Manhattanville made a strong run at the end of last season, surprising Elmira in the first round of the ECAC West playoffs, before falling to RIT in the championship game. The Knights earned a lot of respect around college hockey by going so deep in to the league playoffs in only their second year. And that respect has carried over to this year with a No. 2 ranking in the preseason Coaches Poll.
“It’s going to be an interesting year for us,” said Manhattanville coach Keith Levinthal. “After the success that we had at the end of last year, expectations are high here. We’re not at a point where our goal can be to win a national championship. Our goal is simply to get better than last year. We were a much better team last year when we took things one day at a time, one game at a time. We’ve tried to keep things simple and keep things in perspective.”
Even though Manhattanville is only a third year team, coach Levinthal lost a couple of players during the off season that will be hard to replace.
Tommy Prate (21-17–38) led the Knights in scoring last season. Prate missed a season due to injuries while at Brockport, and probably could have appealed to the NCAA to regain that year of eligibility. But he graduated last spring, and was ready to move on.
Sean Keane (9-7–16) also will be missed this season. Keane was dismissed from school for one semester. While he will be returning to his academic pursuits in January, he will not be rejoining the hockey team until next season.
Coach Levinthal’s recruiting trademark over his first two years was size — 12 out of 20 returning players are six foot or taller. This season he went more towards the skilled players.
“We think it’s a pretty good class. Some guys who will maybe change the look of our team in some respects,” said Levinthal. “I think they will make us a more skilled team, and maybe a little bit more of a tenacious team.”
Leading the freshman is Lee Stubbs. While listed at 5′ 5″, reports are that the listing is being generous, but don’t let his diminutive size be deceiving. Stubbs led the Manitoba JHL in scoring last year with 110 points and was the league’s MVP.
Looking to the West
Looking at the Manhattanville roster, it is easy to notice that a significant portion of the players come from western Canada. Ten players hail from either Alberta or British Columbia, which is definitely unusual for an eastern team.
“[Western Canada] has been a good fit for us. One of the things that we’ve kind of evolved in our recruiting area is that we recruit people first, and players second,” said Levinthal. “And we really like the quality of the kid that we are getting from out there, and they happen to be pretty good hockey players too.”
The Knights will need to come together quickly as a team because November is a very tough month on their schedule. During November, Manhattanville hosts both RIT and Oswego, travels to Potsdam, Wesleyan, and flies to Colorado to play in the Air Force tournament.
Taking the Next Step
Manhattanville will need to play consistently through that stretch of the schedule to get off to a good start. Consistency from game to game, and even period to period, was lacking at times last season, and is something that coach Levinthal will need to develop in his team if they are to take the next step to being a contender.
“We’re a team that can match up real well with anybody,” commented Levinthal. “But we weren’t good enough to just beat anybody either last year. And there were certain games on our schedule [last year] where guys would just say: How did we lose that game? The reality was that it’s not that we lost; we got beat by a team that on that night was a better team. The consistency is a big thing.”
Manhattanville can no longer count on taking an opposing team by surprise, either. The late surge last season got the attention of other teams, and the Valiants are no longer looked at as an underdog. Many of the other ECAC West coaches are mentioning their games against Manhattanville with words such as “tough”, “difficult”, and “crucial”.
Coach Levinthal relishes the challenge though, and believes his team will rise to the expectations of others and of themselves.
“I think we’ve expected to win here from the very beginning,” said Levinthal. “Maybe that sounds crazy for a first or second year program, but I think in large part, part of our success has been that we’ve kind of come in and said: Hey, we’re here to compete, we’re here to win, and we’re going to play.”