By Collin Bolebruch
The No. 9 Plattsburgh Cardinals men’s hockey team (7-1-2) won the FirstLight Shootout tournament at Norwich University last weekend, beating the Middlebury Panthers (0-4-0) 5-0 Nov. 25 and the No. 10 Norwich Cadets (6-2-0) 3-1 Nov. 26. The title is the Cardinals’ seventh at the tournament and its first since 2017.
Plattsburgh’s 7-1-2 record is its strongest start through 10 games since the 2019 hiring of Head Coach Steve Moffat, including an ongoing seven-game undefeated streak. Moffat won four FirstLight Shootout tournaments as an assistant coach at Plattsburgh, but this season’s win is his first in his current role.
“The guys, really, they laid everything on the line. They were blocking shots, they played really smart, they played really hard,” Moffat said. “They were just determined to get that two wins. They had a really good week at practice, and I think their preparation for the two games was outstanding.”
The 2022 FirstLight Shootout championship victory had storybook-like implications for the Cardinals. In 2021’s tournament, Plattsburgh earned a berth to the championship game. The Cardinals lost to the Cadets 2-5 in that game, making the 2022 win sweeter. Moffat described Norwich as a “non-conference rival.”
“I think it’s pretty easy to get up to play them and I think they would say the same about us. They’re always good games,” Moffat said. “Any time you can battle it for a championship and have a chance to win something, I think the stakes get a little bit higher and emotions get a little bit higher.”
Defenders Jack Ring and Cory Doney led the Cardinals in the tournament with two goals each. Forwards Luk Jirousek, Adam Tretowicz and Bennett Stockdale and defender Jacob Modry scored one goal each. Modry and forward Ryan Bonfield tied with three assists each and Jirousek and defender Matt Araujo added two.
First-year student Eli Shiller started both tournament games in goal. Before the tournament, Shiller started only two games this season — sophomore Jacob Hearne previously led the team with four starts. Moffat said after Shiller’s shutout against Middlebury, he made the decision to start Shiller against Norwich.
Shiller allowed just one goal over both games. His 54 saves of 55 shots was good for a .982 save percentage. Shiller is now 4-0 in his starts, including wins against the Brockport Golden Eagles and the Fredonia Blue Devils. Modry pointed to Plattsburgh’s goaltending as a strength during the tournament. Moffat agreed.
“He’s just pretty cool, calm and collected back there. I think he does a nice job moving the puck,” Moffat said. “He’s super athletic too. He made a couple of really good saves.”
Shiller was awarded with Tournament MVP for his efforts. Doney, Modry and Jirousek were named to the All-Tournament Team and Bonfield was honored with the tournament’s Most Outstanding Rookie. Shiller won the State University of New York Athletic Conference Goalie of the Week and Bonfield was given SUNYAC Rookie of the Week in the sport.
“I try not to put too much pressure on myself,” Shiller said. “Just go out there and stop the puck.”
Plattsburgh’s victory over Norwich may be its most important of the season so far. According to U.S. College Hockey Online, the Cardinals ranked 14th and the Cadets ranked 9th before the game. USCHO now has No. 9 Plattsburgh ranked above No. 10 Norwich. Plattsburgh has not been ranked top-10 by USCHO since Oct. 23, 2017 in a preseason poll.
“We’re not doing anything special. We’re just playing like a team, playing as a group. It’s just been clicking for us, so I don’t think the rankings matter,” Modry said. “We’re just going out, having fun and trying to play our games and being the best version of ourselves.”
The No. 9 ranking is not enough for best in the SUNYAC. The Geneseo Knights and the Oswego Lakers, conference opponents, both rank higher than the Cardinals at No. 8 and No. 7, respectively. Plattsburgh hasn’t won a game against either this season, but it will have a maximum of three more chances to do so during the regular season.
“We’re fighting to stay consistent, just trying to play the same way each and every game for 60 minutes,” Modry said. “With the way that we’re going, if we keep things simple, we’re going to play the same way.”
The Cardinals move on to play the Potsdam Bears (2-8-0) for the first time this season Dec. 3. Plattsburgh and Potsdam have an extensive history, playing 117 games since 1976. The Cardinals have won 80.3% (94 of 117) of its games against the Bears and currently hold a four-game win streak.
Plattsburgh will then visit Norwich Dec. 6, a rematch of the championship 10 days prior on the same rink.
“I think they’re going to be coming out hot next game, obviously wanting revenge for us beating them at home,” Shiller said. “We just have to go out there with the same game plan and execute.”
The game will be a chance for the Cardinals to prove that its win wasn’t a fluke and cement its status in the USCHO ranking.
“We’re showing the rest of the teams we’re here and we’re here to stay,” Shiller said. “We’re a force to be reckoned with this year.”