Saturday, July 13, 2024

Cardinals reflect on season success

Jake Lanyi is all smiles as he heads to the bench’s high five line mid-game at the Ronald B. Stafford Ice Arena.

 

By Collin Bolebruch

Plattsburgh hockey fans have a lot to be excited about. The team is the best it’s been in years, and it has the numbers to back it up.

The Plattsburgh Cardinals men’s hockey team faced a filled Ronald B. Stafford Ice Arena — a recorded 2,188 attendees — when it lost to the Cortland Red Dragons 2-3 in overtime of the SUNYAC Championship Final on March 2.

The attendance from that game is the highest total Plattsburgh State has tallied since 2016, when Bob Emery was still head coach.

“It puts into perspective what we’ve been able to do over the last two years,” graduate student forward and captain Adam Tretowicz said. “That Cortland game is probably the best home atmosphere we’ve ever had since I’ve been here.”

When Steve Moffat was promoted to the position in 2019, he inherited a team that won just 13 games in back-to-back seasons — the least in a single campaign since 1976-1977, the program’s second season. Moffat’s first season, 2019-20, ended with 10.

Since the canceled 2020-21 season, the Cardinals have amassed a total record of 56-19-7. Plattsburgh won 20 games in 2022-2023 and took home the SUNYAC Championship for the first time since 2017.

This past season, Plattsburgh won 21 games and came just one goal shy of a SUNYAC title and an NCAA tournament berth. In November 2023, the team came in at No. 1 in USCHO.com’s weekly poll.

It was the first time since 2014-15 and 2015-16 seasons the Cardinals had back-to-back 20-win seasons and the first time since 2015 the team was ranked no. 1.

In short terms, the program is on the upswing.

“Guys get used to winning. They want to win. Winning becomes a habit,” Moffat said.

The team’s resurgence isn’t because of a major increase in talent or a sweeping change in play calls. The 2024 Cardinals were successful because they were closer than ever before.

“I’ve seen it at its lowest and I’m in it at its highest,” senior defenseman Kevin Weaver-Vitale said. “Honestly, when I first got here, there were a lot of cliques. And this, and the past year, we’ve been super close. If we’re doing something, we’re doing it together.”

Moffat, when he feels the guys are ready, hands the team off to the players.

“The culture is built by the players,” Moffat said. “It’s the players’ team.”

Captains like Tretowicz choose to lead the team by example. They take practice seriously, don’t miss team events and do the right things on and off the ice.

“Our locker room just kind of handled everything. (Moffat) just kind of puts us in the right direction,” Tretowicz said. “I think we did a pretty good job.”

The tight-knit nature of the team has directly impacted success — guys communicate better on the ice, stand up for one another and push each other to do their best. 

Tretowicz played his last game for Plattsburgh in the Championship Final. Both he and captain defenseman Ryan Hogg, graduate students, no longer have eligibility to return.

Senior forward Bennett Stockdale, CCM/AHCA All-American, forwent a graduate year in favor of signing with the Maine Mariners of the ECHL. Stockdale was an alternate captain and led the team in scoring with 19 goals, 17 assists and 36 total points.

The future is currently unclear for four senior forwards: alternate captain Paul Bryer, Ryan Butler, Thomas Maia and Trey Thomas.

The Cardinals got good news days after its season ended when Weaver-Vitale announced he would be returning for a graduate season. Extra continuity among upperclassmen will provide added structure for what is expected to be a larger incoming class.

“I remember being that kid. It feels like a couple weeks ago,” Weaver-Vitale said. “If you do get the pat on the shoulder to go out in a certain situation, run with it.”

Weaver-Vitale missed multiple games in January with an injury. His time on the bench gave him a new perspective on the game.

“I was helping my teammates in ways that were new to me,” Weaver-Vitale said. “I think that by coming back, and having one more year, we still have a chance to make a push.”

Not accounting for any major shakeups, next year’s junior class will include forwards Jagger Benson, Luk Jirousek and Jake Lanyi; defensemen Ryan Poorman and Jack Ring; and goaltender Jacob Hearne.

“There’ll be a lot of good seniors next year,” Tretowicz said. “They’re in good hands. I think we’ve kind of shown them the way.”

Moffat said recruiting has focused on forwards, given the positional makeup of the departing seniors. The team is about halfway done with the process.

“We’re hopefully inching toward finalizing that class, but it’s certainly a big class,” Moffat said. “We might have a little bit different look, as far as a team, especially early on in the year.”

If last year’s class is any indication of this year’s, it’ll be promising. 

The 2023 class contributed 39 of the team’s 300 points last season. The first-years were highlighted by forward Tio D’Addario, who took home SUNYAC Rookie of the Year with 10 goals and 13 assists.

The team also got two commits from other Division III schools — Lonan Bulger from Hobart and Ryan Poorman from Norwich. The defensemen combined for 17 points on the blue line.

The transfer portal could bring some needed experience from outside — something that’s been crucial in building the current core. Butler was a transfer from Adrian in 2022 and Stockdale came from Division I Alabama-Huntsville in 2021.

Conference rivals Geneseo and Brockport announced last August that the 2023-24 year would be their last in the SUNYAC. 

All their sports will soon compete in the Empire 8, with the exception of men’s and women’s hockey, which are moving to the United College Hockey Conference. Canton will join the SUNYAC in Geneseo and Brockport’s place.

These changes pose a challenge for Plattsburgh, as its conference strength of schedule will undoubtedly take a hit. Geneseo has been a staunch competitor, winning five of the last eight SUNYAC titles and giving Plattsburgh two ranked games last season.

The Cardinals played just two out-of-conference ranked games last year, both against Norwich. Plattsburgh will need to face strong non-conference opponents next year in respect to Pairwise ranking.

The timing of the SUNYAC changes and Plattsburgh’s location have made it difficult to work around other program’s set schedules and convince teams to travel to the North Country.

“You can’t be super picky,” Moffat said. “But we’re happy with the schedule we have.”

The Cardinals are slated to face Norwich just once, the University of New England, Wentworth, Wilkes, Middlebury, Marian and Plymouth State.

No matter who the Cardinals play or who is on the roster, the program is just as hungry to win and prove itself as last season.

Cardinal Country is bigger than it has been in past years and it undoubtedly helped to make the 2024 SUNYAC Championship a classic.

“I appreciate all the fans we’ve had, from the college kids to the local fan base, especially during the last game,” Moffat said. “It was an amazing atmosphere and hopefully we can build on that and make that student presence an every night occurrence.”

Students and locals won’t be the only ones in the crowd.

“I look forward to coming back to watch them,” Tretowicz said.

 

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