Despite an extra challenge along the way, the Plattsburgh State men’s hockey team punched its ticket to the postseason with a pair of wins at Buffalo State and SUNY Fredonia last weekend.
The Cardinals now prepare to close out the regular season at home against SUNY Cortland tonight at 7 p.m. and SUNY Oswego tomorrow at the same time, needing a win to earn home ice.
PSUC (10-11-2, 8-5-1) kicked off the longest road trip of the season with its second shutout victory over Buffalo State (11-9,2, 8-5-2) this season.
The 4-0 win came despite the Cards, for disciplinary reasons, dressing only three forward lines and two defensive pairs. With five fewer skaters on the bench, the players who did play needed to take more shifts than usual.
“It felt like we were on the [penalty kill] all the time,” freshman defenseman Ian Wallgren said. “You just kept going back out.”
PSUC head coach Bob Emery said he was happy with the team’s response to this additional adversity.
“When you have to discipline your team, obviously there’s some lack of team leadership there,” Emery said. “But I thought our leadership group handled it unbelievably well.”
Wallgren’s tally in the first period of the game was his first collegiate goal. In the second period, freshman forward Daniil Ovchinnikov joined the defenseman in opening his goalscoring account.
As a defenseman, Wallgren emphasized that his main role is to keep pucks out of the net, but was happy with the extra “bonus” of finally scoring.
“To be honest, I don’t really care if I score goals or not,” Wallgren said. “I just want to play every game, and hopefully we win. For [Ovchinnikov], as a forward, it’s a bit more important.”
The win over the Bengals, coupled with Potsdam’s loss Friday, meant the Cards were safely qualified for the 2019 SUNYAC playoffs.
Saturday, PSUC came out flying in the first period against Fredonia (12-7-4, 6-6-2), leading shots on goal in the opening frame by a 30-3 margin.
“The guys knew the importance of the game, and they had a little extra emotion,” Emery said. “Finally, they’re starting to buy in on getting pucks to the net, getting bodies to the net and not being overly ‘choosy’ with their shots.”
Despite the shooting frenzy, Eric Bogart stood tall in net for the Blue Devils and only allowed one goal, by senior Pat Egan, before intermission. A pair of power-play goals in the second period extended the Cards’ advantage to 3-1 heading into the third.
Fredonia made the contest interesting by pulling within a goal in the third period. Jimmy Morgan came off the bench after a faceoff to score his second of the night on a breakaway, although the PSUC bench felt the play should have been blown dead for too many men on the ice.
After the goal, sophomore goaltender Jimmy Poreda was able to stand strong in net and hold on for the win.
“They had to pull out all their tricks in order to generate some offense,” Poreda said. “I knew if we could keep the course, then we were going to be fine.”
Poreda’s performance on the weekend earned him SUNYAC goaltender of the week honors.
“That one felt good,” Poreda said. “Being from Buffalo, I was able to play well in front of family and friends. That was special.”
With the pair of wins, the Cards need only one win on the final weekend to clinch a home game in the first round of the SUNYAC playoffs.
For Emery, getting that advantage is very important.
“I think home ice in the first round is really big because it’s mid-week travel,” Emery said. “It’s a lot to get back after the game on Saturday and get right back on the bus on Tuesday.”
Emery said practices this week were productive, although the snowstorm Wednesday night meant the team had to take a day off.
Tonight, Cortland (9-14, 3-11) will take the ice at the Ronald B. Stafford Ice Arena and look to play spoiler, having been eliminated from playoff contention.
Having only beaten the Red Dragons by a 4-3 margin in the first half of the season, PSUC will not be taking the game lightly. The players know they need to play smart in order to win and wrap up home ice Friday.
“[Cortland is] a team that likes to capitalize on mistakes,” Poreda said.
After the game Friday, the Cards will shift their attention to the rivalry game against No. 3 Oswego (17-4-2, 10-3-1).
Saturday’s game against the Lakers, who have won their last two trips to Plattsburgh and defeated PSUC at home earlier this season, will also be Senior Day.
“We’re definitely going to come out firing,” Poreda said. “We look forward to that, and we need wins.”
If the Cards get a win this weekend, they will host a SUNYAC first-round game Wednesday at 7 p.m.