The Plattsburgh State men’s hockey team faces its longest road trip of the season in search of answers after a 7-4 home loss to SUNY Potsdam last Saturday.
The Cardinals (8-11-2, 6-5-1) will take on Buffalo State (10-8-2, 7-4-2) tonight at 7 p.m. before traveling to SUNY Fredonia (11-6-4, 5-5-2) at the same time tomorrow.
It is a weekend in which PSUC is expecting to have to work to earn the points. Senior forward Ross Sloan praised the upcoming opponents for the quality of their coaching and their high level of play.
“It’s going to be a war,” Sloan said. “Any time we play Buffalo and Fredonia, those games are really intense.”
While the Cards did defeat Buffalo State by a 7-0 score earlier this season, the Bengals are coming off a 6-5 road win over SUNY Oswego, who is currently ranked No. 3 in the Men’s Division III PairWise ranking.
PSUC lost the home game against Fredonia in the first half of the season by a 3-2 score.
The trip is the longest of the season for the Cards, with more than 400 miles of interstate highway separating the Ronald B. Stafford Ice Arena and Fredonia’s Steele Hall Ice Arena. Sloan doesn’t anticipate that being a concern if the team can remain focused.
“It’s another game, so we’ve just got to be mentally prepared,” Sloan said. “If we let that stuff creep in, it can get into your head.”
With two weeks remaining in the regular season, the trip comes at an important time for a struggling PSUC. The Cards currently sit in fifth place in the SUNYAC, in which only the top six qualify for the postseason tournament.
For junior defenseman Philip Middleton, the best approach is to ignore the playoff implications and stay focused on the game.
“We’ve got to keep doing what we’re doing,” Middleton said. “We can’t worry about the standings and all that stuff. If we win games, we’ll have a better chance regardless.”
PSUC can’t afford to keep ‘doing what it’s doing,’ though, if the aim is to win games. The Cards have lost two consecutive games and six of its last eight. The most recent of those was a 7-4 home loss to SUNY Potsdam (7-13-1, 3-8-1).
The game marked the first time Potsdam, who currently sits in seventh place in the SUNYAC, has ever swept its regular-season games against PSUC.
After navigating a scoreless first period, the Cards dug themselves into a hole quickly in the second frame, surrendering three goals in the first five minutes. PSUC head coach Bob Emery was critical his defensemen on those plays.
“It wasn’t our forwards,” Emery said. “Our defense gave them two goals on a silver platter to start the second period. Two turnovers, and they turned into goals.”
Emery and Sloan agreed that the Bears’ third goal resulted from a lucky bounce off the wall, rather than a mistake by the defense.
“That’s hockey,” Sloan said.
The team pulled back within one goal before the second intermission, though, with a short-handed tally by senior forward Cam Owens and a power-play goal — a rarity for the Cards, whose power-play unit ranks fifth-worst in Division III — by senior forward Pat Egan.
It wasn’t enough, however, as PSUC surrendered a power-play goal to Potsdam’s Nate Zweig early in the third period, the first of four the Bears scored in the final frame.
Emery was concerned to see the goals against his penalty kill unit, which ranks third-best in the nation. In particular, Emery noted that the Cards failed to block key shots, which directly led to the goals.
“If we don’t want to sacrifice to win, we’re not going to win,” Emery said.
The loss brought PSUC’s overall record to three games below .500 with only four contests remaining, increasing the chances of this being the first losing season in Emery’s 30-year career and the first for the program since 1984.
Emery said the context of the overall season made the performance against Potsdam even more disappointing.
“This one was probably the low point of my career right now,” Emery said. “It’s bad enough enough our record is where it’s at, and then we have that? Brutal.”
Emery said the team needs to do some soul-searching and find some leadership if the season is to improve at all.
“You can’t teach winning, and I don’t know if we have enough winners in the locker room right now,” Emery said.
With two weeks left in a tight SUNYAC playoff race, the Cards will need to find those winners quickly.
Fighting to keep the season alive, PSUC’s players know that every game is crucial.
“As of right now, our playoffs have started,” Sloan said.