Sunday, May 19, 2024

Cards put forward improved season

By Collin Bolebruch

The 2022-23 Plattsburgh Cardinals men’s hockey season concluded March 11 following a 1-2 overtime loss to the Norwich Cadets at home in the first round of the NCAA Championship. The early exit landed short of the team’s ultimate goal, but the SUNYAC champion Cards still played its best season under Head Coach Steve Moffat.

Plattsburgh finished the season with its best regular season record, 20-6-2, since 2016. The Cards’ record is a five-win improvement from last season’s 15-8-3 record. This season, Moffat was named a finalist for the 2022-23 CCM/American Hockey Coaches Association Edward Jeremiah Award, awarded to the top Division III coach.

Forward Jake Lanyi scored the lone Cardinal goal, assisted by Trey Thomas and Joshua Belgrave. Goaltender Eli Shiller saved 38 of 40 shots and no penalties were assigned over almost 70 minutes of game time. Moffat said the team would rather play five-on-five than turn to special teams.

During the first period, only 19 total shots were attempted. The game remained scoreless until Lanyi’s effort 37 minutes into the game, when on the rush, Belgrave got the puck to Thomas, who served the biscuit to Lanyi on the right side. Lanyi put the puck in the net.

 “It was quite the battle, we knew it was going to be a dogfight all night long,” Moffat said. “Our team gave it everything they had, we just came up a little bit short.”

Plattsburgh’s first NCAA Championship game in six years was this season’s third matchup with Norwich after splitting the first two games. The tooth-and-nail affair was in the cards, as during the regular season, neither matchup saw more than four combined goals.

“You have to fight for every inch out there and you have to take advantage of your chances. We didn’t capitalize on a couple that we should have,” Moffat said. “That’s the game. You’re going to get a bounce, you’re going to get a break, you’re going to miss a shot, somebody’s going to make a shot. That’s just what happened tonight. That game seriously could have been played all night.”

The Cardinals first met the Cadets in the FirstLight Shootout Championship at Norwich Nov. 26, 2022. The annual mid-season tournament broke up a stretch of Plattsburgh’s conference games. After beating the Middlebury Panthers in the first round 5-0, the Cardinals beat the Cadets 3-1 in the final.

The shining star of Plattsburgh’s effort was rookie Shiller. In just his third and fourth career collegiate starts, he allowed one goal between both games and an overall 0.971 save percentage. His success wasn’t a fluke— he saw the next three starts, finishing out the first half of the season.

The Cardinals split the responsibility in the net between Shiller and sophomore Jacob Hearne, but Shiller remained the primary goaltender with almost 500 more game minutes than Hearne. Plattsburgh’s goaltending saw a significant boost from last season, going from Anthony Del Tufo’s 0.891 and Hearne’s 0.890 save percentage to Shiller’s 0.946 and Hearne’s 0.920. Shiller’s save percentage and 1.38 goals against average set Plattsburgh single-season records and Hearne was undefeated in nine starts.

Moffat said he found it difficult to tell Hearne he wouldn’t start in the playoffs despite his winning play, but thought it would be better to ride the hot hand and use Shiller, who won six games in the calendar year up to that point. Shiller was awarded SUNYAC Tournament MVP. Plattsburgh’s young goalie duo was crucial to its success, but the road was paved by its upperclassmen.

With the loss to Norwich, Plattsburgh says goodbye to multiple senior players. The veterans’ contributions over years previous and experience in the locker room have helped to lift Plattsburgh out of the middling seasons it experienced just before the pandemic.

This year, all three captains were members of the senior class— Matt Araujo, Hale and Ryan Hogg. Other members of the class include Kyle Alaverdy, Jacob Modry, Adam Tretowicz and Brendan Young. Modry was named to the 2022-23 CCM/AHCA All-American third team. All were able to capture the elusive conference championship in their senior seasons.

“Coming in here as a freshman, it’s pretty scary. You don’t really know what to expect, but everyone opens up with open arms,” Hale said. “This group this year is pretty special.”

The win was especially sweet for graduate student Araujo. The defenseman from Long Island is the team’s longest tenured player and the last player remaining to have been coached by former Head Coach Bob Emery. Emery was Plattsburgh’s longest-tenured coach, winning 624 games. Under Emery, the Cardinals won two national championships and 16 SUNYAC titles, but the team recorded just 26 wins over Emery’s last two seasons before his retirement.

Moffat, who was Emery’s assistant coach for 16 seasons, took over as head coach in 2019. In Moffat’s first season, Araujo and the Cardinals had its worst season since 1976-77 going 10-14-3. Plattsburgh has improved its record year-by-year since then.

Araujo graduated in 2022, but used his extra year of eligibility to return to the team for another season. Playing 107 games over his Cardinal career, Araujo rose to the status of leader in the locker room, inevitably being named captain before this season.

“Ever since my freshman year, this has been what we’ve been trying to build. It’s nice to see it all the way through,” Araujo said. “Me and Mitch[ell Hale] and a couple of the older guys have done a good job leaving our mark for these guys, so they can pick right up where we left off next year.”

The last two wins of his career were the team’s most important in years. Plattsburgh beat Oswego in the Marano Ice Arena for the first time since 2018 and it happened on the conference’s biggest stage. The Cardinals achieved both its first SUNYAC Championship appearance and win under Moffat this season.

The Lakers have been a thorn in the Cards’ side over recent seasons. The teams matched up three times in the regular season, with Oswego holding a 2-1 edge over Plattsburgh.

Oswego took the win in Plattsburgh’s conference opener 5-1 at home Nov. 4, 2022. The loss was the Cardinals’ first of the season and remained its largest deficit in a loss all year. The Lakers doubled down, beating the Cardinals again in the Comfort Inn Complex Winter Classic by a score of 1-2 in Plattsburgh Jan. 7.

Plattsburgh hosted Oswego Jan. 20 to a different tune. The visiting Lakers were handily beaten, as the Cardinals snatched the 6-1 win. The dominant victory set precedent for Plattsburgh’s SUNYAC Championship

For departing players like Araujo, the championship win will be their favorite game to look back on in retirement. For underclassmen like Shiller, the title will set high expectations for the rest of their careers. A disappointing end to the season doesn’t overshadow what the team accomplished. In 2022-23, the Plattsburgh Cardinals redefined the team and set a bar for success.

“We play a simple game, we play a hard game, we play an effective game and the guys have that chip on their shoulder,” Araujo said. “They’ll be able to start out running next year.”

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