By Collin Bolebruch
The SUNYAC men’s hockey championship and the NEWHL title game will both feature the Plattsburgh Cardinals. Plattsburgh advanced in the playoffs following a doubleheader featuring two Cardinal wins at the Ronald B. Stafford Ice Arena Feb. 25. For the first time since 2017, both teams have won its semifinal matchup and are one game away from being crowned conference champions.
The No. 2 women’s team (24-2, NEWHL 17-1) beat the No. 24 Canton Kangaroos (14-10-2, NEWHL 8-9-1) 7-1 in the NEWHL Tournament semifinals. Plattsburgh remains the unbeaten team in NEWHL playoff history and will return to the championship game for a chance at reclaiming its title. It was the highest-attended game all season with 475 fans.
No Cardinal struck twice, as all seven goals were scored by different players.Goal-scorers were forwards Sara Krauseneck, Holly Schmelzer, Bridget Orr, Lily Stumm and Mae Olshansky and defensemen Sierra Benjamin and Su-An Cho, a first-year student.
“We’re getting good contributions and good play from our top four lines and our D as well,” Head Coach Kevin Houle said. “It’s good to see that type of production.”
Cho’s goal was the first of her collegiate career. Last week, Krauseneck credited the young defensive group, including Cho, for helping the offense by being trustworthy.
“Especially being young, there’s obviously going to be a little bit of doubt if they are able to play well or able to bring the puck down. I think trust is a big part of it,” Cho said. “Knowing that [Krauseneck] trusts us, all the younger players, it’s very comforting to say the least.”
Forwards Riley Calhoun and Ciara Wall totaled two assists each. Cho, Benjamin and Stumm each had an assist in addition to their goals. Benjamin and Cho spent their time on the ice effectively, as both recorded a plus-minus of plus-five.
Ashley Davis started in the net and saved 17 of 18 shots, good for a 0.964 save percentage. Plattsburgh dominated in shot totals with 66 to Canton’s 18.
Last Saturday’s matchup was the fourth time the Cardinals have faced the Kangaroos this season. Canton started goaltender Sierna Alvarez in all four games. Alvarez is one of the best goalies in the conference, finishing top-five in goals-against average, save percentage, saves and win percentage in each of the last two seasons.
Alvarez has been a problem for Plattsburgh in the games they’ve faced her. In its three regular-season matchups, Alvarez averaged 42.7 saves, 2.19 goals against average and a 0.922 save percentage. The Cardinals got just one goal past her on Jan. 20. After Plattsburgh’s most recent regular-season game against Canton, Houle named Alvarez as one of the team’s strengths. She was named NEWHL Goaltender of the Year Feb. 28.
Krauseneck pointed to starting games hot as something the team could improve on. She said, though, that the experience makes the team better in its ability to come from behind. Houle agreed, but said the team would rather not be behind in the first place.
Plattsburgh forgot about both of these precedents on Saturday. The Cardinals struck first when Wall hit forward Nicole Unsworth on the left side, who then hit Olshansky in the slot for a goal. Just five minutes into the game, Plattsburgh had a lead that wouldn’t be responded to.
“She’s a top goalie and she played great tonight, but we were able to get to her early,” Houle said. “That takes a little wind out of their sails.”
The Cardinals finished the first period with two more scores after Krauseneck put one in from the slot and Schmelzer from the left circle. Schmelzer later left the game with a lower body injury and her status for next week’s game was undisclosed.
Plattsburgh’s commanding 3-0 lead proved insurmountable. After the Cardinals scored in the second period, the Kangaroos scored its first. Plattsburgh immediately responded with another. Canton drowned in Plattsburgh’s shot volume.
“The first shift sets the tone and that’s something that coach had mentioned in the locker room before,” Krauseneck said. “Taking over helped us out from the start, and then just retaining throughout the entire first period and then eventually through the whole game.”
The Cardinals stay at home next week for the NEWHL Championship. The No. 11 Cortland Red Dragons (20-6, NEWHL 14-4) come to the Ronnie B. with something no other NEWHL team can say: it beat Plattsburgh.
Plattsburgh lost its first-ever NEWHL game to Cortland 0-1 Dec. 2, 2022. Since the conference’s inception in 2017, no other team can make that claim. The Cardinals have beaten the Red Dragons twice since that game, but the loss makes Cortland a less-than-ideal matchup for the conference title March 4 at 3 p.m.
