The regular season isn’t over yet, but playoff-style hockey is already the name of the game in the ECAC West. With playoff berths and seeding positions on the line, teams are playing with the single-game mentality in every contest.
Battling for the Final Playoff Spot
Utica and Hobart faced off Wednesday night, battling for that fourth and final playoff spot. Utica needed a win to make the playoffs, Hobart only needed to win or tie to clinch the position.
The game was a hard-fought affair. Hobart built up to a 3-0 lead through two periods of play and looked to be in control. But Utica showed surprising character for a young team in the third period, scoring two goals in the opening seven minutes to close the gap to 3-2.
Hobart was able to hold on through the storm, and freshman Jesse Desper scored the insurance goal with less than seven minutes remaining in the game to give Hobart the win.
“My hats off to our guys,” said Utica coach Gary Heenan. “It’s an accomplishment to play for the playoffs in the second to last game of the season. But it’s still a disappointment. We still feel that we underachieved. This has to be another step on that learning curve.”
Neumann is Family
Neumann travelled to play Hobart and RIT last weekend, and Manhattanville on Wednesday, and got thoroughly thumped in all three contests. However, even through all the adversity there just might be a little light at the end of the tunnel for the Knights.
Kudos have to be given to the Neumann players for their attitude during the second half of this season. The Knights have been thoroughly outplayed and outscored in every game since the holidays. However, from coach Nick Russo on down, everyone still has a positive attitude and is still enjoying playing each and every game.
This team could have easily degenerated to the depths of frustration, despair, and disappointment. And they could have played headhunting hockey, looking to make each game a bloodbath. However, the Neumann program has more class than that.
I watched one of Neumann’s games last weekend, from right next to their bench. I was amazed at how supportive the players were of each other, joking, enjoying the experience, and helping each other out. If you were watching that bench, you would have thought Neumann was well above .500, and not in the process of getting beaten 7-1. This is a team that is a family, something great to see at any level of sport.
Some may not believe it with Neumann’s 2-22 record this season, but statistically the Knights are doing better than they did last year as independents. Here are some numbers to compare:
2000-2001: 1-19 NCAA record, .4539 strength of schedule
2001-2002: 2-22 NCAA record, .5432 strength of schedule
Neumann has played a significantly tougher schedule this season as it entered the ECAC West. And yet the Knights have been able to keep their record above last year’s.
So, maybe I am being an optimist here, but also maybe a couple of good recruiting classes will allow Neumann to dig out of the pit of despair on the way to gaining some respect around college hockey.
The countdown to the playoffs continues, with only two weekends of regular-season play remaining.
With Hobart’s win over Utica on Wednesday, we now know the four participants in the playoffs. Seeding still has to be determined by the remaining games.
Manhattanville and Hobart are jockeying between third and fourth place. They square off in Hobart on Saturday afternoon.
“Now that we are in the playoffs, all we can do is go as far as we can go,” said Hobart’s Mark Taylor. “I’m glad that our league is to the point that you have to really push to make the playoffs. I think you are seeing the benefits of adding new teams to the league in just the first year.”
First place can be decided this weekend, also, if RIT manages to defeat Elmira in the Game of the Week. Remember from last week’s column that RIT owns the tiebreakers on Elmira. However, if Elmira wins, then all it needs to do is not stumble in its two remaining games next week to claim the title, and very likely the NCAA Pool B bid.
As a reminder, the tiebreaking criteria once again:
1) Head to head
2) Number of conference wins
3) Record vs. common opponents
4) Overall record
By The Numbers
As the regular season winds down, there are some amazing numbers associated with teams throughout the ECAC West. Here are a few highlights that I found interesting.
Game of the Week
Once again, it comes down to Elmira and RIT battling it out at the end of the season for the title. This is the 60th meeting between these two teams, and the series is tied, 28-28-3.
The big prize that goes along with winning that title is the right to host the league playoffs. And that home rink advantage can be huge.
Elmira enters Ritter Arena on Saturday with a perfect 7-0 league record, ranked No. 8 in the nation, and defeated RIT 4-2 earlier in the season. RIT skates on to the ice as the three-time defending ECAC West champion and ranked No. 2 in the nation.
“This game is the kind of atmosphere that we like to play in, a full house and a great opponent,” said RIT coach Wayne Wilson.
The question is whether RIT can overcome Elmira’s penchant for defeating nationally-ranked teams this season. Everything is on the line — just the way it should be at this point.