When you think March, most people will think NCAA Basketball March Madness. In Upstate New York, however, March can mean rivalry Division III Hockey. The State University of New York Athletic Conference, SUNYAC, will hold their championship game this Saturday on the campus of Oswego. Whoever comes out the winner of this game will then automatically get a chance to go to Lake Placid and play in the NCAA Division III Tournament, which takes place this year on March 15 and 16. For the 5th time in 6 years, Oswego will play Plattsburgh in hopes of finding another SUNYAC title and getting redemption at the NCAA Tournament.
Since the 1960’s, Oswego and Plattsburgh have grown to be huge rivals and every year the two teams battle it out in points, finding the perfect players, winning their games, and making it to the SUNYAC Final. Back in 1980 Herb Hammond, who had been the coach at Oswego for the previous 12 seasons, became the coach at Plattsburgh. The two schools already had a small rivalry brewing and since the school didn’t want to hate Hammond, since he was such a good coach at Oswego, they decided to hate the school he was now coaching for. While he only lasted two years at Plattsburgh, the rivalry would grow to become bigger than anyone had anticipated. In 1990, Plattsburgh decided that they wanted to take the game against Oswego to a whole new level and after their first goal, they threw tennis balls onto the ice. They were bright yellow, signifying the color of the road jersey of Oswego. The coach of the Oswego team, Don Unger, happened to also be the coach of the Tennis team. In retaliation, the next game played at the Oswego rink would see bagels being thrown onto the ice after Oswego would score their first goal, signifying that Plattsburgh would have zero goals. This tradition would go on until 2007 when Oswego moved into a new rink on campus and instead of the hassle of bagels being thrown, they started a new tradition of a “white-out game.” Plattsburgh would follow suite the next season and stopped throwing tennis balls onto the ice during their games. This tradition would prove to be a problem on several occasions, since if a tennis ball or bagel was thrown after the team’s first goal, the team would be penalized. Each team would get in trouble, on more than one occasion, and the penalties would eventually cost them the game.
Whichever team wins the SUNYAC Championship title gets an automatic chance at the NCAA Division III tournament, although the losing team does have a chance to get asked to play. Oswego had that chance in 2007 having not even been in the SUNYAC final. They played their way through three rounds of tough competition to get to the final and ultimately won the game in overtime to bring the school their first NCAA Title. Oswego is looking to make it back to the tournament for the 6th time in 10 years and after having lost last year in the final, they will be looking for redemption. Plattsburgh, on the other hand, has two NCAA titles and is looking to go back for their 7th time in 10 years and have not won the title since 2001 and have not made a finals appearance since 2008.
Both teams also seem to be able to produce some great scoring players and great goaltenders. This year alone, Oswego has 6 players that made the All-Conference SUNYAC Team and Plattsburgh has 5 players on that team. Oswego ranks 1st in SUNYAC scoring offense with Plattsburgh 2nd. Oswego has five players in the top 10 of points, with Plattsburgh also having one player in the top 10. The goaltenders also are battling each other with Plattsburgh goalie being number 1 in goals against average and number 2 in save percentage and winning percentage. Oswego’s goalie is number 2 in goals against average and number 1 in save percentage and winning percentage.
The scoring these teams can produce and the goalies they have protecting the net are why these two teams continue to be on top year in and year out. Both teams are currently in the top 10 in NCAA Regional Rankings as well, so even though they are more locally know, they may start to get national awareness.
Come Sunday, either Oswego or Plattsburgh will once again have a SUNYAC title to their names and be on their way to getting back to the finals at the NCAA Tournament. Will Ed Gosek and SUNYAC Player of the Year Paul Rodrigues have the Oswego Lakers back on top or will Bob Emery and SUNYAC Rookie of the Year Kevin Emmerling give the Plattsburgh Cardinals another title? We will just have to wait and see!