By Collin Bolebruch and Liam Sample
The Plattsburgh Cardinals men’s ice hockey team begins its 2022-23 campaign with an exhibition game Oct. 15 against the Castleton Spartans at home. Another exhibition game will be played Oct. 21 in Colchester, Vermont, against the Saint Michael’s Purple Knights. The team begins its official season Oct. 28, and the team has high expectations going into this year.
“Expectations for this year are, for sure, No. 1 is a national championship, a SUNYAC Championship,” senior captain Mitchell Hale said. “But I think as a group we’ve just got to take it one game, one weekend at a time.”
The 2021-22 Cardinals, who finished with a 15-8-3 overall record, had its season come to a sudden and disappointing end. Plattsburgh came into the SUNYAC playoffs on a five-game win streak, finishing 11-4-1 in the conference, good for the third seed.
In the first round of the playoffs, the Cardinals hosted the No. 6 Brockport Golden Eagles (14-11-2). Plattsburgh quickly recovered from a 1-3 deficit, scoring five goals in the second period to take a 6-3 lead. Brockport responded with three unanswered goals in the third period to send the game to overtime. The Golden Eagles secured the win eight minutes into extra time.
“We, for sure, have a lot of competitors on the team and I know that loss did not sit well with a lot of us. I know a bunch of us sat in the locker room after that game for a good hour and didn’t even get undressed, just trying to think of what went wrong,” Hale said. “We can only look forward from here and it definitely puts a chip on our shoulder.”
The offseason brought change for the Cardinals’ roster. The team graduated three players and lost multiple players to the transfer portal. The most notable of which was junior Joey Mancuso, who tied to lead the team in points last season with 28 from 13 goals and 15 assists. Junior Anthony Del Tufo, the team’s most-played goaltender, transferred as well.
Plattsburgh welcomed nine new players, including seven first-year students and two transfers. Junior Ryan Butler joins the Cardinals from reigning Division III Champion Adrian College, where he recorded 12 points in 27 games played in his final season as a Bulldog. The other transfer, graduate student Kyle Alaverdy, comes from Castleton University where he led the team in minutes in the net.
“We expect, how we recruit, is our guys to come in and make an impact. It’s the question, is it an immediate impact or is it an impact down the line? Is it next semester, is it next year?’” Head Coach Steve Moffat said. “When do they make that impact? That’s really up to them and how they can adapt to college hockey.”
As for the returning personnel, seven defenders from last year’s squad remain with the team. The defensive unit now consists of sophomore Jagger Benson, senior Jacob Modry, first-year Spencer Bellina, junior Kevin Weaver-Vitale, graduate student captain Matt Araujo, senior assistant captain Ryan Hogg, sophomore Jack Ring, first-year Brannon Butler and junior Cory Doney.
Modry led the defenders in points with 18 and earned a spot on the All-SUNYAC Third Team. Araujo, who also served as captain last season, was named to the All-SUNYAC Second Team. Plattsburgh looks to improve on last season’s 3.06 goals allowed per game. Araujo said the defensive core has looked good early on and hopes they can “pull it all together and get the ball rolling” to start the season.
The offensive core boasts 16 forwards this season, with 11 returning players to five newcomers. Players currently on the roster include junior Thomas Maia, first-year Joshua Belgrave, first-year Ryan Bonfield, junior Trey Thomas, junior assistant captain Bennett Stockdale, Butler, first-year Colin Callanan, senior Brendan Young, senior assistant captain Adam Tretowicz, junior Paul Bryer, Hale, first-year Ryan Sutherland, junior Carson Gallagher, sophomore Luk Jirousek, sophomore Jake Lanyi and senior Marcus Mitchell.
“I think we’re going to be pretty fast. I think that’s been the trend, in the last few years we’ve gotten faster. I think we have some offensive ability, so that’s always exciting. It is always fun to know that you can get the run support, so to speak, ” Moffat said. “I hope if we’re having this conversation, that at the end of the year I can tell you that it was our team defense, not our [individual] defensemen or our [individual] goalies, and making sure we got better there.”
Hale also said that speed is a strength of this team and that the offense is “loaded.”
