The Brockport Golden Eagles return to the ice next Thursday, January 9th. The second semester is like an entirely new season as the team can learn from what happened in the first semester, come back from having healed during the Christmas break, and capitalize on a very friendly schedule that has the team hosting 8 home games.
One can hope – and plan – on things being different because there’s nowhere to go but up following a 2-8-2 start.
It was a roller coaster of a semester, and a travel-heavy one at that. The team came out of the gate with 2 non-conference road losses (Utica and Nazareth) which were followed by a 6-3 whipping of Potsdam on the road. Following a loss to Plattsburgh (which wasn’t unexpected), Brockport got hot with a dominating 5-2 win over Elmira at home and an exciting 1-1 tie with nationally-ranked Hobart. That didn’t carry over to the next weekend as an over-confident Golden Eagle squad let a must-win game against Cortland slip away at Tuttle, followed by a shutout by the Oswego Lakers. In the Rutland Herald Invitational on Thanksgiving weekend the team had to settle for last place in the 4-team tourney. The semester closed out in December with the Western New York road trip which saw a tie with Fredonia and an absolute manhandling by Buff State in a game that should have been much closer.
So, what went wrong in the first semester that kept the team from reaching the expectations I, their coaches, and they had for themselves? Three things…
Injuries: This is the greatest contributor to Brockport’s record.
Last season, goaltender Jared Lockhurst set the SUNYAC on fire, making the conference All-Rookie squad with a .919 save percentage that was fourth best in the SUNYAC (and also a team record). This season, he has looked human, sporting only an .877 percentage in 7 games. A nagging groin injury has really limited his lateral movement and ability to make immediate reactions.
If Brockport has anything, it’s an embarrassment of riches in net. Aaron Green is also a #1 goalie, as made evident by his .912 save percentage this year. So, he should have been The Man while Lockhurst healed -- and he was…until he tweaked his groin, too, with only 3 games of play under his belt.
Then, there’s Brendon Rothfuss. Heading into the season I had him pegged as the wild card. Having put his lacrosse career on hold so he could focus on hockey he had hoped to be healthy and capitalize on his considerable talents. I thought for sure he’d hit double digits in goals scored and I imagine he did, too. But, he was healthy enough for just 4 games last semester in which he had 3 points.
If these 3 gentlemen and others battling injuries mended over the break, it will put a tiger in the team’s tank.
Penalties: Last year’s team was the least-penalized in Brockport history, smartly playing to just 305 penalty minutes. This year’s squad, though, has been sloppy. After 12 games the team already has 211 penalty minutes and is on pace for nearly 450 PIM, a 48% increase over 2012-2013!
Brockport’s penalty kill is just 52nd in the nation and has allowed opponents to score on 15 of their 66 chances (or 1.25 goals per game). If the guys can follow the lead of Chase Nieuwendyk – who leads in ice time yet has not incurred one penalty – and get back to last season’s numbers, then they could trim away an average of a half a goal a game. That would be more than 6 goals less over the course of the second semester --- in conference play EVERY goal matters.
Lack of focus: Perhaps related to or a cause of the above, the team’s focus seemed to slip on occasion and I thought their play often seemed listless in the second period of games. It was a marked change from what they showed in the 1st and 3rd periods – the Golden Eagles start games with some incredible intensity and then finish games with a flourish and real sense of urgency. If that could be expanded into the middle stanzas, then the team can give any opponent a run for its money. Dickinson teams have always been the hardest-working in all of SUNYAC so I wouldn’t be surprised if Coach is already on this.
Enough of what went wrong. What went right for the team in the first semester?
Here are three things…
Young firepower: The Nieuwendyk-anchored line that features two freshman in Mick Marinac and Jake Taylor has been nothing short of exciting. They possess speed and skill sets that remind me of the high-energy Hobart lines of a decade ago when they went to the DIII Frozen Four and both dazzled and exhausted opponents. Sophomore Nieuwendyk has 11 points (on 9 assists), the fleet-footed Marinac already has a hat trick under his belt and Jake Taylor has two 2-goal games. As their chemistry improves, you should see their already-solid output increase in spades. Imagine 3 more years of this trio; the potential is exciting!
The power play: The aforementioned young bucks and others have been lighting the lamp with regularity on the man advantage. For a while, the Golden Eagles ranked sixth in the nation in power play percentage, and now rank a still-stellar twelfth at 25.5% with 13 goals on 51 chances. With a home-friendly, energy-boosting schedule and the return of Rothfuss, don’t be surprised if the team closes out the season in the top ten of this category.
Chris Luker: In the season preview I intimated that sophomore Luker was all-SUNYAC material as a defenseman. He’s living up to that billing in more ways than expected – he has actually proven to be the team’s most consistent goal scorer, having found the back of the net in 4 different games. On top of that, his attention to detail has been unreal: Last year he led the team in penalty minutes (44). This year? He has only 6. That turnaround is the sign of a man who’s really serious about his game.
So, where do I see this team in the second semester?
In the playoffs as the sixth-seed.
That’s a haughty proclamation to make for a team with a 2-8-2 record, but with 8 home games (and the morale boosting that comes with them), key players coming back from injury, the positives listed above, a reinvigorated attention to the little things, and the freshman and sophomores having learned from a bear of a semester, the sky’s the limit.
On top of that, some guys’ numbers are low versus last year (Jesse Facchini and Shane Cavalieri come to mind) and it’s not for a lack of trying. In many cases they’ve had bad luck or opponents have made some really stellar saves. They should rebound nicely and get close to last year’s excellent statistics.
The second semester is like a new season. The players will treat it as such and the fans should, too – get out to Tuttle and support the Golden Eagles!
2013 is in the past. Welcome to 2014.