Tuesday, May 28, 2024

Plattsburgh co-hosts NCAA Tourney

By Liam Sample and Desmond Novack

Plattsburgh co-hosted the Division III Men’s Ice Hockey National Championship at Herb Brooks Arena in Lake Placid, March 25 and 26. While the Cardinals’ hockey team was not participating, the school was paired with the Olympic Regional Development Authority (ORDA) to aid in hosting the event.

Prior to this tournament, the DIII men’s ice hockey playoffs began with twelve teams. Eight games took place over two weeks, which left four teams standing. Nicknamed “The Frozen Four,’’ these teams faced off in Lake Placid for a chance at the championship. This year’s competitors were the Adrian College Bulldogs, the SUNY Geneseo Knights, the Augsburg University Auggies, and the University of New England Nor’Easters. 

ORDA, according to their website, was created by the State of New York to help manage events at the facilities left from the 1980 Olympics in Lake Placid. These include Whiteface Mountain, the Olympic Jumping Complex, and Herb Brooks Arena. 

Plattsburgh has helped host this event at home and on the road multiple times, including three at their own Ronald B. Stafford Ice Arena in 1987, 1992, and 1998.  They have hosted as recently as 2018 in Lake Placid. The NCAA has been using Lake Placid to host the National Championship since 2008. The event took place there eight times. 

Recently, the NCAA has alternated between holding the event at a predetermined site and the school of the highest seed remaining in the tournament. Lake Placid was predetermined, with Plattsburgh being selected back in 2017. The previous championship was held in Stevens Point Wisconsin, after The University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point qualified for The Frozen Four as the top seed. 

Herb Brooks Arena, one of the three rinks in the Olympic Center, is considered by many the most historic hockey arena in American sports history. It was the site of the 1980 “Miracle on Ice,” where the underdog United States beat the heavily favored Soviet Union during the Olympics on route to winning gold. 

“For me never being there before, it was similar to what people expressed it would be: kind of a place frozen in time, back to the 1980 Olympics” Adrian College Head Coach Adam Krug said. “Ultimately, It was impressive, I thought Plattsburgh State did a great job.”

The arena is now used for a wide variety of local, collegiate, and professional competitions. It recently took part in an 80 million dollar renovation for large upcoming events, which includes this National Championship. 

Plattsburgh’s Assistant Director of Athletics for Communications and one of the main organizers of the event, Brian Savard said: “I don’t even think that it’s up for debate that it’s probably the most significant hockey arena in the country. I know when teams walk into the building for the first time it’s an awesome thing.”

This sentiment was shared by many, including Krug, who said, “ I thought it was spectacular, but to walk in that arena and feel the history in the air, that was something in very few buildings you can feel.”

When asked about the recent renovations, Savard praised the project for its balance of preserving the history of the arena and modernizing the technological aspects of it. 

On Friday March 25, two semifinals games took place to begin the weekend. The first game was between the eventual champion and, according to Pairwise, No.1 ranked Adrian College and the No.3 ranked Augsburg University. 

After a defensive back and forth start to the game, The Bulldogs broke the ice by scoring two in the last three minutes of the first. They hung on to win 5-1, making a dominant statement to begin the tournament. 

The Friday night finale was between No.4 ranked Geneseo and number ten ranked the University of New England, who upset the second highest ranked team in the country, Utica, on trek to the Frozen Four. This one took an opposite tone as the last, being a high-scoring shootout between the two. 

After four unanswered to end the first and begin the second, the Knights came out on top, winning by a score of 8-3.

“This was UNE’s first trip to the Frozen Four. Although the game vs Geneseo did not end the way we wanted it to, it was still a great experience.” Nor’Eastern’s Head Coach Kevin Swallow following the weekend, “Playing in Lake Placid where the 1980 Olympics were held was an experience that these young men will never forget.”

Because of the size of the event, large numbers of staff were required to maintain the venue. As a lead organizer, Savard had to provide staff for many of the in-game positions. These include official statistics and scorers.

One of these jobs was official scorekeeper, which was held by Plattsburgh’s own Dean of Students Stephen Matthews. According to him, he worked with the officiating team near the benches to help keep track of the lineups, shots, penalties and goals.

“Each time I participate, I am reminded of the immense amount of work and dedication that our athletic department puts in,” Matthews said. “Organizing something of this size doesn’t happen easily and the SUNY Plattsburgh team deserves so much credit for all they do.”

In terms of broadcasting the game, The NCAA provides their own staff and organizes a way for fans to watch at home. Many of them shared a positive experience working for the event.

