OSWEGO — The Oswego State women’s hockey team (10-13-3 overall, 5-9-3 Northeast Women’s Hockey League last season) missed hosting a playoff game during the 2018-2019 season by only two points.
After losing its last regular-season game to Potsdam, the Lakers fell to fourth place in the Northeast Women’s Hockey League and had to travel to top-seeded Plattsburgh State for the semifinals. It resulted in a 7-1 loss that ended the Lakers’ season.
“That (Potsdam loss) stung. That really stung,” Oswego State head coach Diane Dillon said. “I think, just from that alone, the returners have that hunger in their gut, if you will, to win a playoff spot.”
Entering this season, Oswego State only lost two players due to graduation, and three other players didn’t return. But the Lakers brought back 83.7 percent of their scoring production, including sophomore Sara Cruise and senior Eryn Stewart, who both had six goals last season.
Dillon mentioned that the team brought in seven new players, six of which are forwards, and is looking to utilize the size, speed and shooting the team now boasts with its new and returning players. The Lakers brought in junior transfer Amber Thomas from Plymouth State and freshman Maura McKeown from San Leandro, California, both standing at 5-foot-10 to bring in more size.
“I think what we’ve added up front is going to surround our existing forwards with a little more speed and a little bit more ability to get the puck in the net,” Dillon said. “Getting second and third chances will be a difference for us.”
Also new to the program is associate head coach Mark Digby, who joins the women’s program after nine years as assistant coach for the men’s team under head coach Ed Gosek. It is Digby’s first season involved with women’s hockey in any way.
Dillon highlighted Digby’s “knowledge, experience and passion for Laker hockey.” While transitioning, Digby said he wants to make sure every player has confidence heading into each game during the season.
“With my first season coaching women’s hockey, to be guided by someone with Diane’s experience, I think I’m pretty lucky,” he said. “I’m just trying to make sure this is a fun group to be around and each player is able to put forth their best effort on Friday, Saturday, Tuesday, Wednesday, whenever it is we have a game.”
Oswego State will also have two more NEWHL opponents this season with the additions of Canton and Morrisville State. The Lakers will still see every league opponent four times in the regular season, resulting in midweek games, including Wednesday nights.
Senior Kate Randazzo and senior Natalie Giglio both said the addition of new games doesn’t add anything different to the team’s approach, with Digby adding, “You show up here to the rink, you’re here to work.”
“They’re very different schools than us. It’ll be a little bit of a learning curve for us, and how they go about things,” Dillon said. “We’re thrilled to have more SUNY schools playing women’s hockey. We hope a few more are added in the future.”
One constant for the Lakers this season will be the leadership. Randazzo was named captain for the second year in a row, while Giglio was named an alternate for another year. Eryn Stewart and Madison Byrne round out the leadership council.
Oswego State also returns senior goaltender Rachel Farmer for her second season after she transferred from Cortland. She will be one of two goaltenders for the Lakers this season, after bringing in freshman Tia Trovato.
“It’s a situation where a freshman can learn from a senior who’s been in two different programs, which is outstanding,” Dillon said. “I really wish, for Rachel, that she plays well, that she leads her teammates like she did last year and really enjoys the experience. And stops some pucks.”
With not a ton of turnover for the team, Randazzo said the team chemistry early in the season has been strong and they’re “ahead of where they were [last season],” and all eyes are focused on this coming season with the new players.
“Last year’s a hindsight. I can’t really compare it (to this year),” Giglio said. “We have a new approach and we’re focused on that approach, our process and to get better every day.”
Oswego State begins its regular season on Friday, Nov. 1 with a weekend series at Castleton University in Vermont. The Lakers will play two home exhibition games on Oct. 19 and 26, allowing Dillon to see where the team is at.
“We’re hoping to pick up where we left off with the addition of our new players and the experience we gained throughout the year with our senior leadership,” she said. “We’re really looking to make our mark in the NEWHL.”