The 1995-96 SUNY Potsdam men’s hockey team remains arguably the programs’ most memorable, its most successful and its most cohesive team that ever stepped on to Maxcy ice.
SUNY Potsdam 2007 Hall of Fame inductee and former head coach Ed Seney had so much faith in the team that he likened them with the moniker of “the team that was most comfortable when the game was uncomfortable.”
“The longer the game ran, the more we thought that we would win,” said coach Seney, who has compiled 326 career victories between 14 seasons at Potsdam and another 11 as the current coach at Saint Anslem’s in Manchester, New Hampshire.
To honor and commemorate the achievements of the 95-96 Bears, a Hall of Fame ceremony will be held in conjunction with the unveiling of the new Maxcy Ice Arena on Nov. 2 against the University of New England at 7 p.m.
The arena, which underwent just over $9 million in renovations and took over a year to reconstruct comes complete with a new high efficiency refrigeration system, larger ice surface, boards and glass as well as expanded team benches. For the fans, the most important improvements include a new climate control system and new seating.
The squad will be the fourth full roster team to be inducted into the Bears Hall of Fame. Prior legendary teams included both National Championship men’s basketball teams from 1981 and 1986 and the wrestling team that won the SUNYAC conference during the 1973 campaign.
Led by Seney, the ’95-96 ice hockey team went a then program-best 18-10-2 (11-3 in conference play) and seemed to defy the odds time and time again by having a knack for winning in crunch time.
The story of coach Seney and the Bears began in 1988 when the Lake Placid native was hired on as Potsdam’s new head coach.
Of course, Rome was not built in a day.
Potsdam had produced just two above .500 seasons in Seney’s first seven seasons, but the players and coaches kept at it. Lightning was caught in a bottle when everything began to mesh.
As Seney would explain, “It was my eighth year. It took time to get the culture that we wanted to have, but we had all the pieces finally in place; the scoring, the goaltending and the toughness.”
When Potsdam reached the NCAA tournament, Seney referred to it as something that he would never forget.
“I took a lot of pride in it,” said Seney, who would go on to win the SUNYAC Coach of the Year honors on three occasions. “The team and all the players really deserved it. My family, including my son, daughter and my wife all went to those games. They had been with me through all the lean years.”
Dramatic moments underscored Potsdam’s only trip to the NCAA Division III Hockey Tournament and SUNYAC Championship when the Bears won two mini-games in the SUNYAC playoffs.
After falling in game one of the SUNYAC semifinals, Potsdam dug deep for a 5-4 game two victory against Oswego State. The Bears clinched the series after taking the mini-game 1-0.
After a 4-4 tie at Plattsburgh State in game one of the SUNYAC finals, Potsdam battled in game two to a 3-3 tie in front of the largest crowd they would see all season (3,543 fans) before winning a second mini-game 1-0 to earn its’ first berth into the NCAAs.
“We were up 3-1,” Naughton said. “We knew there were high-powered and were going to send everything but the kitchen sink at us. A year earlier, we might have lost that game. But we kept battling and battling to force that mini-game and we got the bounce this time. It was a great feeling to finally get it done especially for coach, who had been through some tough years.”
Tony Matczynski was named the tournament’s Most Valuable Player.
Naughton, the Bears’ all-time leading scorer and Hall of Famer, fellow Hall of Famer Nathan Sunday and goalie Dave Dragone were named to the all-tournament first team.
Naughton became Potsdam’s fourth hockey All-American two seasons later.
“Our success really had nothing to do with hockey,” coach Seney said. “It was about how we came together as a team. We all had the common goal on and off the ice. If there were any problems, the team would handle it themselves. And, this was a team who never got rattled. When we were on the verge, we made a play.”
The Bears set high expectations from the outset by winning its’ first seven games against Plymouth State, Saint Michael’s, Cortland State, Oswego State, Fredonia State, Buffalo State and American International by a combined score of 45-17.
Potsdam’s strength through adversity moment occurred during a humbling 9-1 loss to Middlebury. It marked the turning point of the season in many ways according to coach Seney.
“That game made us realize that we had to work harder,” Seney said. “We knew that we were a really good team at that point, but we wouldn’t be able to win just on talent. Sometimes, you won’t believe that you have any flaws until you see them in a loss. When you face a team that is just as talented as you are, you can’t win on talent alone.”
The Bears rebounded with great resolve by picking up key SUNYAC victories against Geneseo State (5-2) and Brockport State (5-4) to get back on track.
A rematch against Middlebury in early January proved how far the Bears had come in the matter of less than two months. Despite a 1-0 loss, Potsdam had proven to their opponents and most importantly, to themselves that they had belonged in the discussion as a serious championship contender.
Daryn McLean, 2010 Bears Hall of Fame inductee as an individual player, recounted the difference between the first and second meetings with Middlebury.
“After that first game, we needed to have a completely different approach and continue to grind it out,” McLean said. “[In the second game,] we played well and it could have gone either way. We were right there with one of the best teams in the nation.”
McLean added that the team developed a healthy chip on their collective shoulders for showing that their team could win.
“When we played teams who were above us in the standings or essentially even with us on paper, I think other teams were still viewing us a mid-card program,” McLean said.
“And, we had a lot of scrappy players who didn’t enjoy losing and were willing to go that extra mile to get results. We experienced a cultural shift. We went from hoping to win the game to expecting to win. We knew that we could beat them. We had built a lot of confidence and had the attitude that we could win on any given night.”
It all came to fruition when Potsdam upset arch-nemesis Plattsburgh State in their building during the SUNYAC final.
“It was exciting and stressful at the same time,” McLean said. “It was a lot of back and forth. Various guys stepped and even guys who didn’t play a ton came up with big plays. Everybody contributed. They have a storied franchise and they probably felt like they were going to win this like they usually do. I never heard a rink go from pretty darn loud to pretty quiet. We had maybe 200 Potsdam fans who went to that game and we took a great team picture afterwards with them.”
Potsdam was a matchup nightmare for the opposition’s defense because the scoring came in a myriad of channels as seven different players on the Bears racked up at least 28 points.
Leading the way was Naughton, who piled up team highs in goals (27), assists (29) and points (56). The Robin to his Batman was McLean, who recorded 18 goals and 26 assists for 44 points.
Supplemental punch was not far behind as Mike Peters (41 points), Sunday (30), Matczynski (29), Jeff Johnson (29) and Pete Chandler (28) did their own damage to help light the lamp.
Scoring was contagious to the point where 22 players notched at least one of the team’s 370 points and 18 players scored at least one of the team’s 141 goals.
Dragone started 26 games, posting a 15-9-2 record between the pipes and totaled 719 saves with an .895 save percentage and 3.41 goals against average.
“At the end of the day, we all wanted to win,” Naughton said. “Whoever is scoring, it’s better for the team. We had three good lines that could score anytime. Usually, good teams have one line with a second line that could sprinkle in scores. But we had three lines. We had all guys over six-feet too so that was pretty rare. We were able to wear other teams down or beat them with speed. We were very versatile.”
And, if they fell behind, they had coach Seney’s counsel and calm nature to steer them in the right direction.
“He’s the smartest hockey mind that has ever coached me,” Naughton said. “He would try different things. He would make adjustments. He adapted to the game very well, especially that year. He had a pulse on our team. He knew what button to push.”
Seney would tell you his job was made much easier with the type of personalities that were in the locker room.
“There was no jealousy with that team,” Coach Seney said. “Even if I had just pulled a guy from the game, that guy would cheer on the rest of his teammates.”
One for all and all for one, this was the 1995-96 Potsdam men’s ice hockey team.