There are four weekends remaining in the regular season of the ECAC West. As usual, it is coming right down to the end to determine who walks away with the title and the right to host the league playoffs.
None of the top five teams can afford to lose a game at this point, as they jockey for those four coveted playoff berths. While the possible permutations and combinations are still nearly endless, let’s take a look at some of the possible outcomes.
If there is a tie amongst any of the teams for position at the end of the regular season, the four tiebreaker criteria, in order of evaluation, are:
Elmira is in the driver’s seat at this point. The Soaring Eagles have only played three league contests, but are the only team that is currently undefeated. Elmira also owns the “record vs. common opponents” tiebreaker against all other teams.
For Elmira not to win the regular-season title, at this point, it must lose at least two of the seven remaining league games. The Soaring Eagles have two big games against RIT remaining, as well as a game at Manhattanville and a pair against Hobart.
RIT is nipping at the heals of Elmira. The only league blemish on the Tigers’ record so far is the drubbing at Manhattanville. RIT owns the common opponents tiebreaker against all teams except Elmira.
RIT can win the regular-season title in either of two ways. First, if RIT sweeps its two remaining games against Elmira, and holds serve in its other contests against Hobart and Utica, then the Tigers would finish on top of the league.
The other possible way is for RIT to split its games with Elmira, and then have Elmira lose a second league contest somewhere along the way. As the four-time ECAC West Champion, it is hard to count RIT out late in the season. But the Tigers are fighting uphill this year to five-peat.
Manhattanville’s hope of a league title was hurt two weeks ago with the loss at Elmira. The Valiants now have to defeat Elmira in the rematch on the final day of the regular season. They must then hope that RIT and Elmira both split, and also lose or tie another game along the way. Not likely, but possible.
Mathematically, Hobart and Utica are still in the hunt for the top, but realistically these two teams are fighting for the fourth playoff berth. Each may finish as high as third or as low as fifth.
Utica has the most upside potential as the Pioneers have only played two league contests so far, both losses to Elmira. However, Hobart holds the common opponent tiebreaker against Utica.
The next two weekends could decide much within the league. The travel partners of Hobart/RIT and Elmira/Utica play each of the next two weekends. Those four games could either set the league standings in concrete, or create chaos.
In auto racing, the Silly Season is that time of year when drivers are searching around for rides for the following year. It starts around midseason and results in drivers doing strange things as they try to impress team owners.
The last few years, the ECAC West has had a Silly Season of its own. Each year, speculation begins to run rampant about which team might join the league to get them over that magic number of seven needed for an NCAA autobid.
This year is no exception. The Silly Season started early this season, around November, and has been quietly simmering ever since.
The usual rumor about Lebanon Valley jumping from, or being forced out of, the ECAC Northeast surfaced early. Besides discussions amongst the Northeast Athletic Directors concerning travel costs, nothing has substantially changed here from previous years.
There don’t appear to be any schools forming new teams that might join the league on the horizon. Manhattanville, Utica, and Neumann all formed teams and joined the league over the last four seasons, basically saving the ECAC West from extinction. However, it doesn’t appear that there will be growth from new teams in the foreseeable future.
But hold on to your hats, because there has been a new and wild rumor circulating. It surfaced in December and puts a new twist on an old story. The rumor is that up to six ECAC Northeast teams would bolt from that league and join the ECAC West. The ECAC West would then be subdivided into East and West divisions. Each division would play other teams in its division twice yearly in a home-and-home series, and play teams of the other division once each year, alternating home venues.
The justification being rumored for the ECAC Northeast teams to abandon ship is that they are being held back in their development by the cost containment provisions of the league. These teams appear ready to make the next step into the mainstream of division III hockey, yet feel that they may not be able to do that within the confines of the ECAC Northeast.
Publicly, all of the coaches involved in this rumor are claiming ignorance of its existence. However, if this is being talked about behind closed doors, it is in the very early stages of development.
Remember, this may only be a wild rumor with little or no substance behind it.
Personally, I think this is an intriguing idea. It benefits the current ECAC West teams with more league contests, an autobid, and access to a Pool C bid as well without waiting for 2005. It can also benefit the six ECAC Northeast teams, as they will be able to regularly schedule games against top teams, and with proper administrative backing the move can only help to improve their programs. For the other 12 Northeast teams, it provides a more reasonably sized league and opens up an opportunity for one of them to earn the league’s Pool A autobid.
But then again, this may be only a rumor.
