By the time the Oswego State Men’s hockey team possibly sets foot on the ice, it will have been more than 500 days since their March 7th,2020 loss to Geneseo in the SUNYAC finals. That Game closed out an up and down 2019-2020 season for the Lakers, who finished the season 16-10-1. For Oswego State goaltender Steven Kozikoski, 2020 was a breakout season. The sophomore posted a team-best .924 save percentage and 1.88 goal against average, earning him the nickname “The Wizard of Koz”. Now a junior, Kozikoski had high hopes for the 2020-21 season, until the COVID-19 pandemic hit in March. Kozikoski’s teammate, sophomore Alex Di Carlo, who finished 3rd on the team in goals in the 2019-2020 season, shared the same feelings. The optimism of the two would come crashing down in the end of October 2020, when the SUNYAC suddenly made the decision to cancel the season, only weeks after releasing the schedule. The decision by the SUNYAC left both Kozikoski and Di Carlo frustrated. Kozikoski ultimately came to understand why the decision was made. “Their main goal was to keep students and student-athletes safe,” Kozikoski said of the cancellation. For Di Carlo, it meant the hard work put in by him and his teammates would be wasted. “I felt I worked my hardest this summer and was in a good place coming into a big sophomore year. There’s not many things the boys and I wouldn’t do to have our season back,” explained Di Carlo. Di Carlo also had another reason for his frustration. The season’s cancellation would mean that he would be unable to do something he has done since he was a child; lace up the skates and play. Di Carlo explained that “ Ever since I was a kid, I’ve been used to playing hockey almost every day over the winter season.”
Finding a location for workouts to remain in game-ready shape would present a whole other challenge for both players. Di Carlo was able to find ice time in Fulton twice a week, working on fundamentals like stick handling. However, now that the season has wrapped up for most youth hockey teams, Di Carlo has found it increasingly difficult to find ice. “It’s unfortunate because being on the ice in itself is the best way to get better,” said Di Carlo. Kozikoski was fortunate enough to have trained at some of Assistant Coach Jon Whitelaw’s camps during the summer. Once the semester started, Kozikoski reached out to a few old friends for help, Philadelphia star Joel Farabee, Pittsburgh Penguins prospect Anthony Angello and Syracuse Crunch forward Daniel Wolcott. “These skates were twice a week but after a month school caught up to me and I had to focus on grades. Since then it has been playing men’s leagues games in Fulton and whatever else I can find in the area,” Kozikosky explained.
Staying in shape presented an issue for the two Lakers as well. Kozikoski explained that “in March it was tough as all the gyms were closed and I did not have any workout equipment at home.” Di Carlo took a more homemade approach to the issue, as he put it by “doing some specific workouts in the makeshift gym we have in our backyard.”
Despite all of the setbacks, both players are optimistic about the upcoming season. Increased vaccination distribution and the relaxation of state COVID guidelines. For Di Carlo, who describes himself as a “pretty positive person”, conversations with his coaches have provided a glimmer of hope for a 2020-21 season. According to Di Carlo, “I’ve heard all good things when asking our coaches about it. I know I’m going into this summer with the mentality that we are playing, so that I’m ready both physically and mentally for it.” Kozikosky credits the vaccination initiative created by SUNY Oswego for playing a large role in his increased optimism for a season this winter, however, the goaltender wants to make sure that a very specific group of people are also part of the plan, the Lakers faithful. “Hopefully by then we can pack the campus center, because the games would feel different without the fans being there to support us” Kozikoski said.
The SUNYAC has yet to announce any plans for a 2020-21 winter season, however, following the success of the Spring sports season, hopes are high that the Lakers will be back in the Campus Center Arena in the fall and that Lakers fans will be there to support Di Carlo, Kozikoski and all of the Oswego State Lakers.