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This Week in ECAC West

College Hockey:
This Week in the ECAC West: Feb. 21, 2002

The headline for last weekend could have been “Stunner Saturday.”

RIT defeated Elmira with a stunning two seconds remaining. Hobart routed Manhattanville by a stunning margin. Utica and Neumann completed their seasons with a stunning, ice-clearing brawl. And all that occurred within a six-hour span on Saturday.

Stunner Number One

“Stunner Saturday” started at 4 p.m. at the Geneva Recreation Center. Just eight minutes into the game, Hobart freshman Craig Levey (13-14-27) scored his first of three goals in the game and got the Statesmen off to the races. Before the carnage was over, Hobart would score a total of seven goals, while giving up none, and roll to an easy 7-0 win over Manhattanville.

“We played awesome. There were some opportunities they gave us and we didn’t miss,” said Hobart coach Mark Taylor. “On the bench, I just tried to stay out of the way.”

With the win, Adam Lavelle (.904 SV%, 3.53 GAA) set a Hobart record for most wins by a goaltender in a season with 10. Manhattanville is still winless at the Geneva Rec Center, having a 0-2-1 record in three trips there.

It was the players who came together before the game and decided to put the emphasis on playing a strong game.

“It was our senior night, and some of the players wanted to make it special,” said Taylor. “It was a sign of leadership from the co-captains [senior Dan] Bush and [junior Matt] Daley, and from the young guys as well.”

Manhattanville’s weakness in the game was something that has been a strength all season, namely goaltending. Even after the debacle, the four goaltenders on the Valiant roster have combined for a .896 save percentage and 2.76 goals against average for the season. Pretty good numbers. But against Hobart in this game, they couldn’t stop a beach ball as three rotated in and out of net.

“Our goaltending was atrocious,” said Manhattanville coach Keith Levinthal. “Our team wasn’t good enough to overcome bad goaltending.”

“But I can’t put all the blame on the goaltenders,” continued Levinthal. “All week, the coaches worked with the forwards and defensemen, laying out goals and exactly what we wanted them to work on and improve on to get ready. We kind of neglected the goaltenders because they have been so solid since the holidays. In some ways we may have taken their good play the last few week’s for granted.”

Stunner Number Two

“Stunner Saturday” continued into the evening. RIT’s Ritter Arena was packed to the rafters with over 2,100 fans of both RIT and Elmira persuasions. Just as the singing of the National Anthem began, a phone rang in the Press Box updating everyone on the final score from the game at Hobart. As the Anthem continued, the media folks began picking their collective jaws off the floor as they heard the results. You had the feeling that the wild ride was just beginning.

Elmira dominated the game through two periods of play. The Soaring Eagles played nearly flawless hockey, causing RIT fits with an aggressive forecheck, and watching Rob Ligas (.908 save%, 3.05 GAA) stone those chances that the Tigers did get on net. Elmira’s senior captain Steve Kaye (12-14-26) led the charging forecheck and was outstanding all night long.

The Soaring Eagles had built a 3-1 lead by the end of two periods, and looked well on the way to winning the regular-season crown.

RIT was able to solve the Elmira forecheck a little better in the third period, and the Tigers started to pour pressure on to Ligas in the Soaring Eagle net. The work finally paid off at the 8:19 mark with a power-play tally.

Then less than two minutes later, Elmira made its only major mistake of the game. Elmira got caught with all its players on one side of the ice in its zone. RIT’s Lanner Fayad (11-8-19) and Ryan Fairbarn (5-26-31) were able to combine all alone down the slot for the game-tying goal.

The war continued as the third period wound down, and it looked like the two teams were headed for overtime. As the final seconds ticked off the clock, RIT’s David Bagley (15-27-42) dumped the puck deep into the Elmira zone. Mike Tarantino (22-19-41) collected the puck in the corner and found linemate Sam Hill (10-18-28) all alone in front of the net. Hill one-timed home the pass, with only two seconds remaining on the clock, to give RIT the 4-3 victory in stunning fashion as the RIT side of the stands erupted in joy.

Stunner Number Three

The fact that Utica beat Neumann in the final contest for both teams wasn’t so surprising. The score may have been a little higher than many would have expected, with Utica winning 11-3. But what earned this game’s inclusion in the “Stunner Saturday” group was the brawl that occurred early in the second period.

“Frustration kind of set in on Neumann’s part, and some on ours also,” said Utica coach Gary Heenan. “Neither of us were playing for anything, and things got a little out of control.”

Five players from each team, including both goaltenders on the ice, were given game disqualifications. By the end of the game, one more player from each team had earned early trips to the showers. So each team was skating with a very short bench in the third period.

“We started our third goalie, it was his first start of the year,” continued Heenan. “He didn’t hesitate to skate the length of the ice to join the melee. So he gets his first start and only plays one period.”

ECAC West Playoff Watch

With the win over Elmira on Saturday, RIT has sewn up the regular-season title. The title also earns RIT the right to host the ECAC West playoffs, to be held on March 1 and 2.

Elmira, with two games remaining, has clinched the second seed in the ECAC West playoffs.

