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This Week in ECAC West

College Hockey:
This Week in the ECAC West: Feb. 28, 2002

The playoffs arrive this weekend. Elmira, Hobart, and Manhattanville will all travel to RIT to compete in the ECAC West’s Final Four-style tournament, and decide who will be crowned champion for 2001-02.

And what could be more fitting for this column than to take a team-by-team look to preview the playoffs?

No. 4 Hobart Statesmen (10-15, 5-5)

Hobart enters the playoffs as the fourth seed, a familiar place for the Statesmen over the past few years. This is the fourth year in a row that Hobart has been in that position, and has faced No. 1 seed RIT in the semifinal round.

The Statesmen have been on a rollercoaster ride the last two weeks.

They defeated Manhattanville by a stunning 7-0 score in a nearly perfectly played game two weeks ago, but then Hobart tanked its last game of the regular season on Saturday, losing to Elmira 12-1.

Which Hobart team will show up in the ECAC West playoffs? Who knows, but it should be entertaining to see. Hobart has never defeated RIT in postseason play.

No. 3 Manhattanville Valiants (16-6-3, 5-4-1)

The Valiants earned the three seed in the tournament with a gutsy victory over Elmira last weekend, 2-1. Manhattanville started the game shorthanded, as two players were held out of the lineup for violating team rules at the hotel earlier in the day. Then, coach Keith Levinthal watched two more players get hurt early in the contest.

“We played most of the game with only 14 guys,” said Levinthal. “It is probably the best win we have had as a program.”

The victory set up a repeat of the semifinal round from the last two ECAC West playoffs between Elmira and Manhattanville.

“We’ve played these guys [Elmira] in the playoffs all three years of our existence,” said Levinthal. “Both games this year have been decided by one goal, and all five games, going back to include last season, have gone right down to the wire. We don’t expect anything different to happen this time.”

Last year, the Valiants defeated Elmira in the semifinals. Manhattanville is mostly healthy entering the playoffs, and is looking to continue its climb towards the championship banner.

On the NCAAs: “It will be a shame the way the tournament is set up,” said Levinthal. “Both teams {RIT and Elmira] deserve to be playing in March.”

No. 2 Elmira Soaring Eagles (17-8, 8-2)

Elmira stumbled against Manhattanville last Friday, and hurt its chances at the NCAAs. However, it wasn’t from lack of effort. The Soaring Eagles poured pressure relentlessly on the Valiant zone, and even had 10 power plays, but just couldn’t put the puck in the net.

“We outplayed [Manhattanville] for 60 minutes,” said Elmira coach Tim Ceglarski. “But we just couldn’t score. If our power play was working at all, it would have been a different story.”

But Elmira bounced right back on Saturday and put a good old-fashioned thrashing of Hobart, winning 12-1.

“[That] was one of our better-played games of the year,” said Ceglarski. “Our guys were flying right from the start.”

Elmira enters the ECAC West playoffs firmly in the No. 2 position, and will face off once again against Manhattanville in the semifinals.

“Our main focus is to get through Manhattanville, and then worry about the finals,” said Ceglarski.

Elmira must win the championship to have a reasonable expectation of an NCAA Pool B bid. But the Soaring Eagles are taking it one game at a time.

On the NCAA’s: “I think it would be a shame if both teams [Elmira and RIT] don’t get a chance to go,” said Ceglarski. “The way the system is right now, it is not conducive to having the best nine teams in the nation in the tournament.”

No. 1 RIT Tigers (21-2, 9-1)

RIT is the most rested of the four teams entering the tournament. Due to its quarter-based academic calendar, the RIT players traditionally take the last week of February off for final exams.

“With the exams, the break is good for us,” said RIT coach Wayne Wilson.

The break has given RIT a chance to get healthy as well. The flu that was rampaging through the team three weeks ago is now gone. And several players will be returning from injury, including All-West Rookie Teamer Roberto Orofiamma (6-15-21).

“We have no excuses,” said Wilson. “We are healthy again, and ready to go.”

The Tigers are the three-time defending champions of the ECAC West. The last time RIT failed to hoist a banner into the rafters of Ritter Arena was the ’97-’98 season, when Niagara won the title the year before it transitioned to Division I.

On the NCAAs: “I think it will be a topic for discussion at our conference down in Florida,” said Wilson. “The committee should be able to come up with how much weight is put on each criterion. Also, all the other leagues have safety nets to get into the tournament, so it seems like the ECAC West should be included in those.”

