PLATTSBURGH — As soon as players join the Plattsburgh State men's hockey team, they're sent a clear message that they'll be expected to play with discipline.
"That might be the first thing (coach Bob Emery) says, is we're going to be the most disciplined team in the country," junior Patrick Jobb said. "I think it's something like four or five of the last five or six years we've been the least penalized team in the country. So it's something we preach all the time — staying out of the penalty box and being disciplined on and off the ice."
The third-ranked Cardinals (12-2-4, 7-1-1 SUNYAC) host Potsdam tonight for a SUNY Athletic Conference game.
Emery said discipline and hard work are the foundation of the Plattsburgh program, and this year's numbers reflect that. The Cardinals currently rank 70th out of 71 Division III teams in penalty minutes.
They've totaled 137 minutes for an average of 7.6 per game. That's less than half as many as a lot of teams have. Suffolk, which sits at the top of the list, is averaging 27.5 minutes per game and has totaled 412.
Jobb said not every penalty is viewed as a negative; it's certain kinds that irk the coaching staff. He said the coaches don't get on a player "if you're taking a good penalty that needs to be taken."
"We always say we kill off the tough ones, or the hard penalties," he added. "But it's the stupid penalties that we try to stay away from as a team."
Emery doesn't hesitate to bench players who don't show the kind of discipline he demands. Plattsburgh started the season with five players serving suspensions for off-ice transgressions, and several players have been punished for taking penalties.
Players who have drawn a misconduct have sat out the next game, and most recently, Emery sent Alex Brenton to the locker room during last week's game. Brenton's collision with the opposing goalie resulted in just a minor penalty, but the coach said it was something that can't happen.
Emery said he doesn't go looking for a certain type of player, but once they arrive, they have to learn to play without committing frequent infractions.
"There's a lot of guys that can't adjust to our culture, and they fall off," he said. "A lot of guys that don't want to pay the price and work hard and play with discipline. And those guys don't last."
Emery believes there's correlation between discipline and winning, and Plattsburgh is in good company at the bottom of the penalty-minutes list — Norwich, which is ranked first in USCHO.com Division III Men's Poll, is last in that category. None of the 10 most penalized teams are ranked.
Jobb said the players can see the advantage of staying out of the sin bin.
"I think there's been numerous games since I've been here where we haven't even taken penalties over a whole weekend. And if we get three or four power plays, we're going to score," Jobb said.
Opponents have scored just three power-play goals against Plattsburgh this season — they've been limited to 55 opportunities, plus the Cardinals boast the top penalty kill in the country.
The Cardinals took six penalties against Morrisville last Saturday — almost twice their average. Incidentally, tonight's opponent is one of most penalized in Division III. Potsdam averages 23.2 minutes, which ranks fourth.
The Bears (6-10-2, 4-5) are tied for fifth in the SUNYAC standings. They've dropped their last five games, including losses to Morrisville and Hobart last weekend. Sy Nutkevitch leads the team in scoring, and is tied for 10th in Division III, with 29 points (six goals, 23 assists).
Plattsburgh beat Potsdam, 4-1, on Nov. 5.
The Cardinals will wear black jerseys tonight and auction them off after the game.
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