Lack of familiarity with their opponent is not one of the excuses that either Elmira or Manhattanville will be able to use following this Saturday’s NCAA Quarterfinal game at Manhattanville’s Playland Arena. These two ECAC West foes met three times during the regular season with the Valiants holding a slim 2-1 advantage.
“It is an advantage to both Manhattanville and us to be playing each other,” said Elmira coach Tim Ceglarski. “We could have gone up to Norwich or Middlebury, whom we haven’t seen this year. But we are playing an opponent that we are familiar with and know how they play, and in a building where we just had a little bit of success this weekend.”
The Elmira Soaring Eagles are riding an emotional high, having just won the ECAC West championship last weekend at Playland by beating both Hobart and Utica. In each of those games, Elmira found itself down early and then dug itself out of the hole to win each contest by a goal.
“Both games on the weekend, and I don’t know why, we came out not nervous but a little on edge,” said Ceglarski. “We had a lot of young guys in the lineup and only a handful of guys who have played in a championship game. I don’t think our guys knew what to expect.”
Manhattanville is also very familiar with the Soaring Eagles team, but didn’t expect to be facing them this weekend.
“After we lost Friday, my two assistants and I all split up and went to Middlebury, Norwich and Geneseo,” said Manhattanville coach Keith Levinthal. “We were thinking we would face maybe New England College or Geneseo. Of course, the one game we didn’t see was the team we were playing.”
But the Valiants aren’t short of knowledge about Elmira, which makes the game preparation a little easier.
“We know them well and they know us well,” said Levinthal. “There is no shortage of video. Last year when we played New England College [in the NCAA Quarterfinals], we knew they were good but I don’t think we knew how quick they were. Video doesn’t do enough and that caught us by surprise. Now, at least we get an opponent that we are familiar with. This is one game, one shot, no tomorrow, and there is a lot more on the line.”
Manhattanville is coming off a disappointing weekend in the league playoffs. After winning the regular season, the Valiants lost in the semifinals to Utica 5-3 and never held a lead in that game.
“Utica played well and deserved to win the game,” said Levinthal. “It’s tough to play from behind, and we had to keep fighting back. We need to get back at home to playing Manhattanville hockey, which is aggressive, finishing checks, puck pursuit and that is what we are going to try to do. We need to play with a little grit and playing hard.”
Both teams have players who have played in the NCAA Quarterfinal round before, but the Valiants experience is more recent. Manhattanville hosted New England College last season, losing 4-2 after having tied the game with just under seven minutes remaining. With 12 seniors on this year’s squad, the Valiants are looking to leadership and experience to gain an edge this time around.
“I sure hope [experience] helps us,” said Levinthal. “Last year, we looked like a team who was in their first game in the tournament. I would hope that we are a different team this year in this situation.”
Elmira, on the other hand, last played in the NCAA tournament in 2003 when they lost to Middlebury 5-1 in the Quarterfinals. That was the first time that Elmira had made the NCAAs since 1994, and the lack of experience showed late in the game.
“Three years ago, it seemed like our goal all year long was to win the ECAC West tournament,” said Ceglarski. “Once we won that, it was like a big balloon deflated. We went up there to Middlebury and weren’t as focused as we should have been. We got out of our normal pre-game routine and our day before routine, and celebrated the idea of being in the NCAAs. We walked in there with a poor attitude, and you can’t do that against Middlebury.”
This season, with the NCAA finals being held in Elmira, the Soaring Eagles have set a different tone since the first day this season.
“This year, the goal from our very first meeting, was to be playing in Elmira on March 18th and 19th,” said Ceglarski. “The bus trip home from Manhattanville last weekend was noisy until we got out of the parking lot at Playland and then guys started talking about the NCAAs. It was a very marked difference in the attitude. The guys haven’t accomplished everything they want to accomplish and are a lot more focused this time.”
Even though both teams are approaching this weekend with a different mindset from previous trips to the NCAAs, each are still feeling its own unique pressures as they strive to extend the season by one more weekend.
“There is a lot of pressure on both teams,” said Levinthal. “We have pressure because we have twelve seniors and have not been to the Final Four. Making the NCAA tournament has been done before and we’ve got to there. If you are Elmira, you have home ice to play for. It makes the game interesting. For us not to get to the Final Four would be a disappointment. For us this year, we need to do something in the NCAA tournament. For us to lose in the first round would leave a real bitter taste in our mouths.”