Men’s hockey ties nation’s top team

Mens hockey ties nations top team

Buffalo State men’s hockey coach Nick Carriere isn’t quick to define his forward lines by the standard 1-4.

On a team where balanced scoring is the norm, it’s just a matter of where a line falls in the order of things, he says.

Continuing what has been a season-long trend, the Bengals effectively rolled all four lines in their first two games at the Ice Arena over the weekend. They rallied from two down against Potsdam on Friday to win, 3-2, before getting a complete team effort to tie the then-top-ranked team in the nation by, Plattsburgh, 1-1, Saturday.

Buffalo State’s technical “fourth line” gave Carriere’s principle a dense stroke of credence with its performance in the weekend pair. The trio of Kyle Whipple, Taylor McGraw and Billy Strakosch provided more than hustle and grit, combining for two goals and three assists. Whipple scored the game-tying goal in the third against Plattsburgh to lead the Bengals (3-2-1 SUNYAC) to the draw.

“When they’re going, they’re as good as a first or second line,” Carriere said of the three seniors. “They might not have the top-end skill, but I think those are guys who bring us a lot of energy. They understand what we’re trying to do.”

Even amid the teams combining for 15 power-play chances Saturday, which could have severely disrupted the flow of line rotation, Carriere still found time to implement his ideal formula for success. What’s more is it was done against Plattsburgh, which is now ranked No. 3 and is 35-5-3 all-time against the Bengals.

“For the most part I worry about the rhythm of our forwards and making sure that we can try to get everybody involved,” said Carriere, who added the team played its strongest game of the year against the Cardinals. “The last thing in the world I want to do is cut down and not be able to be as fresh and go as hard.”

Whipple and his linemates were certainly fresh to start the final frame down a goal against Plattsburgh.

Charles Lapierre cleared the puck out of the Bengals’ zone with a pass near center ice to Strakosch, who chipped it to a charging Whipple. The winger walked into the Plattsburgh zone and made a fancy move on a two-on-two. It forced a defender to the ice, allowing Whipple to rip an uncontested shot top shelf in the slot to tie the game with 16:23 left.

“When you get chances like that, you have to put them in because a team like that’s not going to give you a lot throughout the game,” Whipple said.

Kevin Carr played stellar all weekend, leading to him being named SUNYAC Men’s Hockey Goalie of the Week after stopping 82 of 85 shots, and was sharp in protecting the tie. He made 14 saves in the third period and six more in overtime. In all, the senior netminder had 43 saves.

Carr’s counterpart, Mathieu Cadieux, stopped 24 Buffalo State shots, including 11 in the third.

There was a brief scare for the Bengals in overtime, a moment that would have ended their first point streak of the young season.

As the puck was lost in the sights of the referees during a scramble in front of Carr, the Cardinals were sent into celebration when Luke Baleshta poked it home with 11 seconds remaining in the extra session. However, it was disallowed because the referee had whistled the play dead because he ruled Carr had control of the puck.

“The boys did a good job of holding it together,” captain Mike Zannella said of the play. “The guys collapsed well around the net. I think we finished the game hard. It was back-and-forth until the last seconds of the game.”

The Bengals, possessing unwavering positive attitudes on the bench according to Zannella, went down early to Potsdam, too.

A pair of first-period goals by the Bears tested the Bengals’ character. Not only did they pass with three unanswered markers to finish the game, but they built on it the next night.

McGraw, playing in his first game of the year, scored 1:45 into the second. Whipple and Strakosch gathered assists on the goal.

A pair of power-play goals then put the Bengals in front. Dan Turgeon tied it at 2 less than three minutes later, and Ryan Salkeld scored the game-winner 2:31 into the third on the man advantage.

A stark contrast from their previous two games, the Bengals penalty kill was paramount to getting three points this weekend.

In a doubleheader against Morrisville last week, Buffalo State killed an abysmal 6 out of 12 power plays. After a week of intensive practice and video-watching to improve on that, the Bengals responded by killing 14 of 15 penalties.

“I thought it showed some good team character to come back and take care of business,” Carriere said.

Buffalo State’s focus next shifts to archrival Fredonia, which it plays at 7 p.m. Friday at the Ice Arena. Zannella noted the key for the Bengals is to not lose the strong momentum it’s created from resilient play.

“I think that was the biggest thing we proved to ourselves is we can play with anybody,” Zannella said. “Now we have that self-confidence and it’s time to build off of that rather than go back-and-forth, be the .500 hockey team that we’ve been for three years. It’s time to push forward.”

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