Stockdale tied Mancuso last season in total points, recording 28 from 14 goals and 14 assists on 101 shots. Among returning players, Gallagher and Thomas tied in shot percentage at .263. Plattsburgh ranked second in the conference in goals per game, with 4.31 and 112 overall.
Araujo and Hale said that Stockdale and Gallagher, who played on the same line together during last season, have looked strong in practice. Both of them also praised Butler in his first sessions with the team. Hale added that Bryer, who was left off the lineup in the team’s playoff game last season, has been staying on the ice after his teammates to work on his game.
The Cardinals are carrying three goaltenders on its roster this season, including Alaverdy, first-year Eli Shiller and sophomore Jacob Hearne.
“I really think the three [goalies], they’ve shown a lot of good chemistry with each other and pushing each other and good camaraderie there,” Moffat said. “The challenge [is] who’s going to be the number one guy? If we have a number one guy, maybe we have three number ones.”
Hearne, the only returning goaltender, started six games last season and played in eight, allowing 19 total goals and recording a save percentage of .890. Hearne took over the starting job late in the season, starting his first game with less than a month until playoffs. He went on to win five straight games, before registering his first loss against Brockport in the playoffs.
During his senior season, Alaverdy allowed 49 goals in 15 games played for a save percentage of .913, while averaging over 34 saves a game. The graduate student played in the tough New England Hockey Conference, which contained six of the top 20 teams nationally, according to the Pairwise Ranking from Feb. 27.
Araujo said the team feels “tighter” this year as the team is beginning to get closer. Three of the team’s captains, Tretowicz, Hale and Araujo lived together over the summer.
“I’m feeling old. I’m just kidding,” Araujo said. “I feel good, we worked out all summer, kind of pushing each other all summer to get better, get stronger in the gym [and] on ice. We worked hard all summer so it’s looking good for us, we’re in shape and we’re ready to go. It’s just a matter of translating it to these younger guys and throwing them into the ropes.”
Hale also said he feels “good” and “healthy” going into the season. He said that the roommates ate well during the summer, as Araujo’s mother cooked meals for them.
The current SUNYAC Champions, the Geneseo Knights, are the team to beat this season. It finished as runner-ups in the Division III Playoffs and currently rank at No. 2 nationally in the United States College Hockey Online preseason poll. The SUNYAC Preseason Poll ranked Plattsburgh No. 3, above Cortland and behind Geneseo and Oswego.
The Cardinals first hit the ice Oct. 14 at 7 p.m. for its annual two 10 minute period Red/White scrimmage for its alumni weekend. For the first time, it will be hosting a skills challenge prior to the game. Players will compete to determine the fastest skater, hardest shooter, best puck handler and best breakaway player.
Significant competitors include Gallagher in fastest skater, Araujo in hardest shot, Ring in puck control, and Stockdale in best breakaway.
Plattsburgh will then play exhibition and non-conference games until the SUNYAC season begins Nov. 4 in Oswego. The team has its first home conference game Nov. 11 against Brockport.
“When that game [against Brockport] does come, we’re definitely going to be ready and want some revenge,” Hale said. “[The team is] just hoping to get some fans in the stadium. I know we’re trying to get more students to go to the games. I know all the people in the town and the older fans are excited. We’re just looking forward to seeing everybody and producing for them.”
The Cardinals will participate in two tournaments during the season. It visits Northfield, Vermont, Nov. 25 to compete in the FirstLight Shootout and are scheduled to play the Middlebury Panthers. It will then play either the Norwich Cadets or the Aurora Spartans.
Plattsburgh will then host the Cardinal Winter Classic Jan. 6, where it is scheduled to play the Wentworth Leopards and then one of the Potsdam Bears or the Oswego Lakers.
The Cardinals’ regular season concludes Feb. 15 and the SUNYAC tournament begins Feb. 22. Plattsburgh, who last won the SUNYAC in 2017, aims to improve on last year’s finish.
“We’re a team that’s built around having four really good lines. We’re not a one kind of trick pony or a one line team. We have four,” Moffat said. “We have high expectations coming into the season. Everybody’s obviously excited. Everybody has high expectations.”