Thursday, November 3, 2011

Running With the Devils

I'll be honest, I know very little about the hockey program representing the State University of New York at Fredonia, other than the basics. The Blue Devils are one of the best programs both within their conference, the SUNYAC, and nationally, in NCAA Division III. They've posted winning campaigns in 16 of the last 22 seasons. They've been to the DIII national championship game (1994-1995) and have also gone 29-1-4 (1995-1996). They've met the Icers on three occasions - all during the 1990s - and came away with decisive victories each time, including most recently a 6-2 win over PSU's 1997-1998 ACHA national championship team.

More recently, Fredonia State - featuring 20 freshman and sophomores - was within one game (a 4-1 loss to Plattsburgh State) of a SUNYAC tournament title and NCAA tournament appearance in 2010-2011. This year, FSU is off to a 2-1-1 start after sweeping Assumption and settling for a tie-loss weekend against SUNYAC opponents Brockport and Geneseo. Finally, and most significantly to why we're here, they presently stand as the biggest test Penn State has faced so far this season, one which will be settled Saturday at 7:00 p.m. in the Ice Pavilion.

To go a little deeper into what we'll be watching in two days, TYT acquired the assistance of FSU assistant coach T.J. Manastersky. Manastersky, now beginning his third season with the program, is a former defenseman for conference rival Oswego State. He also coached at NCAA Division I Canisius while working on his master's degree prior to his arrival at Fredonia.

Thank You Terry: Coach, first off, thanks for doing this. For those of us who have never seen you play, what can we expect from you in terms of style?

T.J. Manastersky: We try to play a north south game based on hard work and grit. When we are able to do that we are successful.

TYT: With three seniors and eight freshmen, is it fair to call your team young? Maybe not, since those freshmen have scored more than half of your goals so far - there doesn't seem to be much of a learning curve with those guys!

TM: We are a young team and with some exciting young players, but our success will depend on how well our seniors and juniors lead us and show the way to the freshman players. Fredonia hockey has to play a certain way and it starts with the leadership group of players. It might take us a while before we are where we want to be, but in the meantime we need to find ways to win games.

TYT: Can't talk about scoring without mentioning one of those seniors, [forward] Bryan Ross. Safe to say he'll have a pretty lofty place in school history when he's done after this year?

TM: Bryan Ross is a special player. He sees the game in a unique way that has allowed him to be successful at Fredonia. Mostly, though, it is his dedication to improving everyday. It is cliche, but true to say he is the first one on the ice and the last one off most days at practice.

Senior captain Ross, who became the 16th Blue Devil to reach 100th career points earlier this season, is a cousin of former Philadelphia Flyer and Alabama-Huntsville legend Jared Ross. Photo: Jerry Reilly/Fredonia State SID

TYT: Amidst all the New Yorkers and Canadians, you do have two Pennsylvanians playing something resembling a homecoming game. What do [junior forward] Will McLaughlin [from Mountain Top] and [freshman defenseman] Ian Ellenberger [from Hershey] bring to the team?

TM: Will brings unbelievable speed and is pound for pound the strongest guy on our team. Ian is a skilled, young defenseman with great upside.

TYT: How are you approaching this game? For Penn State, or any ACHA team, any opponent with "NCAA" in parentheses after the name is a huge test. We don't have too much history, but Fredonia did win all three matchups by at least four, including one over one of our ACHA national championship teams. Is there a possible complacency issue, or is the Penn State name and almost-DI status enough to fight that?

TM: We have a high level of respect for the program at Penn State. ACHA or not, they have won a lot of games and have proven to be a quality program. I suspect this year's team will be a little different in the midst of the transition to DI. We fully expect this game to be a big challenge and test for us.

TYT: Talk a little about Coach [Jeff] Meredith. Anything he hasn't seen in 24 seasons and 335 wins?

TM: Coach Meredith has seen a lot of things in his career. He has been through national championship games and everything in between. It is a constant learning experience working with him. One of the best attributes of Coach Meredith is that he is a person first. He treats his staff and players with great respect and truly cares for the individual, not just for the role they play in his program. He is a great example of how doing things the right way will lead to not only longevity, but also great success. But, if you ask him, he will tell you that he hasn't worked a day in his life.

Fifteen of Meredith's wins came via the 2007 SUNYAC tournament champs.

TYT: You started a team blog over the summer [], and it's one of the more unique things I've seen, where players take turns chipping in short entries. How did the idea for that come about?

TM: We are always trying to find ways to reach alumni, friends of the program and of course potential recruits. Last spring we met with a few of the other coaches on campus at Fredonia as a sort of professional development day. One of the things we talked about was social media and technology. Coach Meredith loved the concept of the blog and has done a great job at making it what it is today. Thanks for liking it! We are also on Twitter [@Fredonia_D3Hky] and Facebook [].

TYT: Finally, what thoughts do you have about PSU's entry into Division I? Did we ruin college hockey or not?

TM: You did not ruin college hockey. It seems to be the catalyst that has drastically changed the landscape, but that does not have to be a bad thing. Nothing ever stays the same and we all need to adapt. My personal hope is that in the end we have created more opportunities for young hockey players to play at the NCAA level and for coaches to continue to provide positive experiences for their athletes.

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