The 2013-2014 season was a tale of two semesters for Brockport Hockey.
The fall semester began with great promise as the players, coaches and fans knew they had all of the pieces of the playoff puzzle in place. Recent robust scouting had provided the necessary talent and skill sets, while seniors who grew up under the tutelage of Brockport greats like James Cody, Ian Finnerty, and Adam Shoff provided the leadership necessary for success.
But, unfortunately, it didn’t all come together as it should have last fall. The team was a woeful 2-8-2, with a 1-4-1 record in the SUNYAC. A win against Elmira and a tie with Hobart showed the excellence that everyone thought the team should have, but serious lapses of focus led to painful losses to the likes of Cortland while the team had 4 games in which they scored 1 or no goals.
It was depressing, frustrating, and, ultimately, motivating.
When the team returned from the winter break they showed that they were what we thought they were. They excelled in all facets of the game and went 8-5-1 in the second semester. Under such stress where, making up for the first semester, every game is in itself a playoff game, the Golden Eagles went 6-4 in the conference in January and February. Everything clicked and Brockport made the playoffs after a 4-year drought.
During the first round of the playoffs, the team was manhandled in a 7-2 loss at Buffalo State, but that was likely due to physical and mental exhaustion from playing lights-out all semester.
That second semester set the stage for a new era in Brockport, one where wins will become the norm and the playoffs – and playoff wins -- will become expected. This year’s roster looks to be a 14-win squad and the SUNYAC coaches, who usually dismiss the Golden Eagles, have picked them to finish fourth in the conference, which means a playoff game on home ice.
What was behind Brockport’s amazing turnaround last winter?
For starters, a markedly-improved ability to light the lamp.
There were 12 games played in the first semester, in which the team scored 31 goals (2.58 per game).
There were 14 games (counting the playoffs) in the second semester. The goal tally? 49, or a whopping 3.5 per game – so, basically 1 more goal per game. In the ultra-competitive DIII, that’s the difference between losing a game or winning and/or tying.
Had this pace been maintained for both semesters, Brockport's scoring would rank 13th in the nation. Even with the first semester thrown in there, the team finished the season ranked 29th at 3.08, which in itself is not too shabby.
If the Golden Eagles can maintain the breakneck scoring pace from the spring semester, the sky’s the limit.
There’s no reason they shouldn’t.
Gone are All-SUNYAC pick Chris Cangro, who as a senior had a second semester for the ages racking up 19 points in those two months, and Nick Marinac, who as a freshman amassed 19 points thanks to his rare speed.
Those who remain, though, will be able to pick up the slack. Brockport retained 4 of their top 6 scorers.
Junior Chase Nieuwendyk will lead the attack. As a sophomore, he shared the team lead in points with 24. He’s slick and his puck awareness will have him leading the team in scoring yet again. There’s no reason why he can’t surpass 30 points and net a conference award. Hardcore hockey fans will really appreciate his savvy.
Jake Taylor was a welcome surprise last year when he became the first freshman since James Cody to reach double-digits in goals (he sported a 10-11-21 line). He’s certain to grow that number this year. If he can cut back on his penalties and, in turn, get more time on the ice, the man with the wicked wrist shot is a shoe-in for a dozen-plus goals a year. He’s electric and fun to watch…look no further than his short-handed goal against Morrisville for proof of that.
Junior Shane Cavalieri will help anchor the attack and has the potential to be an All-SUNYAC pick. Last season, he had a 6-9-15 line and many people (including me) had him pegged for 10 to 12 goals after 9 goals in his rookie campaign. His sophomore season may have statistically looked like a down year, but it wasn’t if you watched the games. Shane was still Shane; he ran into a string of bad luck: For some reason, opposing goalies made ridiculous saves on him and he was robbed of at least 4 goals. Bad luck will be beaten by hard work and talent, both of which Shane has in spades.
All season long last year, I used this blog to tout the awesomeness of Chris Luker. He was stellar on defense, hanging with the big boys of Plattsburgh and Oswego and he proved to be, outside of Nieuwendyk, the most consistent scorer on the team from start to finish of the season (and Chris is a defenseman!). He netted well-deserved All-SUNYAC honors after finishing the season with a 9-13-22 line, finishing with the most goals by a Brockport blueliner in 26 years (Fran Gibny had a whopping 14 in 1987-1988).
His defensemates are just as important to the team’s success.
Jonathan Demme doesn’t rack up the sexy scoring numbers (a 1-2-3 line), but he’s one of the best pure defensemen in the conference. He glides with ease and can swarm even the best of offensive players, forcing long outside shots if any at all. His quiet performance can cause fans with just a passing interest in the game to overlook what he does, but they shouldn’t. He is the man who makes this defensive unit work and he is incredibly consistent.
Also returning are the Two Roberts – Bobby Chayka and Robbie Hall – who finished with 9 and 8 points respectively and are known for doling out physical punishment at any chance they get. These young bucks are fun to watch and their grit can motivate the team.
Brockport has an embarrassment of riches in the net. No team in the conference, and maybe in all of Division III, can claim to be three-deep in quality goaltenders.
Once again, the debate will rage this semester, who’s the Number One: Jared Lockhurst or Aaron Green?
Lockhurst is one of the most-revered netminders in the SUNYAC. In his freshman year he had a .919 save percentage, which bested the single-season mark of Todd Sheridan, inarguably the greatest goalie in Brockport history. Last year, he struggled with injuries and remnant pain that kept his save percentage at a still-respectable .903. Now healthy, there’s no reason he should not be in the territory of .920 again.
While Lockhurst is more traditional of a goalie with an emphasis on positioning, Green, a senior, is the more athletic, using his cat-like reflexes to rob goals. He finished the season with a .897 save percentage and a team-leading 3.34 goals against average. In the last 4 games of the regular season, when it was do-or-die, Green stopped 120 of 126 shots, good for a .952 save percentage and 2.00 goals against average. Green wins games: He now has a .538 career winning percentage, which rivals that of all Brockport goaltenders, including Todd Sheridan (.500).
If those gents are injured at the same time, which they were at one point last year, there’s nothing to fear when the reins are passed to Andrew Winsor who had a .894 percentage in spot duty last year. He has the talent, focus and upbeat attitude that with regular starts should produce a .910, so the team’s future is in good hands when Green graduates after this season.
Teams always do well if they have success on special teams.
The 2013-2014 Golden Eagles were half-way there last season.
The power play unit was seventh-best in the nation, finding the back of the net 25.2% of the time when having a man advantage. That accounted for 27 goals over the season. Opponents found them frightening and will again this year. 10 Golden Eagles had PP goals last year, led by James Ryan, now a junior, who had a 6 such goals!
The penalty kill was middling, come in at forty-second in the nation, killing just 80.2 % of man-up attacks. That accounted for 24 goals over the season. It’s not a good statistic when Brockport was twenty-eighth in the nation in penalty minutes, only one season after they set the Brockport record for fewest penalty minutes in a season. Last season saw a 22% increase in that category. If they can cut back on lapses in focus, there’s no reason why the PK unit couldn’t jump to thirtieth. There’s enough skill present.
Looking at all of the above, and considering some of the new recruits coming to campus this year, there are few discernable weaknesses on this team. The Golden Eagles do most everything well and that should make for a new era of greatness, this season and into the future.
It’s a good time to be a Brockport Hockey fan.