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FREDONIA STATE CLIMBS NATIONAL HOCKEY LADDER

Fredonia State's hockey team lost only one game a year ago, but that was to eventual champion Wisconsin-River Falls in the semifinals of the NCAA Division III championships.

Coach Jeff Meredith's Blue Devils (22-4-4) take another crack at the national title beginning at 4 p.m. Friday when they face Wisconsin-Superior (23-7-1) in a semifinal game in Middlebury, Vt.

The winner will meet the survivor of the game between host Middlebury College (20-2-2) and defending champion UW-River Falls (18-9-4) in the title game at 7:30 p.m. Saturday.

Despite a reputation as a power in track and field and soccer, Fredonia State never has won a national title in any sport.

"We're hopeful," Meredith said. "We're going with intentions of doing it, but so are the other three teams. It depends on who comes to play and it may come down to who has the hot goaltender."

In less than seven years, Meredith has built Fredonia into a small college hockey power. The Blue Devils are 118-66-14 under his coaching, 51-5-8 since the beginning of last season. "We're fortunate because we've been able to attract some of the best Division III players in North America," said Meredith, a Brockport graduate with coaching experience on the staffs at Ohio State and Hamilton College.

Among those players are forwards Craig Conley, Jeff Lupu, Eric Preston and Gary Masocco; defenseman Doug Florkowski; and goaltender Jason Sirota.

The majority of the Fredonia players come from Michigan (nine) and Western New York (six), but others come from Canada, Vermont, Indiana, Long Island and even California.

Masocco, a senior center from Lackawanna, is the Blue Devils' scoring leader with 39 goals and 26 assists for 65 points. He transferred to Fredonia last year from SUNY-Canton, a two-year school. He led Fredonia with 21 power-play goals and seven winning goals this season.

"Gary is what you call a pure goal scorer. He's one of those guys who has a knack of finishing plays," Meredith said.

Masocco centers a line that has the Preston brothers, Eric (23-29-52) and Brad (11-26-37), on the wings. The Prestons call Mission Viejo, Calif. home, but are from Michigan and attended Northwood School in Lake Placid.

Masocco, SUNYAC player of the year, also plays wing on the Fredonia power-play unit, which is clicking at a 33 percent rate after soaring as high as 41 percent.

Besides the Masocco line, Fredonia has another formidable forward unit of Lupu (28-32-60), and wingers Conley (19-45-74) and Dave Simpson (12-20-32). Conley, a senior, and Lupu, a junior, are from the Detroit area and made second-team Division III All-America in 1993-94.

"You can throw a blanket over the two lines, they are so close," Meredith said.

Telly Forcucci (17-18-35), a former Erie Community College player from Buffalo, centers the third line.

Florkowski, from Depew and the Niagara Scenics junior program, anchors the top defensive pairing with Mike McDonald of Farmington Hills, Mich.

Sirota, who comes from Thornhill, Ont., is 17-3-3 with a 3.11 goals-against average. He was in goal for Fredonia's quarterfinal series victory over Salem (Mass.) State March 10-11. Backup goalie Eric Przykuta from Nichols was 7-1-1 in the regular season but has not played in the postseason.

UW-Superior swept UW-Stevens Point, 8-4 and 5-2, in the quarterfinals.

"They are a big, strong physical team with huge defensemen who play a large part in their offense and just fire the puck," Meredith said of Superior.

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