By Collin Bolebruch
Plattsburgh Cardinal playoff hockey is back. Both the men’s and women’s teams are top-two seeded teams for the first time since the women’s team joined the NEWHL and will host playoff games at the Ronald B. Stafford Ice Arena.
The No. 7 men’s team (18-5-2, SUNYAC 12-3-1) most recently beat the Morrisville Mustangs (8-17, SUNYAC 4-12) 5-3 Jan. 15. The win ends the regular season on a two-game win streak and an overwhelmingly positive record against conference opponents. The win is Plattsburgh’s second against Morrisville this season, after winning 4-3 Dec. 10, 2022.
Forward Carson Gallagher scored an individual season-high two goals, aided by additional scores from forwards Brendan Young and Adam Tretowicz and defenseman Jacob Modry. Forward Thomas Maia and Modry tallied two assists. Modry and Gallagher had three points each.
“I think the momentum from the Morrisville game is definitely going to transfer over,” Gallagher said. “I think we have a better group to do it than last year.”
Plattsburgh’s starting goalie, first-year Eli Shiller, saved 22 of 25 shots in his direction, good for a 0.940 save percentage. Shiller leads the team in save percentage with 0.940 on the season. His three goals allowed is tied for his most all season, matching his three allowed in the game against Morrisville in December 2022, but he still earned the win in both games.
“It’s a really good team, from top to bottom. We have every guy stepping up and taking new roles,” Modry said. “We have an amazing goaltender in Eli, and he’s been kind of our backbone this year.”
The Cardinals hold the number two seed, the highest ever under Head Coach Steve Moffat. Plattsburgh will bypass the first round of the SUNYAC Tournament, playing the No. 11 Geneseo Knights (18-6-2) Feb. 25 at 7 p.m.
The Cardinals have played the Knights twice this season, tying 2-2 Nov. 12 and winning 3-2 Jan. 28. Geneseo is the third seed in the SUNYAC and advanced to the semifinals after beating the Fredonia Blue Devils (7-18) 3-0.
“I think we like to play fast,” Moffat said. “We’re moving our feet with and without the puck.”
Plattsburgh ducked out of the playoffs last season after a 6-7 overtime loss to the Brockport Golden Eagles, a team Moffat’s Cardinals beat in the 2020 playoffs.
While the loss at home seemed significant, the team isn’t dwelling on it.
“I don’t think it’s hanging over our head. It’s something that really kind of stung,” Moffat said. “There’s nothing we can do about that. We just have to make sure that we’re trying to get better every day and peak at the right time.”
The NCAA Division III Tournament hasn’t featured the Cardinals since 2017 and the team’s last SUNYAC Championship victory was the same year. The 2023 Cardinals believe it stands out from years past.
“Everyone on our team here wants to win, and that’s why we’re here and that’s our goal,” Modry said. “We look really strong heading into playoffs and honestly, I don’t see anyone on our team that isn’t going to step up and try and help us win.”
Modry was named to the All-SUNYAC First Team Feb. 23. Defensemen Matt Araujo and Jack Ring and forward Bennett Stockdale were all selected for the Second Team and Shiller got the Rookie Team nod.
The No. 2 women’s team (23-2, NEWHL 17-1) returned to Plattsburgh after shutting out the Buffalo State Bengals (7-18, NEWHL 1-17) twice, winning 5-0 Feb. 17 and 8-0 Feb. 18. It is the first time this season the Cardinals have shut out opponents in back-to-back games and the second and third times it has shut out the Bengals. Feb. 18’s win was the second time it has scored eight goals and is the largest margin of victory in a game this year.
Forward Julia Masotta scored in both games for a total of three goals and forward Sara Krauseneck scored two with one in each game. Defenseman Sierra Benjamin and forward Ivy Boric notched three assists each in Feb. 18’s game. Krauseneck led the weekend with five points, followed closely by Masotta and Boric with four.
Ashley Davis started in the net Feb. 17 and Lilla Nease got the look Feb. 18. The two combined for a 1.000 save percentage across 30 shots. The Bengals’ shot total paled in comparison to the Cardinals’ 118.
Krauseneck won NEWHL player of the week for her efforts and first-year forward Emma McLean won NEWHL Rookie of the Week after a two-point weekend.
“I didn’t think we played particularly well on Friday, “ Head Coach Kevin Houle said. “The focus Saturday was to play the way we’re capable of playing: with great intensity and play the game hard from start to finish.”
The pair of wins certify an undefeated 2023 for the Cardinals as the team’s last loss came Dec. 2, 2022. Plattsburgh enters the playoffs with a 15-game win streak and its best overall record since joining the NEWHL in 2017.
“I think everyone’s seen our ability to come from behind. We don’t quit,” Krauseneck said. “I think that’s pretty special. We know what we’re capable of. We have some big overtime wins under our belt as well.”
Houle agreed that a precedent of coming back from deficits is important in the playoffs. He said that a goal for postseason play is starting the first period strong.
Plattsburgh is set to face the No. 24 Canton Kangaroos in the first round of the playoffs at home Feb. 25 at 3 p.m., making Saturday the host of back-to-back home playoff games for the men’s and women’s teams. Plattsburgh has faced Canton three times this season already, winning 1-0 Jan. 20, 5-2 Jan. 27 and 4-1 Feb. 11.
Houle credited the Kangaroos for its goaltending ability. Canton’s Sirena Alvarez started all three games against Plattsburgh in the net, posting a 0.922 save percentage across the three games. Houle noted that it is important not to count out the ‘Roos. The Cards have never lost a game against the team in nine total matchups.
Only one Kangaroo, forward Iida Laitinen, has recorded more than one point against the Cardinals this season. Plattsburgh has allowed only three scores to Canton but has netted 10 itself. If the team beats Canton, it would play the winner of the simultaneously-played game between the Oswego Lakers (14-10-1, NEWHL 11-6-1) and the Cortland Red Dragons (19-6, NEWHL 14-4) at home March 4.
The Cardinals have never lost in the NEWHL Tournament, capturing the championship in every season of its existence. Plattsburgh hopes to return to the NCAA Division III Tournament for the 11th straight season.
Plattsburgh won the Division III National Championship in 2019 and was set to play in the first round of the quarterfinals with a 26-1 overall record before COVID-19 caused the cancellation of the tournament. After a one-season hiatus, the Cardinals returned to the Final Four in 2022.
A National Championship win would be Houle’s eighth and the second for senior members of the team. Krauseneck, then a first-year player, scored a goal in the 2019 win. A championship to cap off her career has been on her mind, and she has confidence in the defense headed into the tournament.
“I think we’ve stepped [defense] up for sure. We have a young crew back there, so I think confidence is a big thing for them,” Krauseneck said. “We know that everyone back there can do their jobs. That helps us offensively, trusting everyone behind us.”