With Utica’s and Neumann’s seasons complete, the only thing left to decide is who will finish in third and fourth place. Hobart jumped over Manhattanville into third place with its win on Saturday.

If a tiebreaker is needed between Hobart and Manhattanville to award third place, here is how the two teams compare:

1) Head to head – Tied 1-1
2) Number of conference wins – Advantage Hobart: five wins vs. Manhattanville’s four
3) Record vs. common opponents – Advantage Manhattanville: 9-5-2 vs Hobart’s 8-8
4) Overall record – Advantage Manhattanville: 15-6-3 vs Hobart’s 10-14

Conclusion: if Manhattanville ties Elmira and Hobart loses to Elmira, then Hobart remains as the third seed in the tournament by having more league wins. If Manhattanville beats Elmira, and Hobart ties Elmira to maintain the tie in league points, then Manhattanville would earn the third seed because of a better record against common opponents. A win by one team and a loss by the other gives third place to the victor.

NCAA Pool B Bid Possibilities

It is still a neck-and-neck race between Elmira and RIT for the NCAA Pool B bid. Let’s break it down using the same selection criteria as the NCAA.

For all but the last of the criteria below, only in-region games count in the statistics. All games against NCHA and MIAC opponents are ignored.

The NCAA Championship Handbook states that the committee must review all of the criteria in the order that they are listed. However, it allows the committee latitude on how much weight to apply to each criteria.

Criterion No. 1 – Season Record. Advantage RIT.

The first criterion is composed of Winning Percentage, Head to Head Results, and Results Against Common Opponents.

  • Winning Percentage – Advantage RIT. Assuming Elmira wins its last two regular-season games, the Soaring Eagles would have a .842 winning percentage, and RIT sits at .905.

    If Elmira wins the ECAC West tournament, the Soaring Eagles would move up to a .857 and RIT would drop to a .870, which could change this category to a push.

    If RIT wins the ECAC West tournament, the Tigers would improve to .913 while Elmira drops to .810.

    Obviously, Elmira needs to win all of its remaining games, including both regular-season contests, to keep this category close. Dropping either of those contests, and the gap gets pretty wide.

  • Head to Head – Push. Elmira and RIT have split their regular-season contests, each winning one. If they meet again in the ECAC West championship game, the winner would get a huge advantage, as the Selection Committee has stated that the Head to Head category carries a lot of weight.
  • Common Opponents – Advantage RIT. Once again, assuming Elmira wins its remaining regular-season games, the Soaring Eagles would finish with a 10-2 record against common opponents. RIT, which has already played its last regular-season game, finished the season with a 13-0 record against those same teams.

    If both pass through the semifinal round of the tournament unscathed, the final numbers would be 11-2 for Elmira and 14-0 for RIT. The Tigers edge Elmira in this category.

    Using a mathematical formula that equally weights the three components of Criteria No. 1 amongst all the Eastern teams, RIT ends up ranked No. 2 and Elmira No. 6.

    Criterion No. 2 – Strength of Schedule. Advantage Elmira.

    This is the category where Elmira holds a distinct advantage. As of today, Elmira has a Strength of Schedule (SOS) of .562, third in the nation in Division III. RIT’s SOS is much weaker at .513, tied for the 22nd spot.

    Assuming both teams pass through to the championship round of the conference playoffs, these numbers will most likely not change very much.

    Criterion No. 3 – Teams in the Tournament. Push

    This category is hard to figure, since we don’t know who is in the NCAA tournament yet. However, if we consider Elmira’s and RIT’s record against teams that are still participating in their respective tournaments, then we can get a decent idea.

    This is finally a category where Elmira can benefit from all of the out of region games that it played.

    Elmira played games against St. Norbert, Plattsburgh (twice), St. Thomas, Lebanon Valley, Amherst, and Oswego. The Soaring Eagles amassed a 5-2 record against those teams.

    RIT had contests against Johnson & Wales, Wentworth, Amherst, and Oswego(twice), and tallied a 4-1 record. I wonder if RIT coach Wayne Wilson wishes he had that loss against Wentworth back?

    While Elmira enjoys a slight lead in this category, it is still probably too close to give either team a distinct advantage overall. Who wins the auto-qualifiers from the other conferences could swing this category in favor of one team or the other.

    Conclusion

    Elmira is still very much in the hunt for the NCAA Pool B bid. RIT has the advantage in two categories, while Elmira takes one category, and two are pushes. One of those pushes, Head to Head, could be the deciding factor. And that means that the bid could very well come down to a potential meeting in the ECAC West championship.

    Game of the Week

    Elmira can decide whom it wants to face in the semifinal round of the ECAC West playoffs this weekend. It plays both Manhattanville and Hobart, the two teams vying for third place. If Elmira wins both games, Hobart remains in third and would face Elmira again in the semifinals. However, if Manhattanville manages to get by Elmira, and Hobart doesn’t, then the Valiants would move into third.

    It isn’t often that a team gets to decide its playoff opponent. I’m not sure Elmira has a preference, but it is an interesting topic for the fans.

    The flip side of this is that Elmira really can’t afford to lose or tie either game if it wants to keep pace with RIT for the NCAA Pool B bid.


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