NCAA Pool B Bid Possibilities

Elmira’s hopes for a Pool B bid waned with its loss to Manhattanville last weekend. But the demise of the Soaring Eagles has been greatly exaggerated. Elmira is still in the hunt, but now needs help from teams in other leagues to make its case stronger.

Let’s update the breakdown from last week, using the same criteria as the NCAA Selection Committee.

For all but the last of the criteria below, only in-region games count in the statistics. 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 criterion.

Scenario 1 — RIT wins the ECAC West championship. NCAA Pool B bid for RIT guaranteed.
Scenario 2 — Elmira loses to Manhattanville in the semifinals. RIT is awarded the NCAA Pool B bid.
Scenario 3 — Elmira defeats RIT to win ECAC West championship. NCAA Pool B bid up for grabs.
Scenario 4 — RIT loses semifinal game to Hobart, and Elmira loses final to Hobart. NCAA Pool B bid up for grabs.

So, only scenarios three and four need to be evaluated for the selection criteria.

Criterion No. 1 — advantage RIT

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

  • Winning Percentage — advantage RIT. As of the end of the regular season, RIT has a winning percentage of .905, and Elmira trails at .789.

    For scenario No. 3 (EC championship), Elmira moves up to a .810 winning percentage and RIT drops to .870. The advantage still is on the RIT side, but the gap narrows.

    For scenario No. 4 (RIT semifinal loss), RIT’s winning percentage only drops down to .864, so the Tigers would still maintain the advantage in this category.

  • Head to Head — push. There was no change in this criterion from last week. 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 in this category. The NCAA Selection Committee has stated that the Head to Head category carries a great deal of weight.
  • Common Opponents — advantage RIT. This is another category where the RIT advantage widened due to Elmira’s loss last weekend. The tally stands at RIT 13-0, Elmira 9-3.

    If both pass through to the finals of the tournament unscathed, the numbers would be 10-3 for Elmira and 14-0 for RIT. The Tigers would scoot past Elmira here.

    The relative positions of RIT and Elmira remained the same this week, using a mathematical formula that equally weights the three components of Criterion No. 1 among all the eastern teams. RIT ends up ranked No. 2, Elmira No. 6.

    Criterion No. 2 — Strength of Schedule — advantage Elmira

    This is the category where Elmira continues to hold a distinct advantage. Both Strength of Schedules (SOS) only dropped by .001 due to play over the weekend. Elmira has a .561 SOS, second in the nation in Division III hockey, while RIT’s SOS is much weaker at .512, placing it in the 25th spot.

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

    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 records against teams that are still participating in their respective conference tournaments, then we can get a decent idea of the relative records.

    Some of those teams that RIT and Elmira have played were knocked out last week. Elmira’s record against teams still alive is 4-2, while RIT stands 2-1.

    Elmira needs to cheer for Plattsburgh (as revolting as that might seem to Elmira fans) to defeat Oswego. If that happens, one loss comes off of Elmira’s record, and a win is removed from RIT’s. That would give Elmira a commanding 4-1 vs. 1-1 lead in this category.

    Also, how events unfold in the ECAC Northeast playoffs could have an impact here as well. If Lebanon Valley loses, another loss comes off Elmira’s side of the balance sheet. If Wentworth loses, a loss leaves RIT’s books.

    So, if Plattsburgh wins the SUNYAC and Lebanon Valley the ECAC Northeast, then RIT would be left with no games against Teams in the Tournament (0-0 record). Elmira would be smiling with a 4-1 record.

    However, if Oswego defeats Plattsburgh, the tables turn. Just that change would leave RIT’s record at 2-1, while Elmira’s record would drop to 2-2.

    So, this category remains highly volatile, depending on how the playoffs go in the other leagues.

    Conclusion

    Elmira needs the cards to fall right for it to get the NCAA Pool B bid. First, the Soaring Eagles need to take care of the business that they can influence, mainly winning the ECAC West championship. That would give them a leg up in Head to Head, and move the Winning Percentages closer. Elmira also needs help from Plattsburgh and Lebanon Valley to give it control of the Teams in the Tournament category.

    If those things happen, the Soaring Eagles may just get the NCAA Pool B bid.

    If RIT wins the championship, or if Elmira loses in the semifinals, the Tigers are a shoo-in for the Pool B bid. The other scenarios open the door for Elmira, and in those cases RIT would need to wait for the Selection Committee to hand down its decision.


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