OSWEGO — In the midst of touring some awe-inspiring sites in Europe together this past summer, the Oswego State men’s ice hockey team utilized its extra time to get a head start on building toward the upcoming season.
The Lakers, who will open the regular season by hosting Cortland State at 7 p.m. tonight in the Marano Campus Center Arena, spent about three weeks together in August, beginning with a six-day training camp on campus followed by a 10-day international tour that featured three exhibition victories.
Oswego head coach Ed Gosek and his veteran players believe that the added offseason experience — the first such trip in program history — has helped speed the team’s learning process entering the new season.
“We did get a lot of benefits on the ice, just being able to play together and get comfortable with each other, but I think it was more off-ice,” said senior forward Derek Brown, who recorded a hat trick in Oswego’s 9-1 exhibition victory over Carleton Place on Oct. 19.
“We got to grow,” he added. “You’re away with the team for 10 straight days so I think everyone became a little bit closer, and I think we were able to come back here and it makes you a little more comfortable in the locker room, a little more relaxed, and we’re just trying to build a good team culture because at the end of the day that’s what will either put us over the hump or not.”
Oswego State is ranked second in the SUNYAC Preseason Coaches Poll, receiving 57 votes to finish behind first-place Geneseo, which beat Oswego in last year’s conference championship game.
The Lakers are aiming to build upon their 19-7-2 overall record last season, finishing 11-4-1 in the SUNYAC. They garnered an at-large bid to the NCAA Division III championship tournament for the ninth time in head coach Ed Gosek’s 16-year tenure, but suffered a 3-2 loss to Hobart in the opening round.
They bring back an experienced squad led by 14 seniors and only two newcomers, and also return four All-SUNYAC selections: Senior forward Anthony Passero, senior defenseman Tyler Currie, senior forward Michael Gillespie, and junior defender Max Novick.
“To be able to have so many seniors and just so many guys that are comfortable being here already, knowing how everyone operates on and off the ice, it’s a lot easier for us to get things going early in the season,” said junior defenseman and assistant captain, Carter Allen.
The team convened on-campus on Aug. 1 to begin preparation for its preseason overseas tour and then flew to Milan, Italy, for the start of the exhibition swing. They visited various destinations in Italy and Rome throughout the trip while sweeping a trio of games against overseas professional teams.
Returning players believe that there was a noticeable difference in the team’s readiness and understanding of team concepts throughout preseason practices due to the offseason adventure.
“We were able to bring pretty much our whole team with us whereas other teams can’t really be together that early in the summer,” Allen said. “We weren’t back in school yet, so a lot of guys (from other schools) had to wait a few weeks to even see their team yet whereas we were able to hang out and get the chemistry going. For us to be able to get together, even off the ice, let alone to have the practices and games we were able to play, it really makes a difference.”
The Lakers will begin the season with four straight home games at the Marano Campus Center Arena, including its annual “Whiteout Weekend,” against longtime SUNYAC rival Plattsburgh on Nov. 8.
“It’s a huge stretch,” Gosek said. “You want to get off on the right step, especially at home, and pressure-wise, it can be a lot harder to play at home. You have your home crowd, expectations, but with a veteran team I would expect our guys to channel that in the right direction and in a positive way.”
The Lakers produced a strong preseason, claiming a 9-1 victory over Carleton Place on Oct. 19 and a 4-3 win over Nazareth on Oct. 26. Gosek said he believes that was another sign of the carryover from his squad’s offseason tour.
“I think it was a chance, most importantly, for us to come together as a team,” Gosek said of the trip. “That was first and foremost. They were a tight group to begin with, and I think coming back here for training camp then going to Europe for eight days and being in the hotels, buses, sight-seeing, the games, all of it was an opportunity for us to get to know each other better. They want to play for one another and they care for one another, and I would say that’s probably the No. 1 objective.”