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BUFFALO STATE BENGALS SEASON PREVIEW

by Jourdon LaBarber / Buffalo Sabres

Creating a balance between experience and new blood will be the key for a Buffalo State hockey team coming off a season that saw the Bengals claim their first postseason victory in program history.

Those Bengals return six of their top seven point scorers from last season. But as they look forward to taking the next step – a State University of New York Athletic Conference (SUNYAC) Championship – they must do so in the absence of two-year captain Mike Zannella and four-year goaltender Kevin Carr.

2014-15 BUFFALO STATE SCHEDULE

“You always have some holes to fill, but we think we have a nice group of players that came in as first year guys and we’ll be leaning on the shoulders of those guys to turn it on a little bit,” said Bengals head coach Nick Carriere. “And we’ll be expecting those guys who are returning to serve as role models and help the younger guys figure out the learning curve as quick as they can.”

What To Watch For
Just how the Bengals fill those holes may be the determining factor in whether or not they’re able to rebound from a tough year on the road and survive a tough SUNYAC schedule in 2014-15. Zannella and Carr served as captain and co-captain, so finding a replacement is as much about leadership as it is on-ice performance.

Carriere believes he has that replacement in junior forward Brett Hope.

“Brett Hope has emerged; he was an assistant for us last year with Mike [Zannella] and Kevin Carr as our captain,” Carriere said. “He’ll be a guy that we look too to kind of pick up where ‘Z’ left off and we hope and plan on the fact that, having spent time with Mike and Kevin and having seen some of the things that they brought to the table, that Brett will be able to build off of that.”

With Hope filling the void as team leader, that leaves the Bengals’ one glaring question mark in goal. In Carr, Buffalo State had not only an All-SUNYAC goaltender, but a Third-Team All American in his senior season.

Now, three goaltenders will all share an equal chance at the starting job: junior Pete Dudek, sophomore Mike DeLaVergne and freshman Ian Sylves. DeLaVergne, a former champion in junior hockey, had his talent touted by Buffalo State coaches but played in only one game last season. Dudek, meanwhile, did not receive any ice time last year, a testament to the importance of having Carr in net.

“If any of those three guys step in the two weeks that we have before we play Oswego, if they step up and demonstrate that they’re the guy who’s stopping the most pucks consistently and is working hard and doing the little things, then we’re going to have to make that decision based on what’s going to help our team win,” Carriere said.

Key Returners & New Additions
Along with Hope, Buffalo State also returns their leading scorer in senior Dan Turgeon, who scored 12 goals and added 15 assists last season while claiming Second Team All-SUNYAC honors in the process. Taylor Price, a 21-point scorer as a freshman last year, will also look to build on a strong rookie campaign in helping carry the offensive load this year.

And yet, even with such players returning, the Bengals will rely on a large class of freshmen to fill several roster holes, especially on defense. Much like the opportunity Sylves will be given in net, Carrier emphasizes the fact that freshmen will have the chance to compete for spots.

“We brought in four freshmen defensemen who are all going to have a chance to carve out a spot in the lineup, and we have six freshmen forwards who are going to have that same opportunity,” he said. “We tell guys, ‘it doesn’t matter how long you’ve been here, it matters how well you play.’”

Games To Watch
One of Buffalo State’s biggest wins last season came in a 4-0 victory at home over Oswego, one of the class teams in the SUNYAC conference. The Bengals should have confidence, then, when they play Oswego again in their home opener on Oct. 31.

“It’s exciting when you have a lot of new blood, because they don’t know what it’s like to play a home game here,” Carriere said.“And we’re going to have four of them before we go out on the road.”

Once that four-game homestand ends on Nov.8, Buffalo State will play almost exclusively road games until Feb. 2 with only one home contest in-between – potentially troubling for a team that won only two games on the road all of last season.

Carriere can think of several reasons for their unfavorable home-road splits from a year ago – a brawl that lost two of their star players among them – but with their schedule this season, he knows they’ll have to be ready for each and every game.

“I could give you all kinds of excuses and this and that, but in the end we just need to be prepared for the next game that’s in front of us and try to focus on that and take care of it. Whether it’s at home or on the road,” he said.

As for the highlight of their SUNYAC schedule, Buffalo State will circle the same two match-ups as they do every year: the contests against ‘Battle by the Lake’ rival Fredonia. Last season, the two teams tied both of their matches, leaving the Bengals hungry to beat their rival and Carriere anxious to play the team he once served as an assistant coach for yet again.

“When it comes down to it, we want to beat ‘em,” he said. “It’s nice to get one, but it’s a lot nicer to get two so we have a little circle on the calendar, yeah, there’s probably a little bit extra for those Fredonia games because of my past and our program’s past.”

The date the Bengals would like to have circled most, however, is Saturday, March 7 – the SUNYAC Championship Game. Buffalo State has made the playoffs three times under Carriere, and last year took the next step by winning their quarterfinal matchup with Brockport.

This year, they expect the trend to continue.

“We’ve exceeded kinda what’s been done here in the past three years. We’ve been there the past few years, and now it’s time to take that next step,” he said. “Now it’s taking that next step, which is winning two of them and getting that chance in the national tournament.”

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