Around the Rinks
From Elmira’s Thunderdomes last week, we head 95 miles north by northwest to RIT’s Ritter Arena. Situated between the academic buildings on one side and the athletic fields and dorms on the other, Ritter is right at the center of the RIT campus.
I would like to apologize to the Elmira faithful. A technical glitch at USCHO caused a 24-hour delay in attaching the pictures of the Murray Athletic Center into last week’s ECAC West column. Hopefully we have things fixed now to minimize the likelihood of a reoccurrence of the problem.
Many readers have sent me email over the last two weeks to let me know what they think about some of the rinks in the ECAC West. So what do you think? Send me an email, and let me know your thoughts about the rinks in the ECAC West.
Frank Ritter Memorial Ice Arena – home of the RIT Tigers
Home Locker Room: C
Visiting Locker Room: D
Spectator Seating: B+
Game Atmosphere: A
Press Facilities: B
Game Facilities: B
Rink Aesthetics: A
Overall Grade: 84% (B)
RIT’s Ritter Arena is named after Frank Ritter, a founder of Rochester Athenaeum and Mechanics Institute, forerunner of RIT. Ritter served on the Board of Trustees for 18 years in the late 19th Century.
The arena itself was built in 1968, and is home to both RIT’s men’s and women’s hockey teams, as well as the Genesee Figure Skating Club.
One of the nicest features of Ritter Arena, and something that no other rink in the ECAC West has, is that the spectator seating surrounds the entire rink. This greatly enhances the atmosphere during games and allows spectators to enjoy the contest from any angle.
With the infamous RIT Corner Crew cheering and chanting, the atmosphere inside Ritter Arena is renowned within Division III college hockey.
Other amenities for the fans abound. A very nice concession stand is available right inside the rink. This year, RIT Food Service added a mobile Ben and Jerry’s Ice Cream stand that has turned into a fan favorite.
All seating is bleacher style, but have great sight lines to the ice. For those that prefer standing during a game, there is plenty of opportunity for that along the railing that surrounds the ice at the top of the seating.
Over the last three summers, the interior of Ritter has undergone several improvements. Gone are the large sound-deadening cones suspended from the ceiling. Gone is the antiquated sound system. Gone is the wide, wooden dasher surrounding the ice surface. And gone is that odd lighting that made those orange Tiger uniforms almost glow.
New refrigeration, boards, glass, sound system, lighting, and suspended ceiling were all installed. With white walls, ceiling, and ice, Ritter is one of the brightest arenas around.
With the Pike Press Box, RIT sports the best media facilities in the league. Upwards of 15 media personnel can be accommodated with working phone lines. The only downside to the press box is that it is located at one end of the rink, instead of at center ice.
The weak point of Ritter Arena is the locker rooms. When RIT built its men’s and women’s locker rooms underneath the stands on the east side of the rink back in the late 1980′s, they were a step above most others. They were one of the first ones to sport wooden stalls for players, as well as other amenities.
Unfortunately, time has passed the Ritter by, and now RIT sports the worst home locker rooms in the league. The rooms are small, and become cramped when filled with a full team of players. While they are very conveniently located only steps away from the ice, the locker rooms are quite a ways from the training facilities.
The locker rooms for the visiting teams are even worse. Most teams are forced to use locker rooms located underneath the gymnasium attached to the same building as Ritter Arena. This leads to quite a lengthy walk from the locker room to the ice surface. The visiting locker rooms themselves are nothing to write home about either.
There have been some ideas bantered about concerning building new home locker rooms, and then having the existing rink-side locker rooms used by the visiting team. If those plans come to fruition, it would go a long way to improving this blot on an otherwise great facility.
Game of the Week
All four league games this weekend are huge. Elmira and RIT will be trying to hold serve against the upstart Hobart and Utica teams, before squaring off against each other on Saturday.
Utica and Hobart, on the other hand, will each try to gain a huge boost by upsetting either RIT or Elmira on Friday night. Then those two teams will square off on Saturday looking to gain the upper hand in the league standings.
As important as those games are, however, the battle for the top of the league is where most eyes will be focused. RIT travels to the Thunderdomes for the annual renewal of its war with Elmira on Saturday. The Tigers hold a slight edge in the all-time record of this series, 30-28-3, but that advantage won’t mean a lick on the ice this weekend.
Both teams desperately need the victory and would like nothing more than to be the ones to push the other team down the heap. It may not be Elmira’s Homecoming Weekend this year, when this game is traditionally played, but you can bet that the domes will still be packed to the rafters with those nutty bellringers.