“They’ve become a quick rival, for sure, and we know that they don’t like us. Most teams come in, everyone wants to beat us,” Krauseneck said. “We know it’s going to be a game that we have to grind out.”
The Cards have won every NEWHL title game and nothing points to now being the end of its run. The team has its strongest record since 2019-20 and a dominant win against Canton primes Plattsburgh for another strong conference championship appearance.
The No. 6 men’s team (19-5-2, SUNYAC 12-3-1) won 5-1 against the No. 14 Geneseo Knights (18-6-2, SUNYAC 11-4-1), punching its ticket to its first SUNYAC Championship under Head Coach Steve Moffat.
Five different Cardinals scored goals, including forwards Bennett Stockdale, Brendan Young, Jake Lanyi, Luk Jirousek and Carson Gallagher. Young and Jirousek both added assists for a team-leading two points.
Defenseman Jacob Modry tallied two blocks and a plus-minus of plus-three. The teams were almost deadlocked in shot totals, as Plattsburgh had 44 to Geneseo’s 42.
“Both teams are good defensively, really good offensively,” Moffat said. “We create chances, they create chances. It was a very good hockey game that could have went either way.”
First-year Eli Shiller got the look in the goal, saving 41 shots, a career high. In Plattsburgh’s two games this season against Geneseo, in which it went 1-0-1, Jacob Hearne started at goalie. Hearne’s season high also came against the Knights, when he saved 35 shots in a 2-2 tie Nov. 12, 2022.
“Hearne, he stood on his head both times we played them before,” Shiller said. “He’s a great goalie, I think I’m a great goalie. I think we could have him in net, me in net, it doesn’t matter.”
Plattsburgh’s victory ends Geneseo’s five-year streak as SUNYAC Champions. Over its last 10 matchups, the Cardinals are 3-5-3 against the Knights. This win was extra sweet.
“Last year, we had a little bit of a sour taste in our mouths,” Jirousek said. “They’ve had it for the last four years. We’re not fans of them, so sending them home felt that much sweeter. They’re a fun team to play against.”
The crowd was the largest it had ever been this season, with 1,700 fans in attendance. It was also the most animated it had been. With every Knight slammed into the glass, the crowd popped. Fans harped on Geneseo goalie Matt Petizian and chants started.
“The crowd was unbelievable,” Young said. “It was probably the coolest experience playing in front of that crowd.”
Scoring opened 10 minutes into the first period, when forward Colin Callanan forced a turnover and passed it to Stockdale, waiting in the left circle. Stockdale shot a missile into the back of the net on Petizian’s glove side. Plattsburgh controlled the puck in the first period.
Plattsburgh struck again 10 minutes into the second period. Defenseman Matt Araujo got the puck to Jirousek in Geneseo territory before Jirousek passed it to Young on the right side. Young skated down the goal line and put it between Patizian’s legs to go up 2-0. Geneseo responded two minutes later with a score of its own, ending the period 2-1 Plattsburgh.
Jirousek sealed the game with a dagger five minutes into the third period. Jirousek took the puck from a Knight before missing a shot. Young rebounded the puck, getting it to Jirousek who struck paydirt in the face of Patizian.
“I tried going short side. I didn’t expect that one to pop right in front of him, but it did,” Jirousek said. “Younger took a stick and then it was just, ‘puck’s right there, goalie’s off to the side.’ Pretty easy tap-in there.”
The Cardinals advanced to face the rival No. 12 Oswego Lakers (17-8-1, SUNYAC 12-4) in the SUNYAC Championship March 4 at 7 p.m in Oswego. The Lakers have been the Cardinals’ kryptonite this season, being the only SUNYAC team Plattsburgh has a losing record against at 1-2. Moffat called the upcoming game a “big challenge.”
“We’re just going to go into Oswego ready to go,” Young said. “We know what we’re up against. We know what it’s like to play in their rink.”
Oswego also handed Plattsburgh its biggest loss all season when it won 5-1 Nov. 4, 2022. The Cardinals returned the favor Jan. 20 when it won 6-1. Over its last 10 matchups, the Lakers hold a 8-2-1 advantage. Plattsburgh isn’t phased by its history and is excited at the prospect of beating Oswego at home.
“This has been a two-year process, kind of. We started it last year and we had a really good team last year and we didn’t get to where we wanted to. And this year we kind of just built on that,” Moffat said. “It’s a credit to the guys. They come in and they work every day.”