NCAA preview: Hamilton v. Oswego State

Hamilton at Oswego (7:00 pm)

Oswego is an offensive juggernaut with a deep and experienced line-up, scoring at a 4.74 GPG clip and the third most potent offense in all of D3. The Lakers’ top 4 scorers and 9 of its 10 top scorers are all seniors, likely aiming to extend their college careers for another couple of weeks and to end with a flourish.

Laker forwards to watch include Kenny Neil (19-25-44 and the no. 7 scorer in D3); Shawn Hulshof (13-27-40 (tied for no. 14 in D3); and Matt Galati (13-17-30). Oswego is a veteran team, including 12 seniors and 4 D1 transfers, and with every single player being a product of junior hockey. Hulshof and Neil  are both members of the all-SUNYAC first team as is d-man Stephen Johnson.

Hamilton, in contrast, has a less showy but steady and opportunistic offense (producing goals at a 3.22 GPG pace (tied for 34th in the country). What it lacks in punch on the offensive end, it more than makes up on the defensive end, with the third-ranked defense in D3 (giving up just 1.74 GPG and featuring Evan Buitenhuis in net, who is one of the nation’s premier D3 goalies and the NESCAC PoY, and a stalwart group of experienced d-men).

In comparing stats, it is important to keep in mind that Oswego plays in a top-heavy conference where the top 3 teams are very good (Oswego, Plattsburgh, and Geneseo) and do very well in the post-season while the remaining 6 teams are middling to poor. Because the bottom 6 teams often do not pose much of a challenge to the top 3, the stats for the top 3 teams tend to be inflated by the weak competition. Stats in the NESCAC, in contrast, are depressed by parity, with very few opportunities to roll up numbers, making a statistical comparison between a SUNYAC team and a NESCAC team not necessarily determinative of the 2 teams’ relative strengths.

Oswego compiled defensive stats in 2016-17 that are almost as good as Hamilton’s but that is in part a reflection of the weakness of the bottom two-thirds of the SUNYAC (opportunities for conference wins with scores like 6-0, 8-1, 10-1, and 6-1 abound). Oswego gave up only 1.93 GPG (5th in the nation) but the save percentages of the 2 top netminders (.914 for senior Matt Zawadzki (44th in D3) and .913 for sophomore Dave Jacobson) hint at possible vulnerabilities in the defensive end regardless of Oswego’s seemingly glittery defensive stats. It is important to keep in mind that, regardless of these apparent vulnerabilities, Zawadzki was nonetheless picked to be a member of the all-SUNYAC second team so likely some good performances during the regular season as Oswego compiled the best record in the league.

Finally, there is the question of history with the NCAA play-offs. As we all know, this is Hamilton’s first time in the show so it has no history. But we also know that it did well with the first time stuff this year even as it dealt with injuries to key players (team captain Bennett Hambrook and 2 all-NESCAC forwards, senior Robbie Murden (NESCAC 1st team in 2016) and junior Brandon Willett (NESCAC 1st team in 2017) come to mind). In the face of adversity and the highly competitive NESCAC, the Continentals stayed focused and disciplined and managed to put together the best regular season record in the NESCAC, with just one weird carom in the OT of the NESCAC finals with Trinity separating it from its first-ever NESCAC championship.

Oswego, in contrast, is highly experienced with the NCAA play-offs, last winning the NCAAs in 2007 when it downed NESCAC champion Middlebury 4-3 in OT despite being out shot by the Panthers, 50-33. Oswego went to the NCAAs 5 other times in the past 10 years (2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, and 2014), meeting and beating Bowdoin in the quarterfinals in 3 of those 5 years. Still, 2 of those 3 games with Bowdoin were very close, with the most recent one (2014) being a 4-3 come-from-behind win for Oswego in a mid-week game in Oswego that was delayed one day by a snowstorm and came just 4 days after 5th seeded Bowdoin had defeated Amherst in double OT to win the NESCAC championship. So history indicates that, despite, its strong record in the NCAAs over the past 10 years, Oswego is gettable by a well-primed NESCAC team.

Pick: the Hamilton D carries the day and the Continentals, unencumbered by the past, edge Oswego in a close game

The Numbers:

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