By COURTNEY LEWIS Press-Republican
---- — PLATTSBURGH — The Plattsburgh State men’s hockey team ended last season without an NCAA tournament bid, and when the Cardinals looked back, they saw the difference between getting in and being left out was slim.
As they enter the 2013-14 season with 20 returning players, they’re vowing not to take any nights off or have lapses of intensity.
“I think it was emotion every night. We were two games away from making the tournament,” coach Bob Emery said. “If we took care of business in a couple games we should’ve won, against teams we should’ve beaten, then we would’ve been in the tournament.
“That was our main problem last year, and that’s our main focus this year.”
Plattsburgh begins the season by hosting Potsdam in a SUNY Athletic Conference game tonight. The Cardinals are ranked fifth in the first USCHO.com Division III Men’s Hockey Poll of the season and were picked first in the SUNYAC Preseason Poll.
While the Cardinals lost just one forward — Jared Docking — who was a regular in the lineup last year, they had some holes to fill in the back. They lost three defensemen who dressed for more than 20 games, including four-year players Paul Puglisi and Mike Grace.
They’ve brought in two freshmen and also boosted the defensive corps by putting Nick Jensen there full time.
“Anytime you lose two guys that played 20 minutes a game, it’s going to hurt the team,” junior blueliner Preston Kaye said. “But the new guys are willing to step up, and having Nick Jensen back there is definitely going to help our transition.”
Newcomer Derek Patterson has been injured most of the preseason, but Kaye and Emery both said the other freshman, Patrick Hermans, has been impressive.
The Cardinals have some size on the blue line. Five of the eight defensemen are 6 feet or taller, including 6-foot-5-inch Patterson as well as Jensen and Kaye, who both stand 6 feet 3 inches. Four of them weigh in at more than 215 pounds.
Offensively, Plattsburgh returns nine of its top 10 scorers from last year, led by sophomores Luke Baleshta (7-19-26), Kevin Emmerling (14-10-24) and Dillan Fox (9-11-20).
“The strength of this team is we have a ton of guys who have a lot of speed,” said sophomore Connor Gorman, who’s also coming off a strong debut season. “I think we can use that to our advantage; beat guys into the corner, use our speed wide. And obviously we have some real gifted goal scorers and some talented guys out there.”
However, Emery said they’ll need more than just skill.
“Our system is to play offensive, but I think we gotta bear down and get some more dirty goals in the paint,” he said. “We’re really trying to focus on getting the guys to shoot the puck more and crash the net more going into the first game.”
There are just five seniors on the roster. But the Cardinals relied heavily on their freshmen and sophomores last year, and Kaye said those players gained valuable experience.
“Well you know what, we returned a lot of our key players. So it’s given us another year to mature and given us another year of playing college hockey,” Kaye said. “And I think that experience is really going to help us as we move forward.”
Plattsburgh won 10 of its last 11 regular-season games last season, but the Cardinals had been tripped up several times in the first semester and early in the second by teams below them in the standings and rankings. So when they failed to secure an automatic NCAA bid by falling to Oswego in the SUNYAC final, they did not receive an at-large berth.
Senior goaltender Mathieu Cadieux said they’re determined not to let that happen again.
“Yes, definitely. Like this being my last season, I definitely don’t want to end the way we let our seniors down last year,” he said. “Definitely want to come out and have a strong season and hopefully go as far as we can.”
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