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Buffalo State men's hockey rides the learning curve with 10 freshmen

Bring them on.

That's the attitude around Buffalo State men's hockey this weekend as the Bengals kick off their season hosting perennial power Oswego at 7 p.m., Friday.

Oswego has been to five straight Division III Frozen Fours with a national championship in 2007.

Buffalo State's development curve has been about consistently making the conference playoffs.

But 10th-year head coach Nick Carriere isn't focused on matching up to the opponent.

"We beat Oswego in our building for the first time last year," Carriere said. "We did that by worrying about us, our systems, playing the way we wanted to."

The way the Bengals want to play this season will undergo an adjustment. They lost the most successful class in Buffalo State history, one which went to the SUNYAC semifinals consistently and earned the program's first national ranking in the fall of 2010. Goaltender Kevin Carr became the second Bengal to earn All-American honors.

Now, the team looks to a handful of upperclassmen and 10 freshmen to build upon past success.

"We had some old-school guys who are part of that senior class last year," Carriere said. "They had a lot of fun but they played hard and made it very uncomfortable for our opponents. That resonated throughout our league and opponents knew they were in for a tough night when they played us regardless of what the scoreboard said. We made guys work for everything and some of the younger guys were part of that."

Those returning players who learned the success that comes through that style of hard-working play include junior captain Brett Hope (five goals, seven assists), sophomore Taylor Pryce (six goals, 15 assists) and junior blue liner Ben Kramer. Also returning after taking a year away from hockey is junior forward Nick Melligan (Niagara-Wheatfield) who led the team in scoring two years ago with 13 goals and 30 points.

The seniors didn't rule the roost, but the underclassmen learned that work ethic. Now with 10 freshmen, Carriere has adapted his style of coaching to move the freshmen class along.

"Those guys were around the seniors last year and understood the work and compete and fight those older guys passed along," Carriere said. "They probably see me as a coach and where I was four years ago. I was a little harder on the guys, a little different in how I operated. Now I'm a little more rainbows and lollipops with guys, more supportive and communicating more to pass that message along.

"We always adjust based on our personnel. Losing as many as we did, we need to get a feel feel for who our guys really are. We liked all of them in junior hockey, but it's different when you step on the ice with guys who are five years older, 30-40 pounds heavier and faster. It will be a learning curve to see what systems works for us and what style of play we want to embrace to reflect our skill set."

The Bengals open with Oswego Friday at 7 p.m. then host Cortland at 7 on Saturday. Both games are at the Buffalo State Ice Arena.

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