February 25, 2012

Plattsburgh heads into playoffs looking for more goals


PLATTSBURGH — The Cardinals knew they wouldn’t be a high-scoring team this season — they lost their top two scorers from last year, and they emphasize defense first anyway.

But lately goals have been especially hard to come by. It’s a trend Plattsburgh State is trying to change as it begins the SUNY Athletic Conference men’s hockey playoffs.

“Some people think it’s puck luck. I’m a believer in you make your own breaks,” Plattsburgh coach Bob Emery said. “I tell the team all the time, the only thing they can control is their self-discipline and their hard work.

“We gotta go out there and control our hard work and self-discipline and see where that takes us.”

The second-seeded Cardinals (17-4-4) host third-seeded Buffalo State in a semifinal tonight. Fredonia meets Oswego in the other game, and the highest remaining seed will host next week’s championship game.

The Bengals (13-11-2) beat Plattsburgh early in the season and lost at Stafford Ice Arena three weeks ago despite holding the Cardinals to one goal.

Low-scoring games like that have been the norm for the Cardinals recently. In the last three weeks, they’ve tallied just 11 goals in six games. They lost two of those and eked out one-goal victories in the others, including two in overtime.

Their season average is 3.36 goals per game, which puts them tied for 28th in Division III. Plattsburgh is ranked fourth in the Division III Men’s Poll, and the rest of the top-five teams are all in the top 15 in the country in scoring offense.

The Cardinals have been creating chances — they had 52 shots on net in last Saturday’s 3-2 overtime win at Cortland — and forward Nick Jensen said they just need to focus on putting them away. Emery changed the lineup in the last game, and they’ve been trying to crash the net more.

“We’ve been working in practice a little bit, scrumming in front of the net, scoring more goals,” forward Mark Constantine said. “Learn to score more in practice and transfer (that) over into games, hopefully.”

Constantine is one player who has struggled to score. After netting four goals in the first three games of the season, he didn’t find the net again until last Saturday.

“It was frustrating, but the coaches and players kept me up, saying, ‘Don’t get too frustrated. They’ll come.’

“I was on a slump for a little while, so it feels good to bury one and get the confidence up a little bit, hopefully keep it going.”

Plattsburgh doesn’t have anyone among the top 100 scorers in Division III. Kyle Kudroch leads the team with 21 points, including a team-high nine goals. Jensen has an 8-9-17 line, and Ryan Craig also has 17 points, but he missed the last two games with a hip pointer. Emery said Craig’s availability this week would be a game-day decision.

While most of Plattsburgh’s top scorers are on pace to match or surpass their point totals from last year, Emery said the sluggish offense is a combination of not having many natural goal-scorers to begin with and not getting as much production as they hoped from some players.

They finished second in the conference in part because of their balance.

“We have a lot of good hockey players,” Emery said. “We have the most depth we’ve had here in a long time. We can put four lines out there any time in the game. So our job is, as coaches, to work with what we have. Not feel sorry for ourselves and not sit here and wish for things.”

Jensen said without any superstars, the Cardinals know everyone needs to chip in.

“Everybody has their own thing that they have to do. Everyone has a role,” Jensen said. “So everyone has to stick to what they know and what they’re good to do, and then we all gotta contribute as a team.”

Buffalo State features Second-Team All-SUNYAC goalie Kevin Carr, and Constantine said the Cardinals know it won’t be easy to beat the Bengals. He said igniting the offense early would help.

“We’ve never been a very high-scoring team this whole year, really,” he said. “But when we get them going ... we keep ’em going, it seems like, pretty well. So if we get a few quick, hopefully we can just keep it going the rest of the game.”

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