On Senior Night last February the Brockport Golden Eagles ended the home season in a positive fashion, besting Potsdam 5-4.
But, as awesome as that win was, there was a bittersweet atmosphere at Tuttle North that night. When the seniors where recognized in the pregame ceremonies there stood a dozen players who would never again play for the Golden Eagles. Few teams can handle the loss of a dozen players, especially those as important to the team’s success as the top three scorers and both backup goaltenders and four defensemen. Their teammates and fans couldn’t help but feel a sense of dread for the next few seasons, wondering if we might be entering a prolonged period of rebuilding.
Maybe that’s why Brockport was looked at as a doormat in this year’s preseason coaches’ poll in the SUNYAC. In the poll, Brockport received a paltry 12 points, only one more than dead-last Morrisville.
Not to sound like a biased supporter of the home team, but, even with the loss of key guys like Seedhouse and Koras, Brockport is a lot better than that and will be just as competitive as they have been the past two seasons. Over that period, Brockport went to the SUNYACs in 2007 for the first time in seven years, and last year – despite their losing record – the Golden Eagles were one of the most frightening teams in Division III. Always taking the scrappy underdog role to the extreme, they put serious scares into some of the best (like Hobart and Oswego) and hung with the very best (tying then #1-ranked Elmira 4-4).
You can expect more of the same this year, with a trip to the SUNY playoffs not out of the question…and expected by yours truly.
How can I predict that with such confidence? I can because, despite the turnover, there are a lot of good holdovers from last year’s team. And, to their credit, head coach Brian Dickinson and assistant coach Mark Digby had a good offseason in the recruiting department. Brockport has a team chock-full of solid players who can all contribute and who all have the character necessary to upset the best that Division III has to offer.
Let’s take a closer look at the following four factors of a good hockey team…goaltending, defense, offense, and character.
Goaltending is my favorite part of the game – and the goalie is arguably the most important player on the ice - so I always base my analysis of the success of any hockey team on how good their players are between the pipes. Brockport’s goaltending is the best in the SUNYAC, bar none. Some folks might find that statement to be upsetting …they would say Plattsburgh’s Bryan Hince is the best. I’ll agree that he’s “good” (he was the only thing that kept Plattsburgh in the DIII championship game at Lake Placid in March) but he’s not “great”. His numbers are a little exaggerated because he faces very few quality shots by having such a dominant team in front of him.
Many people agree that in the SUNYAC it all starts with Todd Sheridan. Whether using the butterfly or the occasional Hasek flop, Todd has stymied some top-notch offensive forces. In the 2006-2007 season he broke Brockport’s goals-against record and last season he broke his own record, setting the new standard at 3.22. Some colleges would scoff at that number, but you need to understand that Brockport has never been a hockey powerhouse, so that record is commendable if not extraordinary.
In the event that Todd’s groin acts up again this year, newcomer Oliver Wren is an exceptional #2. He was the starting goalie for the Oakville Blades last year, who were the OPJHL champions, so he knows the experience of big games.
Todd and Oliver get a lot of help up front from a killer defensive mindset. Half of the defensemen are still intact from last year, with Mike Gershon becoming the defense’s go-to guy after the departure of Chris Brown. Mike, Ricky Stanek, Craig Carlyle and the rest of the D had a great year last year, keeping some big time offenses at bay. Their 94 goals allowed were the lowest by the team since the mid-1970s! That’s a major accomplishment considering the Golden Eagles had 9 games against “top ten” teams. New additions the likes of Gregg Amato and Tyler Davis will ensure that this year’s crew of defensemen are just as good as last year and, with a weaker schedule, they might even break the 85-goal barrier.
Here’s what Mike Gershon has to say about continued success:
“I think that last year we really started to concentrate more on our defensive zone than we had in years past and that has continued this year. It is going to be tough when you have lost some of the defenseman that we had last year but I am very pleased with how the recruiting went this year and I think that with our strong goaltending and with our aggressive forwards it will allow the defenseman more opportunities to shut down some very good offensive teams on our schedule. And if we are to compete and reach the playoffs which I fully believe that we are, this team must break the fewest goals allowed record again.”
Tim Crowley was Brockport's best player down the stretch
Mike mentioned aggressive forwards and that’s just what Brockport has. “Relentless” may be just as fitting. Over the past few years, Brockport has appeared to be one of the best-conditioned teams on the ice, bringing it every minute of every game, always finding a second wind. It is hoped that this physical and mental focus is maintained this year, which will allow the team as a whole to chip in, making up for the huge losses of Seedhouse (15 goals), Koras (30 points), and Gordon Pritchard (26 points). With those guys gone, it may appear upfront that the offense isn’t as good on paper as it was last year, but it will still be good. With a much weaker schedule this season they’ll easily surpass last year’s goal total (85).
Tim Crowley and Sean O’Malley will shoulder most of the load and have some high expectations placed upon them. Both men were big contributors last season (11 and 10 goals on the season, respectively) and it’s not a stretch to think they’ll both be 15-goal men this year.
There’s a very good chance that Tim might post a 20-goal season if he maintains the pace he had in the second half of the 2007-2008 season. He was clutch down the stretch: During January and February when Brockport was trying to get into the playoffs, he scored 7 goals and assisted on 6 more.
Even with those fireworks, there are some big question marks hanging over the team’s offensive output, which is to be expected under such a major overhaul. Nevertheless, there is hope. Some of this year’s additions (like James Cody and Thomas Galiani) were point-a-game guys in their leagues last year – and other guys were close to that level - so they will help fill the void left by the graduates. You can’t help but think the goal-scoring will be more balanced and more consistent this year.
Here’s Tim Crowley’s analysis of the situation….
"We lost a lot of guys last year and especially forward-wise, which you cannot ignore. With that being said I think that the guys returning and the players that we have brought in, we should have no issues replacing the points that we lost. I feel that up front we have more depth than we have had compared to past years which only makes us better because of the competition throughout practice. I feel that our forwards will be a strong facet of our game throughout the season and think that there will be not much of a turnover from this past year because of the pieces we have in place."
Brockport’s greatest strengths are its character and teamwork. Some of Brockport’s players are widely known for their character: Todd Sheridan’s unexpected return from cancer is among the NCAA’s best stories, Ray Tremblay’s victory over a career-ending back injury shows serious moxie, and “rookie” Adam Shoff has been respected by fans and players alike wherever he’s played.
Unlike a lot of teams, there’s no infighting and there’s a pronounced lack of jock basket cases. They’re a cohesive lot who look out for one another and show great support for even the most part-time of role players. Many teams that bond this well can outperform more-talented (and usually dysfunctional) teams.
Quoth Todd Sheridan about the team’s makeup:
"Again we are starting the season as the underdog. I think with the team we have, we thrive under that title. With the leadership of our veterans and the energy of many of our recruits I know we will surprise people again. We have always had the ability to beat the best teams and this year we will get that extra goal to put us on top. We are a close-knit group and will beat teams that everyone, with the exception of us, think we should not beat."
That attitude - along with the on-ice performance of goaltending and defense that are above average and complemented by a plucky offense - will make the team a force to reckon with. They were last year when maybe 8 or so plays sunk their season. Eliminate those mistakes and you’re talking about a playoff team…which the Golden Eagles will be.
The Golden Eagles are also fortunate enough to be facing a weak schedule this year, their opponents a combined 143-199-24. I have their record pegged at 12-11-2 overall. They’ll still struggle against some teams in the ultra-competitive SUNYAC, but they’ll end up 6-8-2 in the conference, good enough for sixth place and a berth in the playoffs.
That’s definitely a lot better than advertised.