“Going into the weekend, I fully expected a super tense atmosphere to hang over the arena. Instead, to my surprise, it was the exact opposite,” the camera operator for the livestream, Tyler Szuch said. “I’m sure hearts were probably racing in the locker rooms, the general vibe of the crowd in the stands was joyful. It felt more like a community of supportive fans celebrating the success of their respective teams than an all or nothing death match. Everywhere I looked, families were smiling and joking around. Just happy to be there.”

The championship game took place Saturday, March 26 between Geneseo and Adrian College. It was both teams’ fourth Frozen Four bid in program history. This game was eye-catching from the opening minutes as two of the best hockey programs in the country duked it out. 

Tied at zero, at the 15:08 mark, junior defenseman Nicolas Elia laid a controversial hit.  After initially not being called for a penalty, a crucial Bulldog’s challenge led to the play being overturned to give Geneseo a five minute major and Adrian a huge opportunity.  

The Bulldogs took full advantage of the penalty to build a 3-1 lead after the first period. The first goal of the contest came from senior and later tournament Most Valuable Player, Sam Ruffin.

Geneseo senior forward Levi Wunder scored the lone goal of the second period to pull his team within one, and created high stakes for the final period of the 2022 season.

Now in a back and forth third period, Adrian first year Ryan Piroscia scored the dagger at the 10:55 mark to put his team up two. With Geneseo’s net empty, Adrian’s defense came in clutch and put the game away with an empty net goal from Ruffin with 11 seconds remaining to make the score 5-2.

“Our experience in Lake Placid was incredible. Being there, with all of the history and the amazing venue in the 1980 Herb Brooks arena made it unforgettable,” Adrian assistant coach Adam Philips said. “It was a weekend that our players, fans, alumni, staff and everyone involved with Adrian College and our hockey program will cherish forever.”

Once the final horn went off, The Bulldogs exploded with excitement, with the team forming a mob around goaltender Cameron Gray. This is the first NCAA title for Adrian’s athletic department. In terms of hockey, this win was a longtime coming for the program, which is in its 15th season of existence.

 “This has been something we have worked towards. It has been a common goal amongst our community.” Krug said. “Ultimately, to be able to do that with my family in attendance and with alums paying close attention, it certainly was a culmination of a lot of things over the last fifteen years.”

In this time period, the program has only had two head coaches. Coach Ron Fogarty was the first and over seven seasons he boasted a 167-23-10 record.  His impact in getting the program off the ground is monumental in winning the national title. He is now the coach of Princeton University. 

Krug, who played for the team for two years, is now in his eighth season as head coach. He also has a suburb record, being 149-40-11 since taking the helm. 

Fogarty was in attendance for the weekend. During the post game celebration, Krug stated how he looked over to see the former head coach extremely emotional while watching from behind the boards.  He said that this visual spoke for how much this championship meant for the program. 

Krug said how much the college has meant to him as he progressed from student athlete to coach of a national champion. 

“I met my wife at Adrian College, I have three kids. Without my time at Adrian College, I wouldn’t have any of that,” Krug said.

The team has been reputable since coming onto the collegiate hockey scene. They were runner-ups in 2011 in their first Frozen Four Appearance. After two more empty handed appearances in 2015 and 2017, they got the job done in this one and finished the season with a 31-1-0 record. After losing their first game to Utica, they had a perfect record. 

“I think there’s certainly a discussion where you can say that Adrian is among the most dominant teams in the history of Division III men’s hockey,” Savard said. “I think just now they’re finally reaching the top of the mountain, but they aren’t a newcomer to the national scene.”

Chris, the owner of Twitter Account “D-III Hockey News,” which is one the most popular and reputable accounts for the sport said: “The tournament for the most part went as I thought it would. I didn’t think anyone would be able to beat Adrian. Overall great weekend and glad to see Adrian end the year on a 31 game win streak.”

Despite the success to finish their season, Krug was still critical of the team. He brought up their forecheck and game as a whole was not to the level it had been throughout the season. However, he cited the reason for the struggles due to the tough competition of the Frozen Four. 

While Plattsburgh has hosted the tournament multiple times, this one is extra special due to the 2020 and 2021 championship’s being canceled due to COVID-19. The local appeal in hockey paired with the short drive from Plattsburgh to Lake Placid sparked interest from the community.

  Savard mentioned how he witnessed multiple fans from the area in attendance, wearing their Plattsburgh jerseys. 

The location of the 2023 National Championship has not been announced, nor has the next time the championship will be hosted by Plattsburgh. This was an entertaining, successful, and emotional experience for all those on the ice, in the stands, or at home. 

“We’re incredibly fortunate being at SUNY Plattsburgh,” Savard added. “We’re an hour away from a place that holds such a revered part in sporting history in this country. We see helping host this event as a way to remind people, ‘Hey look, this is in our backyard.”

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