Tuesday, April 16, 2024

Cards order tender combo

Eli Shiller (left) and Jacob Hearne (right) celebrate after a win.

 

By Collin Bolebruch

 

The Plattsburgh Cardinals have a problem. A good problem.

Every game, Head Coach Steve Moffat looks at goaltenders Jacob Hearne, who is 22-2-2 over his career, and Eli Shiller, last year’s team and SUNYAC Tournament MVP, and tells one of them they won’t be seeing the ice.

“We had the luxury of having two really good goalies,” Moffat said after the NCAA Tournament loss to Norwich March 11, 2023, in which Shiller started. “It’s really hard to look Jacob Hearne in the eye, the kid hadn’t lost a game all year, and tell him he’s not playing.”

Plattsburgh boasts one of the best goalie tandems in Division III. Hearne, Shiller and third-stringer Dominik Bovan have collectively recorded 2.08 goals against average and have a .913 save percentage.

This season, Hearne has started 12 games, totalling 702:47 and Shiller 11 games, totalling 662:24. Moffat has generally stuck to the routine of rotating tenders between games.

Both Hearne and Shiller want to start over one another, and most likely, one of them will when the team reaches the dog days of the season. Despite the competition and resentment this situation could brew, the two are best friends.

 

By Collin Bolebruch

Jacob Hearne being helped up by fellow Cardinals after winning LayerEight Shootout Nov. 25.

 

HEARNE

Hearne is the more traditional goalie of the two. He’s good at setting himself up in front of the shooter to get the most conservative save possible. It’s clear he’s studied Carey Price tape, his favorite goalie.

“Jacob is more of a tactical goaltender,” Goalie Coach Bill Corbo said. “He relies on his angles a little bit more, being in the right position at the right time, getting set up quickly and anticipating where the shots are going to be coming from.”

First-year Hearne started six games during the 2020-21 season as the team’s number two goalie, getting the nod over senior Brandon Wells. Injuries and illness hampered him for much of the season.

Hearne initially caught Moffat’s eye for one major reason — his ability to win big games in juniors. Moffat put that to the test, starting Hearne in the first round of the SUNYAC Tournament against Brockport over number one Anthony Del Tufo.

The Plattsburgh net was pounded by pucks all night, as Hearne faced 47 shots. The Cardinals lost 6-7 in a shootout.

Moffat made it clear the loss “wasn’t Hearne’s fault” and his teammates continued to support him. 

That summer, Moffat challenged the goaltender to get better, and told them new competition was arriving. Wells graduated, Del Tufo transferred to Oswego to play on their American Collegiate Hockey Association team, and Hearne stayed.

“Jacob met the challenge head on,” Moffat said. “He got better and worked harder.”

 


By Collin Bolebruch

Eli Shiller, the starter, getting thoroughly hydrated  during a game against Cortland Dec. 1st.

SHILLER

Shiller was brought in before the 2022-23 season as reassurance at the position. With just one returner, the team needed to take a swing on a young guy.

“We really didn’t know what we had with him, quite honestly,” Corbo said.

By Hearne’s admission, Shiller is more athletic, and that’s his strong suit. His highlights are diving saves, he can take a hit and he can play the puck too.

Hearne opened the season as the number one, and graduate student transfer Kyle Alaverdy was the backup. 

Shiller started his first game Nov. 11, 2022 against Brockport, and he didn’t look back. That game, he saved 21 of 23 shots, and a week later, shut out Fredonia on 23 saves.

Shiller’s play earned him the look headed into the annual Shootout Tournament. In the semifinal, he blanked Middlebury 5-0 on 23 saves and then, in the championship, he saved 31 shots to beat rival Norwich 3-1. He won Tournament MVP.

Hearne and Shiller continued to rotate play throughout the season. That year, Hearne went 8-0-1 and Shiller recorded 1.38 goals against average.

As the postseason approached, Moffat knew he’d have to pick a starter.

“We went with Eli on gut feeling more than anything else,” Moffat said. “We’re going to ride with him and see what happens.”

Shiller and the Cardinals proceeded to win the SUNYAC Championship for the first time under Moffat, and Shiller won Tournament MVP.

Hearne was there to support Shiller and celebrated just as hard as everyone else. The experience ultimately deepened their relationship, and has made them better players.

“It sucked not being called on,” Hearne said. “But it’s one of my best friends playing.”

 

GIFTED GOALIES

“I’ve heard stories, like, if you’re playing, the other guy won’t even talk to you,” Shiller said. “It’s the exact opposite for Jacob.”

Hearne and Shiller quickly became good teammates and better friends. Shiller was the intended starter against Castleton Oct. 29, 2022, but he was late to the team bus, so Hearne got the nod instead.

Ever since, the two-headed monster has used each other as motivation. Moffat said Shiller’s playoff run inspired Hearne to be a better player, and he’s proven it this season, already having outplayed last season’s minute total.

“I think they’re really good buddies and competitors. They try to push each other in practice,” Moffat said. “They’re genuinely happy for each other when the other succeeds. That’s really important to be a good teammate.”

No one knows who’s starting until Moffat makes the call the night before or the morning of. Until then, Hearne and Shiller work hard to prove who deserves it.

“Growing up, they’ve always been guys that have played,” Corbo said. “They push each other in both a friendly manner and a competitive manner. I think that’s good for them.”

It’s good for the team too. Pressure to perform doesn’t fall on a single individual, and the wear and tear of back-to-backs are non-existent. The flexibility allows the team to play to strengths in matchups and make opponents plan for both.

“Both goalies give us a lot of confidence,” Moffat said. “Guys are comfortable in front of either one.”

There’s never hard feelings when it comes to starts.

“We’re just fired up for the other guy,” Hearne said. “We just want to see him succeed,”

Hearne and Shiller’s positive energy and sportsmanship doesn’t stop when it comes to other teammates. Bovan got his first collegiate playing time in the third period of a 8-2 win over Morrisville. He saved six shots, and when the period ended, Hearne and Shiller embraced him.

“I was super, super nervous, to be honest, before,” Bovan said. “They were super excited. We have a helmet we give out to the best player of the game, and I got it.”

As the team enters the final weekend of regular season play, Hearne and Shiller are preparing for postseason play and Moffat is deciding whether Hearne gets a playoff rebuttal or Shiller gets a championship sequel.

“You want to play, but at the end of the day, it’s your best friend,” Shiller said. “You want him to succeed as much as you’d want yourself to succeed.”

“This is probably the best goalie partner I’ve ever had,” Hearne said. “I could never see myself hating Eli. Unless he really pisses me off.”

 

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