Last season marked a first in Jeff Meredith's long coaching career, one that he'd like to forget.
In 25 seasons as Fredonia State men's hockey coach, Meredith never before had a team finish last in SUNYAC scoring. Even more humbling, the Blue Devils' 1.77 goals per game ranked last among all 72 NCAA Division III teams.
"One of our priorities is to score more goals than we did last year," said Meredith, whose 26th Blue Devils team gets its 2013-14 season under way this weekend with a pair of SUNYAC road games - Friday at defending SUNYAC-champ Oswego and Saturday at Cortland.
"It appears that we have been doing that in practice, but this weekend we need to be able to translate that into SUNYAC games."
The roster is comprised of five seniors, five juniors, six sophomores and 13 freshmen. Several of the newcomers are likely to be in the lineup Friday at Oswego. Three in particular have been impressive during pre-season practices - forward Frankie Hart, defenseman Zach White and goaltender Christopher Eiserman.
Forwards Hunter Long, Mac McAvoy and Marcus Ortiz; and defenseman Marcus Moles are possible opening-night starters, as is Eiserman in goal backed up by another newcomer, sophomore Jeff Flagler.
"I think a pretty good group of freshman forwards," Meredith said. "But again, with any freshman, it's how quick they make the transition to the speed of the game."
Returning players include captain Alex Perkins and alternate captains Andrew Christ and Ryan Edens. All three are seniors: Perkins and Christ are forwards and Edens is a defenseman.
Other veteran forwards include senior Matt Owczarczak, and juniors Stephen Castriota and Jared Wynia. In addition to Edens, sophomore Ryan Wilkinson is a key returning defender.
Nine players were lost via graduation, including forward Mat Hehr, defenseman Brad Nunn and goaltender Mark Friesen. Hehr accumulated 83 points over four seasons, Nunn appeared in 102 of a possible 106 games and later received an invitation to the New York Islanders' prospect camp, while Friesen had a career 27-31-6 record with a 2.86 goals-against average.
Oswego, as usual, is a formidable opponent, especially to start the season. The Lakers are No. 4 in the USCHO.com NCAA Division III pre-season poll, one spot in front of Plattsburgh. Other SUNYAC schools receiving USCHO.com poll votes are Geneseo and Buffalo State.
The Blue Devils have also spent time in the national polls over the years. In order to get back there this season, they will need to rebound from last year's 7-16-3 finish. Some type of rebound seems likely: Never before has Meredith's teams won fewer than 10 games in back-to-back seasons.
"The SUNYAC as a whole," Meredith said, "is going to be, I think, probably the strongest conference in the nation. I think it's going to be very tight from top to bottom and that's what makes us so great."
Author of a 352-268-64 career coaching record, Meredith said he's ready for his 26th season to begin.
"I think we have a very good group here and I am excited to see them play in a real game," he said. "We have had some good practices and I like the way that the group is picking up on our points of emphasis this year.
"We have had a very good off season, as a team, in terms of working hard, but also growing together as a group. I am excited at the direction our leadership is taking us and look forward to seeing them in action."