey player in Cardinal Country.”
The game against Fredonia was also senior night for the Cards. Valente and fellow senior Matt Quilty will find out Saturday if they have played their final game at the Stafford Ice Arena.
The coaching staff offered praise for the seniors for their contributions in the classroom and in the Plattsburgh community, in addition to hockey.
“I’m proud of those guys,” Emery said. “They are both great students and great people. They have represented us for four years in a positive manner both on and off the ice.”
For those seniors, there is one weekend left in the regular season, and PSUC is not yet willing to concede hopes of home ice. They plan on approaching that goal one game at a time.
“The plan is to finish fourth, and we have to do that by first taking care of Cortland,” Valente said. “Then, we will see what happens come Saturday.”
Email Nathanael LePage at email@example.com